Brent Doerner

REVIEW: Helix – Long Way to Heaven (1985)

HELIX – Long Way to Heaven (1985 Capitol Records)

Helix’s fifth album was an important one.  They were following the “big hit” album (Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge) and there were expectations.  The band collected another batch of original material and hit the studio with producer Tom Treumuth again.

1985’s Long Way to Heaven is the second album with the “classic” Helix lineup:  Brian Vollmer, Brent “the Doctor” Doerner, Paul Hackman, Greg “Fritz” Hinz and Daryl Gray.  All but drummer Fritz contributed songs, with Vollmer, Hackman and Doerner leading the pack.

The two singles were the opening tracks.  “The Kids Are All Shakin’” is a catchy for American radio play.  It has always been a damn fine song.

Down in New York City,
All the way to L.A.,
Boys and girls are gonna shake it,
Yeah, each and every day.

There’s also a reference to a fan letter from Poland that was a big deal to the band at the time.  “Kids Are All Shakin’” is a great rock and roll celebration, but the single version with additional keyboards is better.

The other single was the hit acoustic/electric ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife” written by Hackman and Bob Halligan, Jr.  To this day it remains one of, if not the very best ballad Helix have done.  It has atmosphere and bite, and a killer vocal performance by Brian Vollmer.

There are good tracks after the first two, but nothing quite as memorable.  “Ride the Rocket” (Vollmer/Halligan) is fun but silly.  I’m sure you can guess what kind of rocket Brian is singing about when he says “Reach in the pocket”.  Other decent songs include the title track, which has a great chorus melody, and the heavy-as-fuck “House on Fire”.  There’s also another ballad called “Without You (Jasmine’s Song)” that is worthy of praise.

There is nothing wrong with any of the other tunes, and some have some pretty cool moments.  “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” has a nifty a cappella section that proves what great vocalists the band are.  It’s just that none of the other songs really have a lot of staying power in the brain.

Long Way to Heaven was one of those follow-ups that was good enough, but always remain in the shadow of the more successful predecessors.

3.25/5 stars


REVIEW: Helix – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984, Rock Candy remaster)

HELIX – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984 Capitol, 2009 Rock Candy reissue)

If you’re from Canada, then chances are you already know how to properly respond when somebody requests of you to “Gimme an R!”

You give them a fuckin’ R!

To quote Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, “Helix was a wicked concert. Fuck I sold a lot of dope at that concert. They had good lyrics, like ‘Gimme an R, O, C, K,’ and then the crowd yells ROCK really loud. Now that’s a fuckin’ concert.”

Bob Halligan Jr. wrote it, but Helix made it legendary.  In turn, “Rock You” put them on the map.  It’s pure arena rock:  “Don’t just sit there, come on get up and move!”  With a riff, a catchy tune and a shout-along chorus, “Rock You” was custom built for 1984.   The Pepsi Power Hour gave it regular play, and the boys toured relentlessly.  Helix’s rep as a down n’ dirty hard rocking band was secure.  The music video scared away my neighbor, David Dolph, a kid from across the street whose very Catholic parents wouldn’t let him listen to rock music or watch Dr. Who.   Instant street cred!

“Rock You” opened Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (their fourth LP) with a punch.  “Young & Wreckless” followed with a kick in the ass.  This chugging rocker is all about a good time.  Strangely enough, this track somehow frequently ended up on Kiss bootleg CDs.  Bootleggers most likely confused it with Kiss’ own “Young and Wasted” from 1983’s Lick it Up.  Needless to say, if you find a Kiss bootleg claiming to have an unreleased song on it called “Young & Wreckless”, it’s not Kiss.  It’s Helix.  And it kicks ass.

“Animal House” is a Helix concert classic, a bar-bustin’ rocker with a sweet slide guitar licks from Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.  He and gui-partner-in-crime Paul Hackman formed a formidable and underrated duo.   They supplied Helix with a seemingly bottomless well of riffage and tasty guitar hooks.  Meanwhile lead howler Brian Vollmer was in peak voice, driving the whole thing home.  Next up is “Feel the Fire”, basically a re-write of “Heavy Metal Love” from 1983’s awesome No Rest for the Wicked LP.  Though the songs are similar, both kick equal amounts of ass, so we will allow some self-plagiarism.  The first side was finished off with a real sledge:  “When the Hammer Falls”.  It’s a real headbanger in the classic sense, fast and loud.

