Helix

#681: Bad Lessons

GETTING MORE TALE #681: Bad Lessons

Parents of the 80s were always concerned about the impressions that their kids were getting from music videos.  Objectifying women?  Drug and alcohol use?  Absolutely a concern.  But what about other misleading lessons from the music video age?

 

Bad Lesson #1:  You can play guitar with gloves on!

You’re guilty, Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P.!  You too, Jeff Pilson of Dokken!  You both played your instruments in music videos while wearing full leather gloves.  As children, we simply assumed if it got cold outside, you could continue to play your guitar with gloves on.  I’m not talking fingerless gloves, but full coverage.

It doesn’t really look cold in that Dokken video for “Burning Like a Flame”. Why the gloves, Jeff? George Lynch isn’t even wearing a shirt.

 

Bad Lesson #2:  Great hair just happens.

How many music videos of the 80s showed the band members doing up their hair?  None!  Probably due to the “hairspray” stigma of the 80s. Some videos showed the band members literally getting out of bed, with hair intact.  I assumed that once you grew your hair long enough and had it cut by a professional, it would just automatically look cool every morning.  Naturally, I had bad hair for years.  Thanks, rock stars.  Don’t be embarrassed by your hair care products!

 

Bad Lesson #3:  Guitars are eeeeasy to play!

Since we didn’t fully comprehend that music videos were mimed, and not an actual performance, we assumed guitars were easy to play!  After all, they made it look so easy!  C.C. DeVille could jump around and swing his guitar everywhere without missing a note.  Others would just…hit their guitars…and the song played on!  Paul Stanley seemed to play his without even touching it.  You can imagine how we felt when we actually bought our first guitars ourselves.  Hitting it didn’t play a song, it just made a hitting sound.  We were lied to!

Players like DeVille and Jeff Labar of Cinderella also made it look far too easy to swing your guitars over your shoulders.  We damaged some necks and some ceilings trying to imitate these guys.  We learned you had to buy strap locks or watch your guitar get launched skyward.

 

Bad Lesson #4:  Adulthood involves walking the streets at night with your boyz.

As young impressionable kids, we didn’t know what adulthood was really about.  We saw our dads go to work every day.  Mom worked hard too.  But what about before they met and got married and settled down to have kids?  What was life like at that stage?  Judging by Dokken, Journey or Motley Crue videos, adulthood meant walking around town a lot with your buds.  Some bands even cruised in cars!  Is this what growing up looked like?


“Don’t Go Away Mad” (by the most Mötleyest of Crües) is guilty on two counts: plenty of downtown walkin’, and Vince waking up with hair perfectly coiffed.

 

Bad Lesson #5:  Getting arrested is no big deal!

David Lee Roth was led away in handcuffs in the “Panama” music video.  Bobby Dall of Poison got arrested in one of their clips, too.  Let’s not forget Sammy Hagar getting busted for speeding in “I Can’t Drive 55”.   But it’s all good – the guys were all there at the end of the songs.  No big deal!

 

 

It was never the alcohol, or devil worship, or women that made rock videos dangerous. Turns out it was the mundane stuff. Who knew long hair was so hard to upkeep? They never told us that. How naive we were!

 

 

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REVIEW: Helix – The Power of Rock and Roll (2007)

HELIX – The Power of Rock and Roll (2007

When Helix seemingly dropped off the map in the mid 90’s, I didn’t think they’d ever really come back with more studio albums. Yet they did thanks to the power of the internet. The Power Of Rock And Roll is a return to roots of sorts, after the alternative stylings of 2004’s Rockin’ in My Outer Space. This is a throwback to the basic guitars/bass/drums/shredding vocals of the Helix of yore!  “It’s a party that’s better than a beer, it’s a party in your ear!”  That’s their modus operandi on “Fill Your Head With Rock”, a song they wrote for the Sweden Rock festival.  They named it after the Kim Mitchell song of the same title, also recorded for Sweden Rock.

The Power Of Rock And Roll is essentially a reissue of the earlier seven song EP, Get Up! with five additional tracks added. If you already have Get Up! (which is now out of print), you still need The Power Of Rock And Roll because those five new songs are just awesome. Wait until you hear the power of “Nickels And Dimes”, an awesome track with a great chorus.  “Eat My Dust” might be the fastest song Helix has ever done.  “The Past Is Back (To Kick Your Ass)” is truly a statement of purpose. And kick your ass, this album will!

