Helix

#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!

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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!

REVIEW: Helix – Rock It Science (2016)

NEW RELEASE


scan_20160930HELIX – Rock It Science (2016 Perris)

Helix just don’t stop!  Never have, never will.  They have been an ongoing property since 1974, steadily releasing albums with only minor gaps between.  They keep playing live, year after year.  They keep recording new music, ensuring there is always fresh product for fans to pick up at one of their unflagging shows.  The latest is a new “greatest hits” CD called Rock It Science, featuring a smattering of tracks from all over their career and one new song.

Bands and record labels are often guilty of exploiting their fans for one or two new tracks and a whole bunch of stuff they already own.  Helix fans generally don’t feel that way.  They want to support the band (“the hardest working band in Canada”), and it’s worth noting that most past Helix “hits” CDs are out of print now, and there is very little overlap in songs.  What overlap exists is usually limited to the “big hits” – songs like “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”.  Incidentally, the hits from the Capitol years included here are the re-recorded versions from Best Of 1983-2012.  Fear not, they are very authentic remakes.  You gotta do what you gotta do to get paid!

Brian Vollmer has been good about including deeper cuts on his compilations.  “Billy Oxygen” and “You’re a Woman Now” from the first album are brilliant.  These are two of their best songs, period, and they commence Rock It Science brilliantly.  Any Helix CD that includes “Billy Oxygen” is better for it.  This jazzy little rocker is one of their more complex arrangements, written and sung by the “Doctor” Brent Doerner.  Speaking of Brent, he designed the artwork for the CD and directed the music video for “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead“.  That’s the new track on this CD (click the link for a review of the song) and a damn fine one it is.  Brian co-wrote it with his partner in crime, Sean Kelly, a brilliant musician in his own right.

A few other treasures worth mentioning are the lava-hot “Get Up!” from 2006, and the ballad “Good to the Last Drop” from 1990.  This is the single remix version of the song, which tips the scales as the slightly superior (and more rare) mix.  “Shock City Psycho Rock” (1998) is a pleasant surprise.  This is a track written by bassist Mike Uzelac in the early 1980’s but not recorded until the 90’s.  (When they recorded it, Uzelac was actually a missing person.  He has since returned to the land of the living, but I can remember meeting his brother back in the Record Store days and that is when I first heard the story that Mike hadn’t been seen by family or friends in years.)  Mike Uzelac was a talented writer and contributed lots of material to Helix.  “Shock City” is one of the fastest and most destructive tracks in their catalogue.  Finally, “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town)” is a favourite, notable for its biting lyrics and brain-searing chorus.

So go ahead and give them an R.  The band is like an institution, a hard working gang of rockers that aim to please each and every time.  Buy the CD direct from the band and you’ll get a signed copy with some great liner notes detailing some rare band history.  Rock It Science would make a fine first Helix album for any collection.

4/5 stars

#495: Change

COINS

GETTING MORE TALE #495: Change

As anybody who has ever manned a cash register for a living knows, you gotta keep that sucker stocked with change!

During the transactions of the day, you inevitably run low on certain coin denominations.  With the Harmonized Sales Tax added in (our HST was a whopping 15%!) a used CD purchase always came to one of these four totals:  $6.89, $10.34, $12.64, or $13.79.  (Incredible, how I still have those totals memorised hey?)  Most customers paid with a $20 bill.  You can see how, through the course of a business day, you would build up a large stack of $20’s, while slowly running out of pennies, dimes, quarters, loonies ($1 coins), twonies ($2 coins) and $5 bills.  (We rarely had to replenish the nickles.  Since that time, pennies have been discontinued in Canada.)

One other critical factor to consider:  We bought and sold used CDs.  We paid between $2 and $7 cash per disc.  You can see how would we run out of $5 bills, twonies and loonies quite easily on a busy day.

There were fewer worse feelings than running out of change midday, with no backup to make a bank run.  Customers don’t like receiving a mitful of dimes for change because you don’t have anything larger left.  Unfortunately, most of them didn’t help the situation.  Some would try to give you exact change, or at least helpful change, but most would just lazily hand you a $20 bill even though they had a hand full of change, enough to make exact change.  Granted, a large portion of customers actually wanted to keep their quarters and loonies for bus and laundry money.  But I’ve also seen the odd guy here and there who would be paying, start counting out change to pay with, then lose count and just hand me a $20.  Anyway:  long story short, we were always handing out tons of coins and in need of change and small bills.

