Gimme An R!

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