“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” kicked off the second side, a Crazy Elephant cover that became one of Helix’s most notorious music videos.  There was a TV version and a uncensored cut with full frontal nudity.  One of the girls in the video was an underage Tracy Lords.  Whoops!  Meanwhile, a 13-year-old me couldn’t take my eyes off the TV!  (A classmate of mine called Ian Johnson was known for his tall tales, and took credit for giving Helix the idea for the video!)  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” was one of those instantly catchy songs that seemingly everyone dug, and check out Doerner’s killer solo.

The shot with Doctor Doerner kicking the lightbulbs is possibly the coolest of all time.

Helix want to tell you what turns them on in “My Kind of Rock”, but I think it’s the biting riffs.  Not a bad tune, but Helix have done better.  That’s just filler before the ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”, a cover of A Foot in Cold Water.  Helix’s take is remarkably true to the original.  It’s considerably softer than anything else on the album, but that’s the function of a ballad on a rock album.  Vollmer’s performance helped make it a Helix favourite that’s still played live in concert.  Another track called “Six Strings, Nine Lives” is the only tune that should have been excised.  Good chorus, but without a song to go with it.  One of the best Helix originals was saved for the closing position:  “You Keep Me Rockin'”.  Dark and edgy, it’s a heavy and memorable tune to end Helix’s best selling LP.

Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge is a good record, but as is so often the case with the “big hit” albums, it’s not their best.  No Rest for the Wicked is the one to seek out for the “all killer, no filler” experience.  Razor’s Edge has some essential cuts, but a couple fillers too.  If you’re thinking about picking this up, the wisest purchase would be the 2009 reissue by Rock Candy.  This remastered disc contains rare photos and liner notes including an interview with Brian Vollmer.  It also has three must-have bonus tracks:  Live versions of “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You” and “Animal House” from the uber-rare promo EP Live at the Marquee.  Since Helix were (and are) known for their blitzkrieg live shows, these tracks are well worth having on CD.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Live at the Marquee (1985 promo EP)

HELIX – Live at the Marquee (1985 Capitol promo exclusive EP)

Gratuity goes to two people:  Helix associate John Hockey who initially hooked me up with an mp3 rip of his copy of this Holy Grail rarity, and to Boppin for finding this original copy on vinyl!  Helix’s Live at the Marquee EP is one of those releases that lots of people have heard of, but few have heard.  First of all, it’s a promo, which means it was only distributed within the industry and never made available for sale to the public.  Promos can be very desirable collectibles, especially when they contain exclusive music.  Live at the Marquee was nothing but!  In 1985, Helix had released nothing in terms of live product, not even a live single B-side.  Live at the Marquee was the only one, and before the internet, few fans even knew about it.

For full disclosure, there is a rare Rock Candy reissue of 1984’s Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge, an unauthorized but valuable release that does contain three of the six Marquee tracks.  That 2009 release includes “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You”, and “Animal House” from this EP.  The other three songs have yet to be reissued anywhere, so half of Live at the Marquee is still exclusive to the EP.

What you need to know about Live at the Marquee is that this is Helix at their prime.  The classic lineup was in full swing:  Brian Vollmer (vocals), Brent “Doctor” Doerner & Paul Hackman (guitars), Greg “Fritz” Hinz (drums), and Daryl Gray (bass).  They were performing their most popular tracks from the Razor’s Edge and No Rest for the Wicked LPs.  Starting with “Young & Reckless” and “Rock You”, it’s full octane in the tank and pedal to the metal.  Helix were and are known as a loud band, and this EP sure sounds like it.  They take a step back on the hit ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  Helix could do love songs like that without sounding wimpy.

Side two continues with the single “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” (Crazy Elephant cover) which sounds like a blast.  Helix do not get recognition for the dual guitar alliance of Doerner and Hackman as perhaps they should.  Check out “Animal House” for more of their stellar interplay including a bit of slide.  Finally “Heavy Metal Love” closes the record, an enduring favourite today that sounds fantastic performed by the classic band.

Over the years, fans became widely aware of the existence of this release.  It would be listed and pictured among official discographies, but never found in stores.  Until/unless those final three recordings become available on CD, this record should be sought after by every serious Helix fan.  I’m happy to have a copy signed by Fritz Hinz.  Also awesome?  John Hockley hooked me up with a CD copy of the Rock Candy release of Razor’s Edge, signed by all four surviving members of the classic Helix band.  Thank you John, and rest in peace Paul Hackman.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – No Rest For the Wicked (1983)

Part 3 of 3 in this week’s Helix miniseries.  The original review was posted in August 2012, but this is completely new and improved!