Personal favourite:  “Get Up!”  Can’t get enough of that chorus!  “We don’t need a reason to party, so get up get up!”  The first time I heard “Get Up!” was when Helix opened for Alice Cooper in Kitchener in early 2006.  It was a brand new song, but instantly memorable.  Brian Vollmer noticed I was in the second row singing along to the chorus.  He came down and slapped my hand!

Guitars are by session musician Steve Georgakopoulos who used to play Ace Frehley in the London tribute band Alive. As such, you may notice some very Ace-like bends and licks. Steve co-wrote every song on this album with Vollmer and Gord Prior (ex-Blu Bones). The only thing that I disliked about this album is that then-current members of the live Helix band doesn’t play on it. Rick VanDyk (ex-legendary Kitchener band Zero Option), Jim Lawson, Brent “Ned” Niemi, and Paul Fonseca did not appear, although they’d play everything live. In their stead are the aforementioned Steve Georgakopoulos on guitar, ex-Sven Gali drummer Rob MacEachern, and ex-Helix bassist Jeff “Stan” Fountain. I guess this is fine — these guys have a longstanding relationship with Helix. MacEachern even later joined the band in 2009. They’re all studio pros, and the album does not suffer for it. It’s just a personal taste thing. I prefer the members of the band to play on the albums. I’m traditional that way.

There’s a bonus track, a remake of the hit “Heavy Metal Love” which is almost as great as the original. Casual listeners might not even notice the difference. This was done to coincide with the use of the song in the first Trailer Park Boys movie.

If you’ve ever been a Helix fan, you will be delighted and pleasantly surprised by The Power Of Rock And Roll. Every single song kicks, no ballads. It is pure, raw, well recorded, well played, and Vollmer signs his ass off.

4.5/5 stars

Notice the Japanese symbol for “power” on the back?

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

#653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)

GETTING MORE TALE #653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)
A sequel to #652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

Perhaps the greatest awakening I ever had in my life was the moment I first heard Iron Maiden.  It was so important to me, it was the first chapter of Record Store Tales — Part 1, “Run to the Hills”.  At that early age, music and video games collided I was never the same again.  Since that time, music has always been intertwined with gaming and my best buddy Bob.  All three combined were responsible for my rock n’ roll epiphany.

Bob and I played a lot of Atari on the weekends.  Both families had the Atari 2600, but we both had different selections of games.  Depending on whose house we were at, we’d play different games.  “Gorf” was one game he had that I didn’t.  It was a shooter like “Space Invaders” but with different kinds of levels.  More than going for a high score, it was important for us to try and make it through all the levels.  Atari games were so limited.  “Gorf” had five distinct levels so it was more rewarding to see all five than to rack up high scores.

Same with “Frogger”.  That was one of my games, and Bob was very competitive on it.  As you progressed up the levels, more obstacles were thrown in your way, like snakes for example.  It was exciting to make it to a new level for the first time, but “Frogger” was a hair-triggered game where timing was everything.  And Bob used to get very, very excitable when a game of “Frogger” went wrong.  That is how he earned the nickname The Reset King.

Here was his thinking.  If you lose a level early in “Frogger”, the chances of making it to a new high level were greatly reduced.  Bob would rather reset the game than try in futility.  So, he’d dive for that reset button on the Atari console, usually while yelling something at the game.  “The game is cheating!” was a favourite.

The game is cheating indeed, I suppose.  It was easier to let him reset than argue that an Atari 2600 wasn’t sophisticated enough to “cheat” at a video game.  “Frogger” was very touchy, but it wasn’t particularly glitchy.  If you so much as touched a car, you were dead even if it didn’t technically “hit” you.  So it could get frustrating, sure.  We would have to eventually cut Bob off from resets or nobody else would get a turn.

And so, he was crowned the Reset King by my dad, who worried he was going to break the damn switch.  It was a title Bob rejected because the game was cheating, and because David Dolph across the street was way worse with the reset button.

David Dolph was this bratty kid across the street.  His weird family wouldn’t let them play with any toys with guns, like G.I. Joe.  But David was no dummy.  He had a Transformers collection, because he didn’t tell his mom they came with guns.  He was also destructive, and if you let David Dolph near your toys, he’d probably wreck them.  We didn’t like David Dolph, but one afternoon we found ourselves at his house playing video games in the basement.  It was there that David Dolph faced the Reset King.