Managers like myself were responsible for keeping the register stocked with enough change.  If we failed that, or miscalculated how much coin we’d need to get through the day, there’d be hell to pay in the morning!  We had one nasty boss who was really good at yelling.  Once she had unloaded the artillery on you, you didn’t want to disturb the beast ever again or you’d get it even worse.  You didn’t ever want to have repeat offenses with this person.  She could peel your skin just with a glare.   So, I created a practical yet unpopular solution to this problem.

One day, after being yelled at for the umpteenth time for this, I said, “Fine.  From now on, I’m stocking enough change to last us an entire week.  We’re not running out again.”  And we didn’t.

I’d have to call the bank in advance so they could prepare my large change order.  (One bank wanted 24 hours’ notice — ridiculous!)  I’d go to the bank with a small wad of $20 bills and return with a heavy bag of coinage.  Fortunately we could use the “business line”, bypassing the large queue of regular customers, who sometimes would glare or make comments about the guy “jumping the line” (me).  Unfortunately for my staff, whoever was closing at night had to count a whole bunch of coin and small bills.  They complained, but I explained simply:  “I’m not getting yelled at again for running out of change, so we have to live with it.”

Like I said, it wasn’t a popular solution, but it was an effective solution.  Other store managers who might have been on the “good side” of that evil perfectionist boss didn’t have to worry about getting yelled as frequently as I did.  She picked on me and a few select others harder than her favoured crew of close friends.  Counting a shit-ton of change at night was a very small price to pay for this minor slice of peace of mind!

 

REVIEW: Helix – “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” (2016 music video)

HELIX – “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” (2016 music video from the forthcoming album Rock It Science)

“I don’t need no god of thunder to tell me what is great.” — Brian Vollmer

Helix are back once more, with a new greatest hits album called Rock It Science.*  You gotta have a new song on a new greatest hits (teased previously as “Mystery Track”), and this new song is timely and sharp.  Gene Simmons does indeed say that rock is dead.  In fact he’s been saying that for over 25 years.  I have a M.E.A.T Magazine interview with Gene from 1990 where he professes that rock is indeed dead.  And he’s still saying it now.  But Brian Vollmer retorts, “Don’t believe it when Gene Simmons says rock is dead!”

Sure, lots has changed, but Helix keeps going.  It’s not the 80’s anymore.  Very few can sell 2,000,000 copies of an album today.  It’s hard to make a living just by selling records.  You have to diversify.  Everything has changed — but like many things, the more they change the more they stay the same.  Rock is not dead.  In many respects, rock is more popular than ever.  Helix are still producing great quality music, and “Gene Simmons Says) Rock is Dead” is one more gem for their rock crown.  Daryl Gray and “Fritz” Hinz are still there on the rhythm section.  Chris Julke and Kaleb Duck handle the axes just fine.  This could have been on an album like Back for Another Taste.

As far as the video goes, Brent Doerner directed this one.  The Gene impersonator is bang-on — I hope Helix don’t get sued for this!  The video celebrates the old school.  It’s performed at Speed City Records in London, Ontario.  (Look for cool posters of bands such as Gob and VoiVod, who Gene slammed in the 1990 M.E.A.T interview.)  I really dig Daryl Gray’s Helix logo bass guitar.  That looks like a bitch to play.  Brent captured the fun side of the band in the video.  It’s not glossy, but I think it does the trick.

There’s no release date yet, but Rock It Science should be available to purchase soon.  Check out the CD cover, also designed by Brent Doerner.

Rock is dead?  Hardly.  Gene’s been wrong before, and he’s wrong again.

4/5 stars

ROCK IT

*The title It’s ROCK Science, Not Rocket Science was a working title for 2009’s Vagabond Bones.

 

 

REVIEW: Helix – Wild in the Streets (1987, Rock Candy remaster)

STRAT

Canadian Rawk week continues with a double dose of HELIX! Boppin at boppinsblog reviews the same record today. For his review, click here!

HELIX – Wild in the Streets (1987 Capital, 2011 Rock Candy remaster)

Before this handy-dandy 2011 Rock Candy reissue, Wild in the Streets was an exceptionally hard album to find on CD.   By the time I started working at the Record Store in 1994, it was already long deleted.  I had a pretty neat cassette version, with a glow in the dark shell, but the sound was pretty muddy and warbly.  The CD finally fell into my lap thanks to a kind hearted customer named Len, who picked it up for me at a rival store.  The full story of this rare item and the quest to find one was told in Record Store Tales Part 234:  Wild in the Streets.  Since I’ve already told that story, no further background is necessary and we can cut to the chase.