HELIX – No Rest For the Wicked (1983 EMI)

Finally!  The big break came, after nearly 10 years of hard work.  The trick was re-branding Helix as a “metal band” instead of a plain old bar rock band.  An early video for “Heavy Metal Love” was filmed in T-shirts and jeans.  It was only after they switched to leather clothing and a more “metal” image, did people start to take notice.  “Heavy Metal Love” was re-filmed for a more metallic music video, and Helix were more or less off to the races. They had a boost from CanCon rules, which meant the video went into rotation on MuchMusic.

“Heavy Metal Love”, written in a crummy hotel room in Seaforth Ontario, is an ode to Joan Jett; or rather a fantasy about  Joan Jett.  It remains as fun now as it was then. Helix re-recorded the tune in 2006 for their Get Up EP, but it is this version produced by Tom Treumuth that has become timeless.  Indeed, it was chosen for the wedding scene in the Trailer Park Boys movie that same year.  It’s still a great groove, and a whole lot of fun.

“Fun” is a great word to describe Helix’s music in general, and No Rest For the Wicked is perhaps their strongest effort, at least from their years on Capitol Records.  It is true that I gave Breaking Loose (1979) high praise and a 5/5 star rating, but No Rest is easier to sink your teeth into on just one listen.

Helix in 1983 consisted of:

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “the Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Paul Hackman – guitar
  • Mike Uzelac – bass
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz –  drums

The only lineup change this time was the drum seat.  Leo Niebudek departed, and was replaced by Fritz Hinz, ex-Starchild.  (Starchild’s claim to history is an early single produced by some unknown guy named Daniel Lanois.  Fritz played on their later, uber-rare Children of the Stars album.)  With Hinz, the band had acquired an easy-to-love showman who had the chops required.  I shall never forget the sight of Fritz’s buttless chaps, giving us the moon at a 1987 concert.

Even though I hold Breaking Loose in very high esteem, No Rest For the Wicked is probably just as good, but in a different way.  The new heavier direction didn’t alienate their old fans, but it did gain them plenty of new ones.  It seemed a lot of kids on my street had a copy of this LP or cassette.  It’s more than just the one song — every track is great, every single one of ’em.  The title track still serves as Helix’ show opener.  Live, they change part of the lyrics to “Ain’t no rest for the Helix band!”  It’s true!  It’s an unrelenting and cool metal assault.  But again…plenty fun.

Need some party rock?  Look no further than “Let’s All Do It Tonight”.  Listen to that one, and then try to forget the chorus!   If you like that kind of melodic hard rock, then you’ll probably also dig “Don’t Get Mad Get Even”, the second (much less seen) video made for the album.

Need some sleeze?  Then “Check Out the Love”, before you do the “Dirty Dog”.  Both songs are killer grooves.    “Dirty Dog” never fails to make the setlists today.  It is suspended by a killer riff and Vollmer’s shredded vocal cords. And let’s not forget “White Lace and Black Leather”. (Like they did with the track “Breaking Loose”, Helix put the title song on the next album!) This is about as dirty as they get, and I love it.

Need a ballad? Naw, didn’t think so. But just in case, Helix put on a ballsy one, in “Never Want To Lose You”. Sounds wimpy, yes, but it has the guitars and heavy chorus necessary to keep you from losing your cool.

Need a boost of adrenaline? Then the doctor prescribes “Ain’t No High Like Rock ‘N’ Roll”. Kicking up the pace a few notches, it still retains that Helix knack for melody.

Also recommended, chase this with the live album called Live In Buffalo, which was  recorded for radio shortly afterwards.  It has high-octane live versions of most of these tracks as well as a sneak preview of the next album, Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge.

I think this one sounds particularly good on vinyl. Gimme an R!

5/5 R’s

#351: Three Concerts in One Week


#351: Three Concerts in One Week

I love digging through old journals. I don’t get out to concerts very often anymore, but these journals bring back memories of an awesome week featuring three different concert experiences. Dig it! Some interesting autobiographical facts:

1) These journals record the date that I met Brent Doerner of Helix, thus beginning a long buddy-ship (December 1 2006).
2) I noticed that there was something in here about the flu shot. I got sick immediately afterwards. I was feeling it during the Jim Cuddy concert and got full-blown flu right after. Never had the flu shot since.