They didn’t have an Atari, but they did have a Commodore Vic 20 that you could play games on.  We were playing there in the basement, when the Reset King decided to start a game over because it “cheated” early on.

“No fair!” yelled David Dolph.  “No fair!  It’s my turn now!”  He tried to wrestle the controller from Bob’s hand, who didn’t budge.  In fact he just continued to stare intently at the TV and play, with the corners of his mouth attempting to conceal a smile.  Giving up the fight over the controller, David Dolph burst into tears and ran upstairs.  Bob kept playing, a huge grin now upon his face.  We stayed until Bob finished playing games!

David Dolph was a weird kid.  His parents were really strict and wouldn’t let them listen to music, except for Bruce Springsteen.  They approved of the Boss, but heavy metal was satanic to them.  The kid was over at our house one afternoon when I was watching music videos on TV with Bob.  He was visibly upset by “Rock You” by Helix, and left the house.  About a decade later, he sure changed.  I often heard him blasting Savatage’s “Hall of the Mountain King” from his bedroom window when his parents weren’t around.

Maybe it’s the narcissist in me, but who was he blasting Savatage for?  By that time, Bob and I weren’t even talking to him, so I always wondered if he was blasting it at us.

As much fun as we had over the years, you had to be patient when gaming with Bob.  If you wanted play with him, you had to let the Reset King have his way.

The reset button never broke.  In fact we still have the same Atari 2600.  It works, and we still have all the cartridges…except one.  My sister never forgave me for trading away “Superman”.  However, I traded “Superman” for my first Kiss (Record Store Tales Part 3:  My First Kiss) so clearly I had the greater good in mind.

What did break…frequently…were the controllers.  And that wasn’t Bob’s fault.  Bob owned an Atari and took good care of his stuff.  He was brought up in a Dutch household that understood the value of working for something and taking care of it.  None of Bob’s things were broken like David Dolph’s.  No, Bob didn’t break our controllers.  They were broken by Cousin Geoffrey.  Cousin Geoffrey broke…everything.

My cousin is now a father himself, and he understands things a little differently now.  I think he doesn’t hold it against me when I say he was fucking annoying to play Atari or Nintendo with.  More annoying than the Reset King or David Dolph!

Geoffrey destroyed about three Atari joysticks.  I was pretty good at taking them apart and repairing them, but there was only so much I could do.  An Atari joystick was a plastic handle that activated four switches on a circuitboard underneath.  Geoffrey would push those joysticks so hard that the plastic inside would shatter.  I could take it apart and use hot glue to give the inner plastic frame some strength but it was a temporary fix at best.  You had to buy new controllers.  My dad eventually decreed that Geoffrey was only allowed to play with old, refurbished controllers, not the new ones.

Geoffrey destroyed our original Transformers G1 Frenzy figure, on Christmas day, the same day we got it!  He was just a destructive child, and what he didn’t destroy he simply lost.  I’ll give you some examples of the chaos he caused.

First trip to Alberta, August 1979.  l-r Mike, Geoffrey “Captain Destructo”, and Kathryn

In August 1979, the family took our first trip to Alberta.  It was a two week tour starting in Edmonton and going through the mountains.  My sister, my cousin and I were often given the same toys to play with, so we wouldn’t fight over them.  My sister and my cousin were both given dinky cars of the Batmobile.  Were they ever cool.  They came with a little metal trailer and a plastic Bat Boat you could tow.  We had a lot of fun playing dinky cars on those floors of Alberta motels.  They were also small enough to carry around in your pockets.

Geoffrey threw his first Batmobile off a mountain in Jasper.  He just wanted to see what would happen if he threw the Batmobile off a moutain.  A second Batmobile was bought for him on the same trip.  That Batmobile was flushed down the toilet of a rest stop in Canmore.  He was eventually given a third Batmobile, which, as far as I know, survived a little longer than the other two.

Geoffrey “Captain Destructo” (in cap) sulking after sacrificing the Batmobile to the Mountain Gods.

