Don Simmons

#924: FU!

RECORD STORE TALES #924: FU!

What is anger?  One of the most powerful of the human emotions.  It can take over your rational mind, but it is just a mask for what is really going on in your head.  Grief, frustration, loss of control…these can all manifest as anger.

Right now, I am angry.

I’m processing a lot of information.  Earlier this week, we lost Joey Jordison of Slipknot, younger than me at age 46.  Before that it was Mike Howe of Metal Church at age 55, not much older than I am.  I didn’t let these deaths affect me.  I didn’t let the losses in.  Ignored and plowed forward.  Sometimes you can handle the shit, sometimes you can’t.  A little bit of denial got me through the days.

Then we lost Don Simmons of Helix.  This one stung because Don’s sister is a long time family friend.  We’ve known her…what, 35 years?  40?  In fact she was going to hook me up with Don for an interview.   Don was 64 and now things were hitting close to home.

Then it was ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill.  Just as long as we’ve known Don’s sister, Dusty Hill has been singing me the blues.  Rocking blues actually, but Dusty and ZZ Top have been a part of my life for so long.  Most of my life.  ZZ Top have been a standby.  Great tunes when I needed them, on demand, when I had the blues or needed a kick.  Dusty’s gone.

And then, mere hours after Dusty, as if the world needed another kick in the balls, an old friend of mine lost his wife.  Age 40.  Multiple sclerosis.  And they are good people.  They did nothing to deserve this.  I worked with him several years ago, but we kept in touch.  Good by, from Newfoundland, who loves AC/DC and Sloan.  And his wife.  She was inspiring.  Those of us touched by neurological disorders tend to feel a bond.  Whether it’s epilepsy or MS, there are many shared experiences.  I always felt like we had this in common; that we were the loving supporters of our sick wives.  So stuff like this, it hits home.  Hard.  I was sad when he moved out to Fort McMurray.  I can’t imagine what he’s going through now.  I don’t want to.

What is my anger masking?  Fear.  Grief.  Confusion.  And I’m going to have to deal with them eventually.

For my friend, in indescribably pain, a song by his favourite band.  No grief here, just rock.  I’m thinking of you.  This one’s for you man.

 

Rest in Peace original Helix keyboardist Don Simmons

Late yesterday we were informed that Don Simmons, the original founding keyboard player from Helix, had passed away. He was 64.

Simmons played in the original Helix band, with singer Brian Vollmer, drummer Bruce Arnold, guitarist Ron Watson, and bassist Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg. Simmons gigged with Helix from 1974-1976, and was still in the group for a short time when Brent “The Doctor” Doerner joined, beginning the transformation into the modern band.

In 2004, Helix staged a massive reunion that included many of their former surviving members. The original band, including Simmons on keyboards, got up on stage for the first time in 30 years and played “Buff’s Bar Blues”, a mainstay of their early sets. The show was released as the 30th Anniversary Concert.

Don never stopped loving music and continued to play keyboard and guitar. Rest in peace, Don Simmons.

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

DVD REVIEW: Helix – 30th Anniversary Concert (2004)

HELIX FRONT

HELIX – 30th Anniversary Concert (2004 EMI)

Helix will be turning 40 in 2014!  When I talked to Brian Vollmer back in September, he wasn’t interested in taking a look back this time.  Helix did glance back for their 30th in 2004, and this DVD was one of several celebratory releases.

The Helix DVD, the 30th Anniversary Concert, is one of the best rock videos I’ve seen. This band has so much history, and most of it was onstage that night, July 17 2004.

Vollmer decided to celebrate the 30th in style. Traveling to nearby Brantford and taking over the beautiful Sanderson Centre, Helix unveiled a setlist that honored their entire history, and guested nearly every band member from 1974 to 1990!

There were a few conspicuous by their absence, such as longtime bassist Daryl Gray, and a few that we knew couldn’t turn up (the then-missing Mike Uzelac, the late Paul Hackman). However, Brian Vollmer (only remaining original Helix member) proceeded to reunite members of the original 1974 Helix, which had never even been recorded before! From there we go to the lineup responsible for the first two albums (sans Hackman and Uzelac, replaced here by current Helix alum Rainer Weickmann and 1976 bassist Keith “Bert” Zurbrigg, wearing trademark tux). Brian Doerner is introduced as Canada’s greatest drummer, and while Neil Peart and Gary McCracken might disagree, he’s definitely up there. His brother Brent literally steals the show. Singing such lost classics as “Billy Oxygen” and “Crazy Women”, Brent still has that rock star quality. His guitar playing was stellar that night.

Other members from back in the day turned up: Leo Niebudek on drums, and then, finally…Greg “Fritz” Hinz, all the way from sunny Florida, behind the skins to celebrate Helix’ late 80’s heyday.

Not to be overshadowed, the 2004 Helix lineup returned to the stage for some more hits. “Archie” Gamble is a fantastic drummer, it should be noted, spinning his sticks while creatively keeping the time. The addition of a female vocalist, Cindy Weichmann, allowed the band to perform 1976’s “You’re A Woman Now” for the first time ever with a female vocal, just as it was on the album.