It has been well documented, both in Brian Vollmer’s book Gimme An R and the fine liner notes in this CD, that Wild in the Streets was not an easy album.   This album had to make it, or Helix’s deal with Capital wasn’t going to be renewed.  They had trouble coming up with songs.  They recorded overseas with a disinterested producer (Mike Stone).  The album was mixed and remixed again, until Stone had to demonstrate to the guys that they had lost perspective and couldn’t tell one version from another anymore.  Other stressors added to the pressure, but finally some singles were selected and videos filmed.  Time to rock!

The action-packed video for the title track made quite an impression. The high-flying Helix were (and are) one of the most exciting live bands around. The video perfectly fit the music, an unforgettable rock anthem about turnin’ on the heat and going wild in the streets. It was written by guitarist Paul Hackman and his friend Ray Lyell, a Canadian solo artist gaining success at the time. This kickin’ track represented a high point for Helix; never before had they combined the rock with catchy melody like this. MuchMusic gave it plenty of exposure, but it failed to jump the border and make an impact down south.

To make up for a shortage of originals, Helix recorded some covers. FM’s “Never Gonna Stop the Rock” was a funky dud. According to the liner notes, the band didn’t particularly like the song either. Manager Bill Seip chose it among many submissions, and on the album it went, because nobody had any better ideas. Nazareth’s “Dream On” was a much more natural fit. Helix always had a way with tender ballads; witness their success with “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”. An inspired choice like “Dream On” works well as a Helix song, in fact up here in the Great White North, I daresay the song is associated more with Helix than Nazareth. It’s hard to say who plays the subtle keyboards and piano, as three players are credited on the album: Sam Reid from Glass Tiger, the legendary Don Airey, and Helix bassist Daryl Gray. Dr. Doerner brought up his huge doubleneck for the video, an image burned in our memories. Doerner had to be the coolest looking guy on the scene, he had the star quality.

“What Ya Bringin’ to the Party” is the question, on another Lyell/Hackman original. The slicker production of Wild in the Streets doesn’t really do it any favours. If it had been on an earlier album like No Rest for the Wicked (and been a teensy bit faster), it could have been a sleezey rock classic. “High Voltage Kicks” is better because it delivers what it promises. This sounds like Helix to me. It’s fast, high-octane, and recommended for head banging. You’ll want a breather afterwards, which is good because it’s time to flip the album over to Side Two.

Scan_20160211 (2)Ready to “Give ‘Em Hell”? Helix are, and this is a good quality album track to do it. It fits that mid-tempo rock niche that Helix often call home. It’s back to hot flashy rock on “Shot Full of Love”, a Vollmer/Doerner co-write with some pure lead guitar smoke. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s his twin brother Brian laying waste on the drums. Brian Doerner is one of four drummers credited, including Mickey Curry, Matt Frenette, and of course Helix skinsman Greg “Fritz” Hinz. “Love Hungry Eyes” is one of the strongest songs in the bunch, and I think if there was to be a third single, it would have been “Love Hungry Eyes”. Brian Vollmer kicks this one right in the ass. I don’t think Helix get enough credit for their background vocals, but all five members sing. Brent Doerner has a unique voice and when the Helix backing vocals kick in on the chorus, you get a whallop of the Doctor right in the ears. That’ll cure what ails ya.

Joe Elliot of Def Leppard contributed “She’s Too Tough”, but then the shit hit the fan. Leppard’s label (Polygram) were terrified of Elliot competing with the soon-to-be released Hysteria album. Even though “She’s Too Tough” never passed the demo stage and was never in consideration for Hysteria, the label was so afraid that they were going to force Helix to remove it from their album. A compromise was reached: Helix could keep the song for their album, but could not release it as a single.  As such, you’ve probably never heard Helix’s version of it.  Leppard eventually recorded a proper version for a single B-side (“Heaven Is“) and it has become the more famous of the two.  That’s too bad, because Helix’s version is far more adrenalized, pardon the pun.

“Kiss It Goodbye” inspired the infamous Helix tour shirt that I would never have been allowed to buy or wear to school!  The song, another Doerner/Vollmer rocker, was unforgettable in concert.  It’s still a barnstormer on CD, certainly one of the most memorable tracks from this era.  The album is over and out in under 40 minutes, but you’ll probably have lost a couple pounds in sweat, if you were rocking out properly during those 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for Helix, despite a great live show featuring their fancy new stage set, the album failed to perform and the writing was on the wall.  Morale took another blow when Brent Doerner told the band that he was leaving.  The guitarist had been there since 1975.  He was integral to every album they made, and he was a charismatic personality on stage.  What were a band to do?  If you’re Helix, you do what you have always done.  You keep on givin’ ‘er.  They responded to this dire time with one of the best albums of their career.