Another incident of soul-crushing toy waste happened in the summer of 1983.  This time, Geoffrey was visiting us in Ontario.  It was the summer of Return of the Jedi.  The new figures were out.  My mom took us to Zellers and bought each of us a new toy.  I chose Luke Skywalker, partly because he came with so many accessories.  He came with a new lightsaber, a gun and a cloth cape.  Geoffrey got the same figure.  We then waited on a bench while my mom did her banking.

“Come on let’s open these,” said Geoffrey.  My sister and I always waited until we got home.

Geoffrey ripped open his Luke.

“Why are you opening that now?  You’re going to lose the gun.  Just wait until we get home.  This is our last stop.”  I attempted to reason with my cousin but he had Luke out of the package.

Within the first five minutes, he lost the gun.  Before we made it home, he lost the lightsaber too.

“I told you so,” was something I relished saying to him.  My Luke, by the way, still has all his accessories 35 years later.

What these tales tell us is that cousin Geoffrey was a monsoon of chaos and utter destruction.  He also had all the latest stuff, and that included video games.  Fortunately for his parents, the original Nintendo Entertainment System had very robust, button-based controllers.  He couldn’t break them.  He was really good at “Super Mario Bros.” and “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out”.  Unfortunately this meant my sister and I didn’t get much gaming time.  We died early and often, and he played long lives while earning extra ones.  His turns were much longer than ours.

We saw him make it to Mike Tyson once.  That was pretty cool.  Once he almost made it, but my dad walked in front of the TV during a fight and caused Geoffrey to lose.  Boy he sure threw a fit that time!

Here’s the funny thing.  When we were kids, my cousin took a lot of energy and patience to keep entertained.  When he hit his 20s, he really mellowed out and we bonded like we never have before.  And what did we bond over?  Music and video games.

I took a trip out to Alberta for a week in 1997.  He took me shopping to a couple music stores in Calgary, used and new.  I found a rare CD featuring the early one of somebody named Dave Grohl.  It was the band Scream, and the CD was No More Censorship.  I was kicking off a love affair with Foo Fighters and it was a seriously cool find.  Geoffrey was (and always has been) into to Tragically Hip, so I got him a CD by a similar sounding band called the Barstool Prophets. Meanwhile, he turned me onto the Gandharvas with their last album Sold For a Smile.  Killer album that I still love (and own two different copies of).

At night, he introduced me to one of the best racing games I’ve ever played.  For the N64 system, we spent hours on “Top Gear Rally”.  It was such an immersive game for its time.  We designed our cars, we discovered shortcuts, and had a blast seeing how far we could make it.

Once again, it wasn’t best scores or best times that mattered.  It was seeing how far you could get.  Getting to the third or fourth level was rare and required serious skill.  It was the most fun I’d had playing video games in many years!

All these memories flow like a stream of consciousness, triggered by certain songs.  Early Kiss, AC/DC and Quiet Riot will forever be associated with the old Atari 2600 in the basement.  Bob was a constant gaming companion, and he sets off even more memories.  Discovering music together, like Whitesnake and Kiss albums.  All hail the Reset King.  Long may he reign!

 

 

Happy Birthday Mrs. LeBrain!

It’s a busy time of year when you have Christmas and birthdays in the same week!  I always felt bad for people who have birthdays at this time.  They always seem to be overshadowed.  So join me in wishing Mrs. LeBrain a happy birthday today!  She surely deserves it.

Don’t worry about gifts.  All she really wants is for the Leafs to win the cup! (For Christmas or her birthday — either one will do!)

#621: Bad Axes

GETTING MORE TALE #621: Bad Axes

Ever have extracurricular activities at work?  Do you enjoy them?

We had very, very little at the Record Store.  In 1995, the mall had a bowling tournament.  Different stores faced off against each other.  The Record Store had to take on the ladies from A Buck Or Two, a bargain shop.  We had a lot of fun, and I cannot recall who won, which means we probably lost.

We did have annual Christmas parties at the Record Store, and for a while we even had summer parties.  There was nothing else though that would have qualified as an extracurricular activity, unless you count endless staff meetings.  I know some places have team building events, like going to an “escape room”.  That sounds like fun, unless you don’t like your co-workers.

