BOOK REVIEW: Brian Vollmer – Gimme An R! (2005)

BRIAN VOLLMER – Gimme An R!
The story of Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of Helix
(2005)

Forget all those books by the mega stars like Slash and Sammy Hagar that have come out in recent years. Those books have one thing in common — they were written (or co-written, anyway) by guys who are rock superstars! Megastars! It’s hard for me as a reader to relate to a guy who hasn’t had to hold down a job in 30 years. Not that there’s anything wrong with stardom, it’s just an observation.  I can’t relate to the human beings.   Not so with this book!

Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of the hardest working band in Canada (that would be Helix), comes across as a pretty regular guy.  (I’ve met him a number of times, and he’s about as regular as anybody you’d know.)  Yes, he’s traveled the world in a rock band and played for thousands of people, but at the end of the day the book is something I can still relate to. Through crappy jobs in crappy convenience stores, crappy apartments, getting mugged, it doesn’t seem like a rock star’s life.  There are parallels in the story similar to other bands such as Anvil (another hard-working Canadian band). While Vollmer always manages to scrape by and continue to Rock Us, nothing comes easy.  Incredibly through it all Brian Vollmer never really stopped being an artist.  He seemed to always keep music, and Helix in his life even after dozens of lineup changes and band members.  (Approximately 35 people have been in Helix since 1974.  The newest member is Cambridge’s Chris Julke, replacing John Claus.)

From humble beginnings in Listowel Ontario to playing in Sweden, England and Trinidad, Vollmer’s tome has plenty of rock and roll stories. As one of the first Canadian bands to release independent albums in the 1970’s, he was a bit of a pioneer. Gimme An R! is loaded with rock star encounters one after the other, from Eddie Van Halen (on stage!) to Gene Simmons.  Vollmer remains himself through it all, even after Helix signed their big deal with Capitol and released “Rock You”.  The tragic death of primary co-writer Paul Hackman nearly derailed the band.  Even after the departures of longtime partners Brent Doerner, Fritz Hinz, and finally Daryl Gray, Brian kept going.  He kept the Helix name alive, finding success on the internet which was a brand new way for him to make contact, and sell albums directly to his fans.  Then, a little TV show called Trailer Park Boys helped expose Helix to a new audience.


Included between the covers are dozens of black and white photos of the band over the years.  From small-town Ontario to meeting superstars like Richard Pryor and Robin Williams, it’s a pretty cool collection of snaps. Unfortunately while reading I found myself distracted by spelling errors — “Atlantis Morissette” for example.  I would like to see a second printing that corrects these mistakes.  (A new chapter on the last decade would be cool too Brian!)

Vollmer’s prose is not frilly or poetic, but it’s conversational and descriptive.  There’s no ghost writer, so the pictures that Brian paints of all those seedy bars in the dead of winter come straight from his memory to the page.  He’s a great storyteller.  The bottom line is that the story of Helix keeps you hooked.  I’ve had friends come over and pick up the book, and they just get entranced. It’s a really different side of the rock and roll tales.  It shows what old fashioned determination and hard work can accomplish.

I have to knock off half a star for the spelling errors. It’s just one of those pet peeves — nothing personal, Brian!  I do highly recommend it Gimme An R! to rock fans world wide who’d like a different, more humble angle on the whole rock star thing.

4.5/5 stars

35 comments

      1. Self-published, I guess there would be some forgiveness. I am not aware of the process there, but would think they’d pass it around for a final check before sending it to the printers.

        And hey, in higher ed, I deal with college textbooks, and there are a lot of spelling errors in those. A copy and paste from PDF of text into MSword tells you the story. Meaning, bigtime pubs are also missing the typos.

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        1. CD booklets are often a huge offender.

          Somewhat off topic, but one thing that is really hilarious are the lyrics printed inside old Japanese import CDs. I remember buying Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East *which I dumbly sold*. They must have tried to transcribe the lyrics by ear, I will never forget the opening line to Delivering the Goods.