Wild in the Streets was the end of an era.  It was also the last Helix album of the 1980’s.  With the benefit of hindsight, Wild in the Streets capped the decade off properly.  Mushy production aside, it was a strong collection of songs that probably could have been presented better.  Too bad!

3.5/5 stars

Scan_20160211 (3)

#468: The Lies of Ian

We will return to the Deep Purple Project after this instalment of Getting More Tale.

GETTING MORE TALE #468: The Lies of Ian

I feel blessed to have grown up in the 1980’s.  What an era!  It was the age of Star Wars, Van Halen, Dio, GI Joe, and Transformers.  We had the A-Team and Magnum PI fighting on the side of good.  By the end of the decade, hard rock had hit another major peak again (before being dethroned by grunge in 1991).  It was a good time to be in school.  In fact I would argue it was the best time to be in school.

I spent nine years, from Kindergarten to grade eight, in the same place:  St. Anthony Daniel Catholic school.  Or, as my sister used to call it, the “Hell Hole”.  I lived in a great time to be in school; too bad I went to a shite school!  The bullies were mean and the teachers did not give one shit — not even one.  In fact the teachers often exacerbated the situation by embarrassing the shy and fragile in obvious loud ways, giving the bullies more ammunition come recess time.

It was in this environment that I befriended Ian Johnson, a kid with a pretty wild imagination.  He was a good guy, we had birthday parties together and sleepovers and went to movies.  We played a lot of Star Wars.  His dad made Star Wars “tables”:  giant playsets of Dagobah and the Death Star, built out of actual tables with bits cut out.  Ian was definitely the only kid around who had one of those!  He was also the only kid in class who claimed to have ninjas training in his basement.

Ian Johnson lived in a townhouse.  He did not have a basement.

We would walk home from school together, usually in a small group with one or two other kids.  Ian was well known for his tall tales.  He would swear up and down that every word was true.  If that is the case, I have some startling news to share with the world!

1. It was not Walt Disney that came up with the ideas for Bambi.  It was in fact Ian Johnson who gave Disney the idea to make it.  Please don’t scrutinize the timeline of events too closely.  Ian said it; it had to be true.

2. Ian was a mathematician.  He was one of the world’s leading mathematicians.  When I asked him why he failed the math quiz in class, it was because he was “not an expert in math that hasn’t been invented yet.”  (That would be long division.)

3. He had a squad of ninjas training in his basement.  Below his townhouse, he had a training facility several storeys deep.  The exact depth changed from tale to tale.  The main takeaway from this is that Ian had a huge concrete ninja bunker full of the deadliest weaponry hiding under his townhouse in suburban Kitchener, Ontario.  This one, nobody bought.  We’d fallen for some of his lies before but this one was just too big and fat to swallow.  We nodded and smiled because to question Johnson’s stories would lead to endless arguing.

STONE (2)

 

4. Ian knew George Lucas.  He had read Star Wars episodes I, II and III.  He knew what happened in them and described it in great detail.  There was an encounter between Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo, setting up the bounty on Solo’s head.  The level of detail made this one hard to disbelieve.  Solo took a shot at Jabba with his blaster, who jumped out of the way, dodging the bolt.  Indeed early versions of Jabba the Hutt before 1983 did have legs.  He also described a sequence including creatures called “stonemites”.  Solo was hiding in a cave full of these things which could eat through stone like termites through wood.  It wasn’t until 2002 that I learned Ian had lifted these elements wholesale from Marvel Comics’ Star Wars issue #28, from 1979.  That’s why his descriptions were so clear and believable.  It was things like this that made it hard to tell when Johnson was lying or telling the truth.

5. Mixing half-truths with fiction, Ian told us all how he knew Brian Vollmer of Helix.  I later confirmed this part of the story to be true.  Back in Record Store Tales Part 2: Gimme an R! we talked in great detail about a time when Helix were local legends in these parts.  I confirmed with Vollmer myself that he did live on Breckenridge Drive in Kitchener, three doors down from Johnson, exactly as Ian described it.  He would often point to the Vollmers’ townhouse as we rode by on our bikes, but there was rarely anyone home.  Ian also described a Christmas card that Brian Vollmer received from Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P.  This also turned out to be a true story.  I recognized the card when Brian added a picture of it to the official Helix website.  Again, it was exactly as Johnson told us.  What was not true is that Ian took credit for the “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” music video.  “That music video was my idea,” claimed Ian.  “I was talking to Brian Vollmer and I told him, ‘what you really need is a video with lots and lots of girls in it.'”

