Helix

#884: The Long Walk Home

RECORD STORE TALES #884: The Long Walk Home

In theory, it should have taken 15 minutes for us to walk home from school.

Cross the busy Ottawa Street with the crossing guard.  Down Ottawa, left on Crosby and then right on Secord.  All the way down Secord to Hickson, Inlet and home.  Sometimes if my dad was driving home from work at the same time, he’d see us walking and pick us up.

The reality was, we usually took a lot longer.  My dad used to say that we “dawdled home”.  Most of the time, we trudged it on foot.  We began at the start in clumps of kids, who would peel off singly or in pairs for their own homes as we walked the route.

The other day I was driving that way, and decided to take a spin down Secord and the old route.  The roads were slushy and the snowbanks were high, and suddenly I had a flashback.  Why does it seem like we were always walking home in the middle of winter?  Those are the most powerful memories.  Dodging snowballs thrown by other kids, trudging through deep snow trying to make a “short cut”.  Coming home soaked and cold.  Eating some Scotch broth for lunch and then back to school for the afternoon.  I’ve driven that way lots of times, but only this one time — in the winter, with snowbanks at kid-level — did I have a flashback.

One of the only shields from the cruel outside world that I had as a kid was music.  At the moment I was driving, suddenly the power chords in “Little Death (Mary Mary)” by the Barstool Prophets hit the speakers.  “I would have loved this song as a kid,” I said aloud.

I never knew who my friends were back in those days.  A kid who claimed to be my friend one week would be a bully the next week.  There were one or two kids I knew I could trust, like Allan Runstedtler.  He was too nice and smart a kid to get caught up in that stuff, but he walked home from school in the opposite direction.  There was nobody else I could count on to stick up for me.  KK was just as likely to be throwing the snowballs at me.  Ian Johnson used to get under my skin.  “Name five songs by Iron Maiden,” he would say, instead of just teaching me about Iron Maiden like my real friends did.  But my real friends, from my neighbourhood, didn’t go to that shitty Catholic school.

The thing that I was discovering was that music like Iron Maiden made me feel good.  It made me feel temporarily bulletproof.  Something about those proud, defiant power chords.  I felt more capable of projecting pride and defiance if I had Iron Maiden behind me.  Helix, Kiss, Judas Priest — these were the bands that kept me trudging through the snow while being pelted from behind.

The Barstool Prophets song had the same effect.  As the flashbacks hit me, the guitar riff of “Little Death” pushed back against them.  Yes, I would have loved the song as a kid, had time travel existed back then.  Still working on my flux capacitor, but I’m getting there.  It’s strange, but sometimes I sit there and imagine if I had been able to allow my past self to hear certain songs.  I imagine my younger self’s reaction.  It makes me emotional.  That’s the only kind of time travel I’m able to do.  I didn’t have a bad childhood by any means, but man those bullies did a number on me.  I made it well into my 30s before being able to assess the damage that followed me right into adulthood.  I think the hardest part was not knowing who I could trust.  As it turns out, almost nobody.  By the end of the eighth grade, only Allan hadn’t picked on me.  And then I was rid of them forever as I changed school systems.

I would try to memorize songs as best as I could so I could keep them in my head while I was at school.  The teachers were part of the problem and the defiant nature of heavy metal music was, shall we say, not appreciated by Mrs. Powers.  I don’t think she commended its aesthetics, nor song titles like “Hotter Than Hell“.  She wasn’t one of my supporters as the grade school days drew to a close.  Nor was Ian Johnson, Kenny Lawrence, Kevin Kirby or any of my supposed “friends” in class.  My only friends in that cold depressing classroom were the songs by Helix and Kiss in my head.  I drew guitars in art class.

There’s a flashback for you.  Ian Johnson may have mockingly quizzed me on how many Iron Maiden songs I could name, but he vastly underestimated just what that music meant to me.  A year later he cut his hair short and was into something else.  My love affair with music never ended and only grew with me through time.  The Barstool Prophets have just shared a serious emotional moment with me, which allows them automatic entry into my soul’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It’s a pretty serious honour.  Please takes your seats with the other immortals enshrined within.  Graham Greer, Glenn Forrester, Al Morier, and Bobby Tamas — otherwise known as the Barstool Prophets — welcome to the hallowed Hall of Fame!