Date: 2006/11/29 06:13

Tonight we have second row seats to see BRENT BUTT! (Corner Gas) I’m sure it will be awesome and I’ll be sure to write about it later.

Then Friday is Helix…

Then Sunday is Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo).

Talk about an awesome week.

Date: 2006/11/30 06:55

Brent Butt was awesome, hilarious, 90 minutes of pure Canadian humour. True stuff, like, “In America, there’s no corresponding word for ‘touque’. I could understand it if they had their own word for it. Like, ‘oh, that’s what we call a nurn!’ But no, they say, ‘hey you got one of them wool knit winter cap things!’ If we said that in Canada, our brains would freeze by the time we could get out the door. ‘Honey, could you get my wool knit winter cap thing?’ zoink, you’re frozen.” So true.

There was an opening act by the name of Jamie Hutchison, guy from the Maritimes. Equally hilarious!



Date: 2006/12/01 06:14

Tonight Helix! We’ll be giving them an R around 11 o’clock at Molly Bloom’s. Helix are one of the best shows I’ve seen, and this will be my fourth or fifth time seeing them. Hopefully they’ll play their new single “Fill Your Head With Rock” which is garnering some record company interest….

Flu shot today too. Ugh.

Date: 2006/12/02 00:39

Helix were AWESOME! Right when we walked in the door, there was Brian Vollmer. He saw my vintage-style Helix shirt, walked up and said “hi”. He was so cool. He said, “I just have to go make the rounds and say hi to everybody here, but thanks for coming and have a good time tonight!”

So we wandered around, saw a couple old friends (The Infamous Taylor Brothers) and lo and behold…there was Bruce Arnold (original Helix drummer 1974-76)! A glance around the room revealed the Doerner brothers and Keith Zurbrigg as well! There were five current Helix guys on stage and four ex-Helix in the audience! I introduced myself to Brent and told him how much I liked his new CD.

Track list, to the best of our memories:

  1. No Rest For The Wicked
  2. Get Up
  3. Baby Likes To Ride
  4. Running Wild In The 21st Century
  5. Heavy Metal Love
  6. Boomerang Lover
  7. Dirty Dog
  8. You Keep Me Rocking
  9. Make Me Do Anything You Want
  10. Deep Cuts The Knife
  11. Wild In The Streets
  12. Kids Are All Shakin’
  13. Animal House
  14. I Believe In Rock And Roll
  15. Does A Fool Ever Learn (dedicated to some schmuck at EMI (“Every Mistake Imaginable)
  16. Rock You

I know I’m missing a couple in there, but it was a totally awesome hits night. Right now my ears are ringing and I’m buzzing!


Date: 2006/12/04 06:19

The Cuddy show was awesome, thus ending my three-concert-week. It was a three hour show. The opening band were a part of the whole show as Jim brought various members back out to augment his own songs. He played two songs from his first record, most of the second record, and about six Blue Rodeo songs. He threw in a Neil Young cover, bassist Bazil Donovan sang one of his own, and they also performed one by the opening band!

So terrific show, there were even two Blue Rodeo guys in his backing band. However the real star of his band was violinist Anne Lindsay. She was on fire!

REVIEW: My Wicked Twin – Decibel Music (2008)

MY WICKED TWIN – Decibel Music (2008 MWT)

Helix fans take note, since My Wicked Twin was 3/4 composed of former members of that band.  Brent Doerner and his twin brother Brian first joined Helix in 1975-76, and both were members of that band more than once.  Brent in particular clocked in a couple decades total in Helix.   Brian spent a few years touring and recorded with Saga as well.  Joining them on bass is Mike Uzelac aka “Uzi”, who played and wrote on their Capitol Records debut No Rest for the Wicked (1983).  None of these guys seemed to have lost anything with the years.

SHANEMy Wicked Twin evolved from Brent’s first solo outfit, Brent Doerner’s Decibel who released an excellent CD in 2006.  From that earlier incarnation comes guitarist/vocalist Shane Schedler, a talented Kitchener-area musician whom I first met back in the 90’s at the old Record Store.  Needless to say I’m a little biased when it comes to reviewing these guys.  Being objective is the goal, so let’s get on with it!

On first listen it’s clear that Brent has raised the bar. This time there’s more music (12 songs), and it’s noticeably heavier.  At the same time it’s also more diverse, and the production is improved.