I will give Ian Johnson credit for one thing, which is while I was still listening to Iron Maiden and Kiss, he had discovered a newer heavier band called Metallica.  They only had two albums out, Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning.  “Have you ever heard Metallica?” he asked me.  “You will.”  He brought the tapes to school and played a track or two.  Giving credit when it’s due, Ian was the first kid I knew to have heard of Metallica.  He was on top of his heavy metal.

That is, until 1986.  That is when Ian Johnson dropped the metal and went full-bore new wave.  “Girls don’t like heavy metal,” he explained to me during a heated argument.  Girls.  PAH!

This one is for Ian Johnson wherever you are.  I’m sure he’s still out there, consulting Disney on the new Star Wars movie backed by a squad of fully trained ninjas.

#440: What’s the Best Concert You’ve Ever Seen?

GETTING MORE TALE #440: What’s the Best Concert You’ve Ever Seen?

What’s the best concert you have ever been to?  Maybe it was that band that was always on your bucket list.  Perhaps it was a group who puts on an incredible spectacle, or perhaps even your first show.  Maybe you’ve seen so many shows that you don’t even know where to begin!

I’ve had a lot of memorable concerts in my years.

In 1983, my dad took me to see Johnny Cash at the Center in the Square in Kitchener.  My dad worked for Canada Trust, and Johnny was doing a promotional deal with them and their new “Johnny Cash” money machines.    In light of that, Johnny introduced himself at the start of the show as “I’m Johnny Cash, 24 hour money machine.”  Canada Trust even printed their own “Johnny Cash” money.  I wish I still had some.   Cash played all his classics such as “Orange Blossom Special” and “I Got Stripes”.  June Carter kicked off her shoes.  Not a bad first concert experience at all.

In ’87 I finally saw my first rock show.  At the same venue, Helix rolled into town headlining for their new Wild in the Streets album.  Opening for them were a so-so pop rock band from Prince Edward Island called Haywire.  Their big hit was called “Dance Desire” and the girls were going nuts for them.  They were all going ga-ga for the singer Paul MacAusland.  (Years and years later I actually dated a cousin of his.)  I thought they sucked.  The guitar player Marvin Birt was good, but MacAusland’s idea of stage moves involved him lying down flat on his face!

Helix stormed the stage with “No Rest for the Wicked” and put on an incredible show, involving Brian Vollmer climbing the scaffolding into the loges.  He then ran from there onto the mezzanine, right past us, as I was too shy to hold out my hand for him to slap!  Then drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz mooned the crowd…all backed by high octane Canadian rock and roll.  Every time I have seen Helix, Vollmer has been an energetic mobile threat.  Helix showed us that a rock show was about the on-stage energy rather than lights and explosions.

Best show I’ve ever seen?  No, but it’s in the top ten.

Sometimes it’s the smaller shows that matter most.  In the late 90’s I went to see local Cambridge band The Candidates.  I believe it was a CD release party.  They were playing hard, and drummer Robbie Hancock busted his drum pedal mid-song.  After the show, I told him I thought it was actually their best performance yet.  He didn’t agree, but I told him, “The drum pedal stuff, that doesn’t matter.  The reason it broke is that you were playing so fucking hard, and that’s why the show was so good!”

Next on the list:  Deep Purple, 1996, Purpendicular tour.  T-Rev, Iron Tom Sharpe and I trekked to Toronto to catch the new lineup featuring Ian Gillan, Steve Morse, Ian Paice, Roger Glover, and of course Jon Lord.  Playing a set of personal favourites including “Fireball” (the opener) and “No One Came”, we all left exhausted and satisfied.  Opening act:  Wild T & the Spirit.  Incredible and indelibly scorched into my memory, Purple proved that age does not matter one lick.

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In 1997 I scratched Rush off my list.  This experience was commemorated in Record Store Tales Part 70:  Canada Day Weekend Rush.  Seeing Rush on the most patriotic weekend of the year was a perfect experience.  The played all of 2112 live, an experience not to be missed.  It was also my first time meeting such friends as Tyler (from Tyler and LeBrain fame), and rock god Dr. Dave Haslam.