 

#867: You Keep Me Rockin’

GETTING MORE TALE #867: You Keep Me Rockin’

I love Helix.  They were one of the first rock bands I ever heard.

There are a handful of Helix albums that I play less frequently today.  I tend to gravitate towards “underdog” albums besides the “big four” on Capitol Records.  I can usually be found spinning Breaking Loose, It’s a Business Doing Pleasure, B-Sides and other lesser-known classics.

As an ending to this past summer of 2020, I decided to change it up and spin some classic 80s Helix, the stuff I grew up with.  I chose Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge and Long Way to Heaven in the car.  As per usual, like an old movie, images, thoughts and feelings came flooding back with every song.

Razor’s Edge was my first Helix, and considered the “big one”, with hits like “Rock You”, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” and “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  The first memory that came back was how disappointed I was with that Capitol cassette when I got it as a gift as a kid of 13 years old.  In Canada at least, Capitol cassettes in the early 1980s were of awful quality.  They always seemed to play slow.  I undoubtedly heard the album play sluggish and warbly for years.

That wasn’t all.  I scanned through the credits and noticed something that I thought was peculiar.

“They didn’t write the only songs on here that I know!”  Even as a kid, I noticed!

“Rock You” was a Bob Halligan Jr. composition.  The other two songs were covers (Crazy Elephant and A Foot in Cold Water respectively).  For the first few listens, I had a hard time getting into Helix’s own originals.  I wondered if I even actually liked Helix at all!  But then as now, I didn’t just fast-forward to the songs I liked.  I played the whole tape front to back every time.  I’m not sure when I started doing that — listening to an album in full, and only in full.  It came later in childhood.  When I played my Styx and John Williams records I tended to just skip around to the tracks I liked.  It’s possible that the change to listening to full albums was a combination of the cassette format with my good ol’ OCD.

I was new to “heavy metal” music, and Helix were one of the heaviest bands I’d heard.  My young ears were not acclimated yet.  Only one Helix original jumped out at me on first listen, and  to me it was clearly the hit that wasn’t:  “Feel the Fire”.  It sounded like a rewrite of “Heavy Metal Love”, which wasn’t on the album.  I liked it because I didn’t have “Heavy Metal Love” (didn’t even know what album it was on), so “Feel the Fire” would do instead.

Time went on, and then suddenly another song clicked: the atmospheric and thumping closing track, “You Keep Me Rockin’”.  I enjoyed the dusky intro before the song kicked into gear.  I can remember listening to this in the family minivan.  Because my own Sony Walkman and Sanyo ghetto blaster couldn’t play Capitol tapes properly, I liked to give them a spin in a car tape deck, which usually had the power to play the tapes at the proper speed.  I cannot remember exactly where we were parked, but it was definitely on a cottage holiday.  It might have been in the parking lot of The Chapel in Underwood Ontario.  I would rather wait in the car listening to music while the parental units were in there browsing.  “You Keep Me Rockin’” came on and I distinctly remember thinking “I’ve never noticed this cool slow part before, but it’s good.”  As if it was the first time, I heard that thunderous riff.  I played it a couple times before I relinquished control of the tape deck back to the parents.

Long Way to Heaven came next into my life, probably Christmas of ’86.  I remember there was a flyer in the newspaper with cassettes on sale.  A&A Records, perhaps?  I circled Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy and Long Way to Heaven by Helix.  Both tapes suffered from the slow warble that was a Capitol trademark in my collection.

Long Way to Heaven brings back fewer memories.  Though the album cover was better, the music is less memorable to me.  No cover tunes this time, though there were two Halligan co-writes.  I remember thinking the old-fashioned harmonies on “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” were cool, and they sound just as good today.  You can really hear the smooth voice of Doctor Doerner in there.

Two of my strongest memories of Long Way to Heaven had to do with the lyrics.  “School of Hard Knocks” confused me.  Was this about highschool?  Was this what I was in for?  A school of hard knocks?  “It’s a long long education” sang vocalist Brian Vollmer.  This caused a bit of a panic for me as I worried about the next year at school!  Then there was “Bangin’ Off-A-The Bricks”.   While the lyrics were about starting out in a rock and roll band, all I could think was “do these guys really beat their heads on brick walls?”  I couldn’t tell but it seemed like it.  “We were just getting our kicks,” sang Brian, but I couldn’t understand what was fun about it.  Any metaphors went right over my head.