I need to single out “Maybe Love” as a particularly outstanding track. When I saw them debut it live in ’07 it was obvious what a great song it was going to be. Its evolved into a superior hard rock song with a melodic vocal and a thoughtful lyric.  There are top-tier rock bands who don’t put out material as good as “Maybe Love” on their albums.  This is a song to be proud of, absolutely.  Brent made a pretty cool video for the song too.

Most of the rest of the album is more raw, and more rock. “All The Action”, with its adventurous melodies, is a highlight. “One Big Bad Whoopie” is a lyric in which Brent shows his sly humour, something that comes frequently on this album. “Decibel City Hall” and “Get Your Game On” are fast boogie rockers a-la-Van-Halen-with-Roth. If you’re a hockey fan, you may have heard “Get Your Game On” before the album came out, as the band submitted it to the CBC for their “Write the new Hockey Night In Canada theme song” contest.  (I prefer it to the selection they finally picked, but hey, it may be a tad too rock n’ roll for Hockey Night In Canada.)

Other standouts include “The Sting I Need” and “Love is What I Lean On”. “Alone Again, Face to Face” is a nocturnal, sneering rocker.  “That Kind of a Love” is a guitar haven within a stunning power ballad.  I tend to use the word “epic” a lot, but it does apply here, especially in the middle when it goes all Zeppelin. As one would expect with musicians of this caliber, the playing is more than competent. Brent and Shane weave cool lick after cool lick, while Brian and Mike groove with nuance. While everything is solidly rock n’ roll, the rhythms are not simplistic, and paying attention to the drums will produce many smiles.

Pick up My Wicked Twin’s Decibel Music, if you’re a fan of rock “the way they used to make it”.  But give it time to grow on you.  Some songs have a lot going on, and not many are instant.  Play it a few times.  You’ll be glad you found this band.  Or, in their words:

“So don’t steal our record,
Cause we gotta eat,
So buy our record,
Satisfies, ’cause we love the taste of meat,
We love the taste of meat!”

I’ve seen the juicy ribs Brent eats, so I’m inclined to agree.

4/5 stars

CONCERT REVIEW: Brent Doerner’s Decibel – 3/10/2007, Edelweiss Tavern, Kitchener ON

I keep finding these old concert reviews that I forgot to post here!  Enjoy this one from former HELIX guitarist Brent Doerner.  This was written the day of the show.  Photos from an old crap Motorola phone.

BRENT DOERNER’S DECIBEL – March 10 2007, Edelweiss Tavern, Kitchener ON

It was only an hour ago, but it is already a blur.

Just after 9:30 pm, Brent Doerner’s DECIBEL hit the stage at the Edelweiss with earthshaking volume. The three Gibsons of Shane Schedler, Ralph “Chick” Schumilas, and Brent himself were crystal clear and gelling beautifully. I can’t even remember what song they opened with, but it might have been “Taking The Colour Out Of The Blues”, one of the best tracks from their debut CD. This was only their second “real” show, and the new lineup (featuring bassist Hilliard Walter and Brent’s twin brother Brian Doerner, fresh off a Saga tour) sounded hot. Most importantly, the pressures of playing to a hometown crowd didn’t phase them at all, and they looked like they were having an awesome time.

Brent Doerner has evolved from Helix’s lead gunslinger to a frontman in his own right. I suppose if one is in a band for a decade and a half with a guy like Brian Vollmer, you’re bound to learn something about being a frontman. Yet Brent has his own style. He points to the crowd, he interacts with them, he slings his guitar to the side and sings to them. He hoists his guitar like a shotgun for emphasis, and does it all as if it’s second nature. The guy is a natural, no doubts there.

All the best tunes from the CD were played, in effective order, along with four new ones. And let me tell ya, folks, these weary heavy-metal eardrums of mine rarely hear a song as good as “Maybe Love”. The song has only been played twice, and they band are still working out the kinks, but could you tell? No, this song smoked, as more than one person in the audience noticed. As my fiancée noted on the way out, “that song was the single.” And yes, indeed, if Decibel were to suddenly press up a slab of 7” vinyl, that would be the song to put on the A-side.