The best work event I had the pleasure to attend was Jan 31 2009, right after Jen and I married.  I received four passes to go see the Toronto Maple Leafs from a private box.  My boss and I went, and of course I had to bring Jen.  It was fantastic!  So much food:  nachos, chips, prime rib, chicken, sushi, ribs, wings, everything!  On top of this, it was Dougie Gilmour night, and they raised his number 93 to the rafters.  I didn’t even know who Doug Gilmour was.  But the Leafs beat the Penguins and Sidney Crosby.  Good thing; the rest of the season sucked!

Our work is doing a team building event this Friday, which unfortunately conflicts with Star Wars, but that’s life right?  We all voted, and for our event we are going axe throwing!  How metal is that?  Fortunately I do like all my co-workers, so I’m not worried about any errant axes headed my way.  The establishment is called Bad Axe Throwing.  By that I hope they mean I’ll be like a bad ass, not that I will be throwing axes badly.

Knowing my teammates, we’ll be laughing as much as throwing.  I’m looking forward to it, though the timing is shitty.  This will be the first Star Wars Saga* opening that I’ve missed since Return of the Jedi.  No big deal; it’s only a movie and I’ll see it soon enough.

Axe throwing is just so metal!  With that in mind, here are five awesome tracks involving axes.

1. KISS – “I Love it Loud”, because of Gene’s axe bass.

2. KICK AXE – “On the Road to Rock”, because they have axe in their name.

3. PINK FLOYD – “Careful With that Axe, Eugene”.  Not metal, but good advice.

4. HELIX – “Axe to Grind”, from my home town!

5. THE SWORD – “How Heavy this Axe”. Really fuckin’ heavy!

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

#564: The Smell of Home

GETTING MORE TALE #564: The Smell of Home

What does your home town smell like?

I may complain a lot, but I do actually love this town.  I was born in Kitchener.  I don’t want to live anywhere else.  It’s certainly not the greatest town in the world, but it’s mine. Kitchener isn’t known worldwide for its burning hot music scene (polka music at Oktoberfest time excluded).  That said we have produced a few local legends:

  • Helix (formed 1974) was based out of Kitchener for many years.
  • Errol Blackwood and Messenjah are our claim to fame in the reggae community.
  • Singer/songwriters Paul MacLeod, Danny Michel, Rob Szabo and Steve Strongman all hailed from here.  You also may have heard of one of the greatest bass clarinetists in the world, Kathryn Ladano.
  • Bluesman Mel Brown wasn’t born here, but he made it home.

Not a lot to boast about, but better than a kick in the pants.

Kitchener also is not known for its arts (that would be Waterloo) or its education (also Waterloo) or sciences (Waterloo again). What it does seem to have in plenty is a number of distinct smells.

Driving up Victoria street, you can smell the Weston’s bread bakery cooking up lots of delicious scents.  My dad has a song he used to like to sing when driving by:

“Weston’s bread,
Is full of lead,
If you eat too much,
You’ll surely be dead.”

That was a nice smell, but I remember a far worse smell in the Record Store days.

I spent the majority of my years in the Fairway Road area of town.  I remember taking the garbage out on many, many nights and smelling the same unexplainable smell.  It only happened during the summer. I don’t even know how to describe it properly.  I used to call it “grape flavoured urine” smell.  It was a weird mix of grape and pee, and in the evenings taking out the garbage, it was everywhere!  What the hell was it?  Nobody knew.  I haven’t smelled grape flavoured urine in a long time…but I remember it clearly any time I take out the garbage on a warm summer night.

There was an even worse smell when I was transferred to “the wrong side of the tracks”.  The garbage bin there was behind a diner.  Back there it always smelled of dirty cooking grease.

I hope your town smells better than “grape flavoured urine”, although you don’t have Messenjah or Helix….

Oh and that red poo-shaped sculpture?  Nobody has a clue what it is!

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

Gallery: HELIX guitar picks

These.  Are.  COOL.

To promote their new album Rock It Science, Helix released this set of five custom guitar picks.  It is available at their site for only $10, and they feature the excellent album art (by Brent Doerner) on the front.  On the back, each pick has a photo of a band member:  Brian Vollmer, Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, Kaleb “Duckman” Duck and Chris Julke.

Guitar picks are great to collect and here at LeBrain HQ, we can always appreciate a cool set of custom plectrums.  They’re fun, they don’t take up a lot of space (I’ll be storing mine inside the CD case) and they just look cool.  Feast your eyes upon these beauties and if you decide to go for a set, don’t forget to order the Rock It Science CD to go with ’em!