I also wondered what my Catholic school teachers would have thought about lines like “It’s a long long way to heaven, but only three short steps to hell.”  But I also didn’t care what they thought.

Those cassettes were hard to listen to, but by 1989 came the answer:  Over 60 Minutes With… was the first Helix CD, compiling the best songs from the first three Capitol records.  There were even three unreleased songs, and they were great!  Finally I had the chance to appreciate deep cuts, by hearing them with the sonics they always deserved.  Fan favourites such as “Animal House” and “Young & Wreckless”.  New stuff like “Everybody Pays the Price”.  Songs I never heard before like “Does A Fool Ever Learn” from No Rest for the Wicked.

I wasn’t able to listen to Helix properly until I had a CD player.  That happened, and it’s been true love ever since.  I’ve been a Helix supporter for many years now and I’m still proud to wear their shirts!

 

 

REVIEW: Helix – Eat Sleep Rock (2020)

HELIX – Eat Sleep Rock (2020 Perris)

If there’s one thing you can count on, even in 2020, it’s that Helix keep on keeping on. 46 years running, and a new compilation CD on the shelves called Eat Sleep Rock.  Sounds a bit like Brian Vollmer’s life story!  Helix have given us two new songs and nine previously released numbers.  As has been the case recently, the cover art is by former guitarist Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.

We love Helix, but opening with “The Story of Helix” is a bit of a misfire.  I get that it would be a great opener for Helix’s acoustic gigs (it even has band member intros), but it’s a sluggish start to an album.  On this track, Brian Vollmer takes us through Helix history, with the odd musical segues through “Billy Oxygen”, “She Loves You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, and “Lick It Up” among others as the story progresses.  Even “Teen Spirit” in the 90s, “when everything went to shit”.  But what didn’t kill them made Helix stronger and they’ve certainly made great albums since.  Some of their best in fact.  Eat Sleep Rock contains shining gems aplenty of post-grunge-era Helix rawk.  But “The Story of Helix” should have been left for the last track on the album.

The good news is that Vollmer proudly proclaims he will “NEVER” retire!  And if the second song, “Eat – Sleep – Rock” is any indication, that’s a good thing.  This is a HEAVY Helix.  Produced by Daryl Gray, with guitars aided and abetted by Sean Kelly, this one smokes.  There ain’t no rest for the wicked, as “Eat – Sleep – Rock” resoundingly demonstrates.  Long-time Helix fans are going to love this newbie that recalls the fire and fury of 1984 all over again.

As mentioned in “The Story of Helix”, the 90s were not kind to Kitchener’s favourite band.  That said, they still put out three excellent albums in that decade, the last of which was 1998’s half-ALIVE.  It was the first Helix release in five years and included some new material to go with the live side.  “Shock City Psycho Rock” and “Wrecking Ball” (both heavy hitters) are two of the best.  “Shock City” is an upbeat boogie, and “Wrecking Ball” just slams.  Giving these two songs fresh attention is a good thing.

Brian Vollmer’s solo album When Pigs Fly (1999) is a Helix album in all but name, so “I’m A Live Frankenstein” is a valid addition.  This grinder has a hint of industrial rock and Helix alumnus Brian Doerner on drums.  It sounds a little out of place, but as Vollmer alluded, the 90s were a weird time.

“Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)” is a scorcher originally from the excellent Bastard of the Blues (2014).  That album is criminally forgotten, and it’s actually under-represented here.  The guitar hook and chorus melody will gnaw away at you until it’s right in your brain.  “Cyber Space Girl” (from 2007’s The Power of Rock and Roll) hasn’t been on a compilation before.  It’s another great tune from a tragically forgotten album.  The Power of Rock and Roll was loaded with heavy melodic tunes, and “Cyber Space Girl” definitely deserves a revisit.  Even better though is “When the Bitters Get the Better of You” from the superb Vagabond Bones (2009).  That was the first Helix album to feature Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and Doctor Doerner since the 90s.  They loaded it with top-notch songs and “Bitters” is just one of many.  It’s another boogie, so get down!