          The actual lyric is: “Feeling like we’re ready to kick tonight.”

          The Japanese transcribed it as “Feeling, Rock Queers, reading to kick tonight.”

          The book was loaded with ’em but that’s my favourite.

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    1. I tell the students you can have the most effective presentation in the world but if there’s a typo on screen, that’s all I see. Ditto a brilliant speech, spoiled by ‘like’ or ‘um.’

      Sounds like a good read – just checked your wikipedia entry, great job keeping track of the former members, not an easy task!

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      1. Hey cheers, thanks for checking that out! I stopped working on it 2 years ago when I started doing this. You only have so much time eh? But the Helix article on Wiki was woefully out of date and lacking any sort of detail, so I really had to fix that! I also wrote all the Wiki articles for the Helix albums and all the band members.

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        1. Well they’re going to Sweden in June, and they plan on having it out before then, so I would wager May. Some of the songs are previously released on the Best Of CD I mentioned above, and the most recent EP Skin in the Game. Still, plenty of new songs on it too.

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        2. There’s always that argument about when a band should quit to protect the legacy – Helix sounds like one of the groups that should just keep on going. They’re not just re-recording essentially the same album ad nauseum, they’re touring all the time, still working hard 40 years later. Good to see!

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        3. Yes, and another key thing is that Brian Vollmer always has been Helix. He didn’t found the band (the original drummer Bruce Arnold did) but he’s been the only original member since the late 1970’s and their second LP. Plus he’s still buddies with the original members! At a Helix show in 2006 I ran into Brent Doerner for the first time (he just phoned me last night!), as well as the original bassist Keith Bert Zurbrigg, Bruce Arnold, and other ex-members!

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      2. I am not a prof, but work at a college transcribing print texts into e-format…you would not believe the spelling and grammatical mistakes in college textbooks. Ridiculous.

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  1. One other thing I should mention — Vollmer received the first shipment of this book just before Christmas, and hand-delivered it to lucky fans in the London area. Probably the only time I wished I lived in London!

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  2. Bought this book @ a Helix show….should have had Vollmer sign it but he was not around but it’s a great read man esp all the tours in the 80s that they did that I was lucky to catch..
    Thunder Bay 1984 Headlining at the University…
    Winnipeg 1984 opening for Krokus and Wasp
    Thunder Bay 1985 headlining on the Long Way To Heaven Tour
    Thunder Bay 1987 headlining on the Wild In The Streets Tour
    And many various times playing the bars in Tbay pre 1984 I was too young and many times after which I caught many as I was of age….
    So no matter what when a lot of bands would skip here..Helix would still show up…
    The common theme is that no matter what Brian would always bring whatever crew was in Helix and give it his all like he was playing a arena in a club so for that like I always say ya gotta give him RESPECT.
    Respect for keeping it rolling …..plus the fact that he has family in good ol Tbay helps I’m sure ….but man he’s a cool dude …..plus he’s heavily featured in the Metal On Ice book as of all the bands in that book Helix probably made the most noise in the US of A!!!
    Totally recommended reading…….

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    1. Well Deke you had sure seen a lot of great Helix shows, with Paul Hackman RIP! Vollmer is a real trooper, he really tries to take care of his fans.

      The one time I saw Helix in the dead of winter, I walked into the bar and my glasses fogged up immediately. I wiped them off and who was walking over to me but Brian Vollmer. He shook my hand at the door and said, “Thanks for coming, I have a lot of people to meet tonight but have a good time.”

      100% class.

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  3. I didn’t even know that Vollmer had a bio out. Sounds interesting. I’m gonna check our online book stores and see if the have it in stock. I’m a sucker for bios and this one seems like a must. Gimme an R is a killer name for his book as well.

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    1. Thanks man! I mean, I’m the guy who has a Helix track that Vollmer’s completely forgotten about! I do know one guy with a better collection, he has the ultra rare Live at the Marquee EP. He offered it to me but it was just too pricey.

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