Video for “Maybe Love”, after some lineup changes and a name switch to My Wicked Twin

The show was not without technical problems, but the band overcame with lots of comedy courtesy of Brian Doerner, and a wicked impromptu drum solo from the rock god. In the dark. He couldn’t have even seen what he was doing, but did that solo ever smoke. While some bands would view a blackout as a disaster, Decibel turned it into a rare chance to see a drum solo by one of Canada’s most underrated percussionists. And he made sure that lots of people got complimentary sticks, too, which was really cool.

One of the many highlights of the show was Shane Schedler’s vocal turn on “Never Turn Your Back”. Not to be outdone, however, Hills Walter kicked out the jams on his vocal “Dancin’ Frogs” featuring not a dancing frog, but a dancing blonde in a top hat, fishnets and Decibel panties. Sweet!

Such was the reaction from the crowd that Decibel were unexpectedly forced to retake the stage after they had already said goodnight. Having nothing else to play, they played “Taking The Colour” one more time, this time with even more excitement. The crowd ate it up, every last morsel, and left very very satisfied.

You simply must see the band live. If you care about rock and roll, if you care about local artists, then you must see this band live. If you don’t, you are the only one missing out.

Good show boys. See you next time, front row center.

5/5 stars

CONCERT REVIEW: Helix – The Power of Rock and Roll CD release party 2007/08/19

I found this concert review on a hard drive and realized I had never posted it to  OVERSIGHT!

This was a special experience.  Read on.

video by John Hockley

HELIX POWER_0004HELIX – The Power Of Rock And Roll – CD Release Party Report  – East Side Bar &  Grill, London Ontario, 2007/08/19

Today Jen & I headed down to London to check out Helix playing, and to celebrate the release of their new CD, The Power of Rock and Roll, on EMI. We threw on some Helix for the drive down, and met John Hockley (Helix MySpace guru) and his family at noon. John has quite an impressive autograph collection, as anyone who’s got him added on Facebook can attest to.

Stocking up on coffee and Timbits, John and I trekked over to Brian and Linda Vollmer’s house to drop off some salad for their after-show BBQ and to say hello. It was my first time at their place and I was blown away by Brian’s cool collection of rock and roll stuff! My favourite thing of his was his prop from the fourth season of Trailer Park Boys, “Ricky’s Dope Map”. Very cool to see it up close and personal.

VOLLMERBrian was gracious enough to take a photo with me, and Linda told me how everyone loved my [now deleted] YouTube video “Why I Prefer Helix To Rush”. That was very cool; I told her that if I had known that anyone would actually watch it that I would have worked harder on it! Maybe next time….

From there, we headed over to the venue to see Helix play. Milled around the crowd, ran into Brent Doerner and said hello.

John introduced me to Randy, the merchandise guy, who had also seen my YouTube video. He sold me some rare Helix stuff, including the CD Never Trust Anyone Over 30 which I thought I would never be able to find! Then I got it signed by Rainer Wiechmann who played guitar and engineered a lot of the later Helix stuff on it. Rainer was cool, and thank you John for introducing me.

fritzWe found a table, and sat with a very nice couple, Diane and Mark from Kitchener. Wouldn’t you know it…Diane used to be Greg “Fritz” Hinz bookeeper, and asked him to come over and sign my CD for me! I told Fritz that my very first concert was Helix at the Center In The Square in 1987. […where he mooned the crowd.]

Then the band hit the stage. This was our second time seeing the current live lineup of Helix. [Brian Vollmer – lead vocals, Rik VanDyk – guitars, Jim Lawson – guitars, Paul Fonseca – bass, and Brent “Ned” Niemi – drums.]  Nine months after seeing this version play for the first time, I think they were even tighter, and definitely heavier. I have never seen Helix play so fast and heavy before. Blew me away. Still played a couple of slower tunes as well, but even they had more energy.

The full and complete set list:

1. No Rest For The Wicked / Band intro and solos

2. Boomerang Lover

3. Get Up!

4. Wild In The Streets

5. Dirty Dog

6. Eat My Dust

7. Running Wild In The 21st Century

8. The Kids Are All Shakin’

9. Heavy Metal Love

10. Rick Van Dyk guitar solo / segue into Metallica’s Creeping Death riff

11. When The Hammer Falls

12. Deep Cuts The Knife

13. Good To The Last Drop

14. Baby Likes To Ride

15. Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’

16. The Power Of Rock And Roll

17. Animal House

18. Rock You



19. (Make Me Do) Anything You Want

20. Fill Your Head With Rock

Packed house, great show, the band played & sang great. Thanks Helix for an amazing afternoon!