Later, in 2017, Helix issued a bitchin’ 12″ single for “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” and “The Tequila Song”.  Both those songs resurface here.  I’ve said it before, but Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has or will.  As for the classic metal sounds of “Devil”, it has a positively beastly bass groove.  These are both great tunes.  Now you can get them affordably on CD.  And of course, “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock Is Dead” (from 2016’s Rock-It Science) still stands up.  It ran the risk of being a novelty, but holds up in the present.  Gene did proclaim rock to be dead, many times.  I’m glad he was wrong.  If he wasn’t, then Brian Vollmer couldn’t still Eat Sleep Rock today!  But he can, and so the Helix band keep putting out worthwhile new material.

The track listing for this CD was well chosen as there is minimal overlap with other compilations (with three in common with Rock-It Science).  It spotlights songs that haven’t have their rightful day in the sun.  The only thing I’d do is move “The Story of Helix” to the end.  Minor quibble aside, if you haven’t bought a new Helix album in a while then now’s the time.

4/5 stars

Covideo 7: Bet You Thought I Was Done Making These Things

Yes folks is my first “Covideo” since April. Why? Why not. C-19 is back in Ontario for a second wave, and so are my Covideos!

In this video you can check out a couple Amazon unboxings (one toy, one CD) and get updated on the live streaming. Just a fun video, with hopefully improved production values over the ones I made in March and April.

#856: Why Metal?

GETTING MORE TALE #856: Why Metal?

As you’re aware, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately.  I hope you don’t mind.  A lot of my reflection has been to my distant past.  As I look back, I am reminded how music was always there in my life.  One of my first truly beloved records was the original soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back.  The bombast, drama and power of those pieces really appealed to me.  It’s safe to say that I discovered music through Star Wars and John Williams.  Until they came along, music was just something that was around me.  It wasn’t inside me until Star Wars.

They stopped making Star Wars movies (or did they…?) in 1983, coincidentally the same year that Quiet Riot released Metal Health, and Styx came out with “Mr. Roboto”.  I simply jumped from one train to the other!  They were both going in the same direction so it wasn’t much of a leap.  Rock music was very much about bombast, drama and power.  And it stuck with me, bonded at a molecular level.

But why metal?  There were other trains I could have boarded.  At school, every other kid was into Duran Duran.  I couldn’t have given a crap about Duran Duran, even if they were in a James Bond movie!  So why metal?

The first factor to examine would be peer groups.  Essentially, I had two:  the school kids and the neighbourhood kids.  The school kids were, frankly, assholes.  But none of them lived in my neighbourhood.  It was like growing up in two separate worlds.  My classmates weren’t near me and I was fine with that.  Every time I came home, it was like I had entered a safe zone.  The older kids in my neighbourhood were legends.  Bob Schipper, Rob Szabo, and George Balasz.  They were the ones I looked up to and they were all rocking the metal.  Szabo’s favourite bands?  Motley Crue and Stryper.  Balasz liked Kiss.  Schipper was into Iron Maiden.

We would gather on front stoops with boomboxes powered by D-cell batteries.  Van Halen cassettes would be passed around like a joint.  I heard Maiden Japan by Iron Maiden on my front patio for the first time because George brought it over.  The guys were eager to educate me.  Quiet Riot, Helix, Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., Black Sabbath were names I was trying to memorize.  I had a few things mixed up though.  I thought the song “Sister Christian” by was Motorhead, because when they sing “Motorin’!” I heard “Motorhead”.  So sure.

On the other hand, the peer group at school was mostly what we called “wavers”.  They liked Mr. Mister and Michael Jackson and whatever else, I simply wanted nothing to do with it.  At an instinctive level, I think these people repulsed me.  I had witnessed and been victim to their cruelty.  I wanted nothing to do with their music or their sports and I think that was largely unconscious.  I would have loved if they liked me instead of mocking me; it would have made life easier.  Obviously I had given up trying.  So why not?  Heavy metal music was like Musica proibita in Catholic school.  There were a few headbangers — I didn’t like them either — but just a few.  Those guys thought it was hilarious that I was still into Quiet Riot in 1985 when they had moved onto Van Halen.  They would challenge me to “name three songs by Helix” to see if they could trip me up.  That was the difference between the rock guys at school, and my friends at home.  The guys at home would have just taught me what songs were by Helix.