The nucleus of this DVD are the six tunes from the 70’s that rarely, if ever, get played today. As great as the hit 80’s material was, the 70’s stuff is what makes this DVD different from any other Helix product you can buy.

There are generous bonus features: interviews with Brian and his ever-supportive wife Lynda, candid scenes of rehearsals and Brian trying to get this monster concert together. There are interviews with fans who traveled all the way across the country to see this one show. Best of all are the clips of the old band members, now short-haired, meeting up again for the first time in years. “I’m Brian Drummer and I play Doerner,” says the drummer as he arrives. As Brian stands next to his twin brother Brent, Fritz says, “I never could tell you two apart”. It’s like watching someone’s family reunion video.

If you are a Helix fan, you have no excuse for not owning this. If you are only a casual Helix fan and want to check out some of their best stuff, this is the DVD package to get. Not only do you get the hits, but you get the history, and that’s not something to be ignored for a band that turned 30.

5/5 stars

This stuff below taken from the Wikipedia page, but I don’t care; I wrote the Wikipedia page.

Chapters

All songs written by Brian Vollmer and Paul Hackman except where noted.

  1. The Band (includes the song “Ave Maria” performed by Brian Vollmer) (6:58)
  2. The Sanderson Theatre (5:54)
  3. The Concert: “Space Junk” (taped intro) (Rainer Wiechmann)/”Rockin’ In My Outer Space” (Bill Gadd, Rob Long, Tony Paleschi, Vollmer) (5:53)
  4. “Running Wild In The 21st Century” (3:53)
  5. “The Ballad of Sam and Mary” (Gadd, Long, Paleschi, Vollmer) (4:11)
  6. “It’s Hard to Feel the Sunshine When Your Heart is Full of Rain” (Gadd, Long, Paleschi, Vollmer) (3:35)
  7. The Original Helix: “Thinking It Over” (studio recording) (Del Shannon)/”Buff’s Bar Blues” (Alex Harvey) (9:59)
  8. The Early Years: “I Could Never Leave” (studio recording) (4:01)
  9. “Crazy Women” (Brent Doener) (3:41)
  10. “You’re A Woman Now” (Hackman) (6:59)
  11. “Billy Oxygen” (Doerner) (5:08)
  12. The Early 80’s: “Women, Whiskey & Sin” (studio recording) (Vollmer) (3:36)
  13. “It’s Too Late” (Doerner) (4:01)
  14. “Breaking Loose” (Vollmer, Doerner) (4:23)
  15. The Capitol Years: “Give It To You” (studio recording) (4:10)
  16. “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” (Joey Levine, Richard Rosenblatt) (3:24)
  17. “Heavy Metal Love” (3:45)
  18. “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want” (Paul Naummann, Danny Taylor) (4:03)
  19. “Deep Cuts the Knife” (Hackman, Bob Halligan, Jr. (4:31)
  20. “Wild in the Streets” (Hackman, Ray Lyell) (4:30)
  21. “Dirty Dog” (Vollmer, Doerner) (3:40)
  22. “Rock You” (Halligan) (6:23)
  23. “The Kids are All Shakin'” (4:54)
  24. Aftermath (includes the song “Danny Boy” performed by Brian Vollmer) (3:15)

Bonus Features

  1. 8mm Memories (8:44)

Personnel

Helix

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Jim Lawson – guitar
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar
  • Cindy Wiechmann – acoustic guitar, vocals, keyboards
  • Jeff “Stan” Fountain – bass
  • Glen “Archie” Gamble – drums

Special guests: Everyone on “Rock You”

The Original Helix

Chapter 7, “Buff’s Bar Blues”

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Bruce Arnold – drums
  • Ron Watson – guitar
  • Don Simmons – keyboards
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass

The Early Years

Chapters 8-11

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals on all except “Crazy Women” and “Billy Oxygen”
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar, lead vocals on “Crazy Women” and “Billy Oxygen”
  • Brian Doerner – drums
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

Special guests: Cindy Wiechmann and Cheryl Lescom – backing vocals on “You’re a Woman Now”, Cole G. Benjamin – keyboards on “Billy Oxygen”

The Early 80’s

Chapters 12-14

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Leo Niebudek – drums
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass (standing in for Mike Uzelac)
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

The Capitol Years

Chapters 15-22

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz – drums
  • Jeff “Stan” Fountain – bass (standing in for Mike Uzelac and Daryl Gray)
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

Special guest: Ray Lyell – vocals on “Wild in the Streets”

Studio songs

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals on all studio songs
  • Paul Hackman – guitar on all studio songs
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doener – guitar on all studio songs
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass on “Thinking It Over” and “I Could Never Leave”
  • Brian Doerner – drums on “Thinking It Over” and “I Could Never Leave”
  • Mike Uzelac – bass on “Women, Whiskey & Sin”
  • Leo Niebudek – drums on “Women, Whiskey & Sin”
  • Daryl Gray – bass on “Give It To You”
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz – drums on “Give It To You”