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

The story of Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of Helix

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

Part 234: Wild in the Streets

For Aaron.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 234:  Wild in the Streets

1987’s Wild in the Streets was one of the harder Helix albums to acquire on CD. Cassette and LP were no problem at all, but relatively few CDs were produced in comparison. In 1992 I found a used cassette, (at a filthy music store in Port Elgin, Ontario) which came in a neat glow-in-the-dark cassette shell. It was the only glow-in-the-dark cassette I’ve ever seen or owned. Cassettes being what they are, I later desired a more permanent copy, CD being my preferred medium. This proved frustratingly difficult to find, even after being hired at the record store in July 1994.

This was important to me, because Helix were my first rock concert, on the Wild in the Streets tour. Johnny Cash was my first concert, but I saw Helix in October of 1987 in the Center in the Square, with Haywire opening, and they were awesome. The album wasn’t one of their best, but it did have classics such as “Dream On”, “Kiss It Goodbye”, “She’s Too Tough” and the title track. That old cassette wasn’t going to last very many plays.

Once starting at the record store, I discovered that Capitol/EMI had long since deleted the album. Brian Vollmer was still years away from reprinting and selling the albums himself, so my only option was to find a used copy. Since we sold used CDs, I hoped that one would eventually float my way. In the meantime I checked the “H” section of every record store I could find. No luck. Years, I looked. Like a woe begotten sailor searching for Cthulhu and the lost city of R’lyeh, I sailed the seas of music, searching.

Our first store didn’t have a computer, just pens and paper. We worked without a computer for years. All of our CD orders and reservations were done manually, in binders and note books. We had several pages of used CD reservations: many people looking for copies of the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums, T-Rev looking for Saga and Steve Earle rarities, and my hunt for the elusive Helix CD. This system wasn’t very efficient, as you basically had to remember what albums people were looking for, and go and check the book for the person’s information. If you saw, for example, a Traveling Wilburys CD in stock, you’d check the book because you knew someone was waiting for it.  It wasn’t an exact science but we did the best we could.

In 1996, when I was given my own store to manage, we finally got a computer!  The software had a computerized reservation list.  When you were entering new arrivals, you’d manually type in a title.  So, “MOTLEY CRUE” – “DR. FEELGOOD”.  A little note would pop up saying “reservation found”. You would then go to a different screen, find the person looking for the CD, write down their contact info, and delete the reservation.  This system was extremely vulnerable to human error.  They later refined it, making it smoother and more automated.

I entered my name in for Helix – Wild In the Streets right from the very beginning. With this new computerized system, I figured my chances of finding the CD had improved.  Not so.

The months went by, the seasons changed, still no Helix. My friend Len, who was a customer I met via the store, put himself in reserve for the Helix CD as well. I would have had first dibs on it if it came in, but as time went on two or three more people added their names to the waiting list. The likelihood of everybody getting a copy was nil, considering the years that I had been working there and never seeing one.  (In good enough condition, anyway.)  There was always a hope that one day, a copy or two would float our way. Len eventually found a copy at another store and removed his name from our reservation list. I congratulated him on his excellent discovery. He refused to sell it to me, however, even though I offered him $15 which was more than he paid.

A few months later, Len stopped in for one of his regular shopping visits. A pawn shop named Cash Converters had opened up in our plaza, causing us a little bit of unwanted competition. They too bought and sold used CDs. Usually they took whatever crap we didn’t, but occasionally people brought their good stuff to Cash Converters first.

This time, Len had an exciting piece of news for me.  “Do you still need Wild in the Streets?” he asked with a smile. “Because they have one at Cash Converters right now. 12 bucks.”

My eyes popped!  Excitedly, I handed Len some cash and asked him to pick it up for me. He returned a couple minutes later, with my own personal copy of Wild in the Streets. Mission accomplished! Finally! It was in like-new condition. All it needed was a fresh jewel case, which I provided as soon as possible. That night I finally had the chance to hear the album, in CD quality sound.

That original CD was in my collection for a long time.  In fact only recently did I find the Rock Candy remastered edition with expanded artwork and liner notes, used at Encore Records. I then handed my original to (former customer now friend) Aaron, which he received at Record Store Excursion 2013!

The lessons from this are two-fold:

1) When Record Store Guys befriend their customers, they get CDs out of the deal!

2) When customers befriend their Record Store Guys, they get CDs out of the deal!

Glad tidings for all around.