Fucking school assholes.

An other notable factor on the road to heavy metal that has to be mentioned is the one nobody wants to talk about:  puberty!  But it is true that the bands I was discovering were (mostly) masculine manly men, and soon I would be wanting to attract a mate like they taught us in sex ed class.  To exude masculinity, I chose metal.  I am certain that was a conscious decision.  Despite the long hair, the guy in Iron Maiden was clearly a tougher dude than the guy in Duran Duran.  If there was going to be a fistfight, I wanted to be on the Maiden guy’s side.  Easy choice.  It seemed that simple in grade seven.

Of course, heavy metal music had the opposite effect in trying to attract girls.  It absolutely repelled them, every single one of them.  The fact that I just went double-down on the metal showed that my love for the music was genuine.  Girls didn’t like metal, but I did, and I was already too committed to discovering all the bands I could.  I was living in the rabbit hole.

A gleaming, riveted stainless steel rabbit hole.  With a million watt stereo system.

Parental approval?  Not really.  Though they liked Bob Schipper, they didn’t know what to make of this metal music.  They tolerated it, and never gave me a hard time about any of the bands I liked.  They probably would have preferred Springsteen like the family across the street listened to.  But hey, they bought me the tapes I wanted for Christmas, and they let me tape the videos on TV, so a big applause to my parents.  I think my dad was worried that I was becoming such an introvert.  I remember him telling me “Garnet Lasby doesn’t sit in his room listening to tapes all day.”

When he said that, all I could hear in my head were the Kiss lyrics, “Get me out of this rock and roll hell, take me far away.”  I was so confused.  I loved listening to music in my room.  The only thing better was listening to music with my friends.  Was it bad?  I really thought about it, but obviously decided to follow my heart.

One more factor in my journey to metal that is easily overlooked but must be accounted for:  the fact that rock and roll is one big soap opera with enough drama, violence and musical brilliance to fill an entire Star Wars trilogy.  As my friends taught me the songs, they also introduced me to the stories.  “This is Randy Rhoads.  He was the greatest until he died in a plane crash.”  And Kiss?  Woah nelly, there was every kind of story within Kisstory!  How many guitar players?  And crazy costumes and characters to go with the story?  Buying a Kiss album was never just “buying a Kiss album”.  It was always buying a issue of a comic book.  What would Kiss sound like this time?  What seedy subjects would they be wrestling with on a lyrical level?  What would the cover look like and what colour would the logo be?

It seems obvious now, but the only way for me to go was metal.  In every single alternate universe, I am a metal fan.

Music allowed me to rewrite my persona a bit.  I hoped that, instead of that nerdy kid with the Star Wars fetish, I would be remembered as the nerdy kid that was really into music.  (Music that is still popular today, incidentally.)  Why metal?  Because it really only could have been metal.

 

#841: Happy Canada Day! 11 Tunes

Happy Canada Day from LeBrain HQ to you.  I know this is rough one, a weird one, and a difficult one.  I’m going to ignore the current goings-on and everything else that has to do with Canada Day, and present to you Eleven Canadian Songs You Need to Hear Right Now.  Enjoy!

1. Helix – “Billy Oxygen”

2. Arkells – “Leather Jacket”

3. July Talk – “Picturing Love”

4. The Guess Who – “Albert Flasher”

5. Blue Rodeo – “Side of the Road”

6. Harem Scarem – “Slowly Slipping Away”

7. Rush – “Vital Signs”

8. Gordon Lightfoot – “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” (re-recorded version)

9. Monster Truck – “Don’t Tell Me How to Live”

10. Kim Mitchell – “Rumour Has It”

11. Thor – “Keep the Dogs Away”

REVIEW: My Wicked Twin – 3 Engines (2020)

MY WICKED TWIN – 3 Engines (2020)

Like a bolt out of the blue, My Wicked Twin (Brent & Brian Doerner) have a new album out, their fourth, called 3 Engines.  A tight set with 10 songs in the 3-4 minute range, 3 Engines rocks.  Let’s have a listen.