The final concert on this list would have to be Helix, once again, opening for Alice Cooper in 2006.  The venue was the trusty old Center in the Square, and this time we were in the second row.  Alice Cooper was on his Dirty Diamonds tour, a killer record and a great live set.  Helix were in the midst of working on a new EP to be called Get Up, and they played the instantly catchy title track live.  This time, when Brian came down to the seats, I succeeded in shaking his hand.  He must have noticed the guy in the front who knew every word….

Honorable mentions:  Blue Rodeo and “Weird Al” Yankovic.  I’ve seen Blue Rodeo so many times that I could almost make a list of the best Blue Rodeo concerts I’ve ever seen.  As for Weird Al, what’s not to like?  He has a crack band that can play anything.

Conspicuous by their absence on this list:  Kiss.  This experience was recorded in Record Store Tales Part 8.  Not only did Iron Tom make us miss the first few songs, but it was a boring by-the-numbers setlist.  That would have been fine except for the after-concert shenanigans that didn’t see me getting home until 4 am the next day…with a 10 am opening shift at the Record Store.  Good times?  Not!

Of these shows, I really don’t know which was the best.  Maybe they were all the best!  What’s yours?

REVIEW: Helix – Over 60 Minutes With… (1989)

Welcome back to GREATEST HITS WEEK! This week we are looking at different, interesting hits albums from various bands. Today…just gimme an R!

Monday:  EXTREME – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)
Tuesday: JUDAS PRIEST – The Best of Judas Priest (1978/2000 Insight Series)
Wednesday: JUDAS PRIEST – Greatest Hits (2008 Steel Box)


Scan_20150809 (5)HELIX – Over 60 Minutes With… (1989 Capital)

It’s always risky buying a compilation album from a label “series”.  Yesterday, we looked at a Judas Priest compilation from Sony’s Steel Book Series.  Over 60 Minutes With… was a CD-only (no tapes, no records) series by Capital/EMI in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  I remember seeing it over Christmas break in ’89, and trying to decide whether to buy it, or Ace Frehley’s Trouble Walkin’.  (I went with the Ace, and saved the Helix for a month or two later.)  I was confused:  Here was a brand new Helix CD, with Brent “The Doctor” Doerner right there on the front cover.  But hadn’t he left the band?  He had, but that was how I could tell this was a semi-official release, driven by the label.

The difference between Over 60 Minutes With…Helix and all the other label compilations is that this one is really, really good.  In fact to this day, it is still the one of the best Helix compilations assembled (and it was the first!).  Here are some reasons:

1. Rare tracks! Three of them in fact. You get demos for “Give It To You” (a new song re-recorded for the Back For Another Taste CD), “Jaws Of The Tiger” (re-recorded for B-Sides) and “Everybody Pays The Price” (later to be the B-side to “The Storm”).

2. Lots of hits. 21 tracks are contained within, and a good solid six of them were hit singles.

Those two points are enough reason to buy this CD (especially the first).  Let’s keep listening.

3. Rocker-to-ballad ratio is a generous 17 : 4.  Keep me mind, Helix ballads tend to rock anyway.  “Never Wanna Lose You” gets pretty heavy come chorus time!

PIE CHARTThanks to Geoff over at the 1001 Albums in 10 Years for the “Excel”lent inspiration!

4. Loads of tunes from No Rest for the Wicked.  When this CD came out in ’89, that album was unavailable on CD and scarce on cassette.  This CD has seven songs from No Rest!  That album, loaded with rockers heavy and melodic, is still one of their very best today.  Even though there were only three unreleased songs on Over 60 Minutes With…, there were tons that were brand new to me.

That considered, Over 60 Minutes With… has one serious flaw.   The record company only included songs from the first three Capitol Helix albums. Obviously nothing from the independent albums Breaking Loose or White Lace & Black Leather were up for grabs.  Strangely though, 1987’s Capitol Wild In The Streets CD is strangely missed.  The inclusion of one or two tracks from that album would have been appreciated.

Flaw aside, the liner notes are informative and the track listing is still generous. You certainly don’t want to miss album tracks such as the awesome “You Keep Me Rocking”, the raunchy “Dirty Dog” or the slinky “Check Out The Love”.  They are here along with many others. Pick this up, enjoy it, and then explore some of Helix’s proper albums, such as No Rest for the Wicked.  This is great, but it’s only the beginning!  Gimme an R indeed.

4.5/5 R’s

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