“Gone Nomad”, the heavier than hell opener, is a tricky number that recalls Max Webster, but amped up.  “I’ve got a gun if we disagree,” sings Brent in an electronically treated voice, appropriate to the tune.  By the second track, “Light From Within”, we are in more traditional hard rock territory…until the corner bar piano kicks in!  Clearly nobody was afraid of taking chances.  The dark guitar hook is terrific on this one, as is the melodic bass.  Melody is also the focus of “Things I Wanna Do” a quirky modern sounding track with programmed beats and patches of keyboard.  Dig the engines revving!  “Give and Take” sounds like a natural followup, and it’s interesting to hear so much focus on the vocal melodies this time out.  Clearly a lot of effort went into them.

“Escaping California” has a dreamy quality, with spare use of keyboards that set the scene.  But it’s the following song, “House on the Highway”, that is the most fun.  Who doesn’t love a little banjo?  It adds variety and a little down-home quality and there’s nothing wrong with that.  “House on the Highway” for the win.

For heavy, you want “Digital Veins”.  The guitars and keys complement each other nicely.  “Rock and roll is what I am used to,” sings Brent, but he’s also not afraid to stretch out within those confines.  There’s a cool 80s vibe to “Digital Veins”.  Then “Half Broken” has an interesting rhythm to accompany the cool keys and guitars.  Killer solo here.  “Running Out of Time” has an accelerated pace but also some seriously tasty twang.  The album ends with “Brain Dance”, a cool party tune with a serious thump.  Wicked guitars, with varied tones and licks.

3 Engines is different, and that’s good.  The keyboards add an atmospheric tone, and it’s not dissimilar to old Max Webster.  The electronic treatment on the drums and vocals works, and complement the music.  My Wicked Twin have taken some leaps and bounds on this album, and ended up with some accomplished tunes.  Not for headbangin’.  3 Engines rocks, but it rocks smart.

4/5 stars

Additional musicians:

Paul Chapman – guitar solo on “Running Out of Time”
Jim Mclean – guitar and co-writer on “Light”
Rob Kemp – guitar on “Light”
Graham Smith – bass on “House” and “Light”

VHS Archives #92: On the set of “The Storm” with Helix (1990)

Helix made a bit of a comeback in 1990.  Their last studio album was three years prior.   Brent “The Doctor” Doerner was gone.  And their new platter, Back For Another Taste, was just a little different.  It was also their best in many years — maybe ever.  A little more serious.  The new video for “The Storm” reflected that.

MuchMusic was on set to watch “The Storm” being made, and got to talk to Brian Vollmer and Daryl Gray.  Longevity and the importance of music video are discussed here. From Hostess Sneak Previews in spring 1990.

 


#793: Helix Jacket Guy

GETTING MORE TALE #793: Helix Jacket Guy

I don’t remember everything that happened at the Record Store, I admit, and I remember less and less each passing year.  Certain events and characters have slipped my mind.  Fortunately we have the written word to remind us.  Here is an abridged conversation.


David:  “Didn’t there used to be a crazy dude who came to (your old store in) Kitchener in a Helix jacket?

Mike:  “I am unfamiliar with that gentleman.  We did however receive visits from Snake the Tattoo Man (who was in a Helix video).  He threatened Neil.

Matt:  “I do remember the Helix jacket guy, and he was a little crazy…I can’t believe you don’t remember that guy Mike…although it wasn’t nearly as good as the jacket “Rokken With Dokken”.

VHS Archives #77: Brian Vollmer of Helix co-hosts the Power Hour (1987)

One of the best early Power Hour co-hosts.  Helix mainman Brian Vollmer stopped by the Pepsi Power Hour with Laurie Brown to discuss their new album Wild in the Streets.  He also brought with him a Helix “Rockumentary” filmed at the Capitol Records building.

Topics covered:

  • The album cover
  • Jagger
  • AC/DC
  • Touring
  • A mythical future Helix album called Blood, Guts & Beer
  • The next video

Added bonus:  stay tuned to the end for a Music World TV ad for Wild in the Streets!