kitchener

#920: Wild in the Streets – Helix – Center in the Square, Kitchener, 1987

RECORD STORE TALES #920: Wild in the Streets
Helix – Center in the Square, Kitchener, 1987

We simply could not wait to see our first real concert.

As soon as the date was announced, we got tickets:  Helix with a band called Haywire opening.  Center in the Square, downtown Kitchener.  We were second row mezzanine.  Bob and I were so psyched to finally see our first real rock concert.

We wanted to bring a banner that said “HOMETOWN HELIX”.  We dreamed big.

Helix were hot on the road for their new album, Wild in the Streets.  We’d seen the video and knew what their stage show was going to look like.  The stage set played on the brick wall artwork from the album cover, with two ramps on the sides, that resembled the “fangs” in the Helix logo.  We thought those ramps were absolutely badass.  We couldn’t wait to see Brian Vollmer slide down mid-song,

We were not interested in Haywire — too pop.  The two girls in front of us were obviously Haywire fans.  They had the shirts and were going nuts for singer Paul MacAusland.  Bob and I didn’t think much of him, especially when he laid down flat on his face on the stage.  “That’s his stage move?” we questioned.  Bob liked the guitarist, but I wanted to hear some “real” rock, not this.

A kid from our school, Brian Knight, was there in the loges on the side.  He boasted the next day at school that Helix were not that good; he had seen better.  Ironically he later went on to roadie for Helix.  He could be seen in the 1991 MuchMusic special Waltzing with Helix.  He was also acknowledged in Brian Vollmer’s book Gimme An R, albeit his name was misspelled “McKnight”.  Sadly, Brian passed away this year.

What Brian claimed was simply untrue.  It might have been our first real rock concert, but it was a hell of a first.  We didn’t know a lot of the songs but we knew the hits and some of the deep cuts from Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge.  They certainly played everything we wanted to hear, including the new single “Dream On”, “Wild in the Streets”, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”, “Rock You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”, “Kids are all Shakin'”, and “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  They also played a new tune that we found amusing.  It went, “Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye” (“Kiss It Goodbye”).  Fritz Hinz took a drum solo, and turned around and shockingly revealed his bare bottom with nothing but a jock strap.  We laughed – we were easily entertained!

The highlight of the show was when Vollmer climbed the loges, and then ran all the way across the mezzanine, right past our noses!  We could hardly believe it.  Bob reached out his hand but Brian didn’t slap it.  I simply made a fist, like “right on man”!  It was amazing how we’d been watching this guy climb up, and then make his way in our direction…and then he ran past and it was over in a second!  Before we knew it he was on the other side, and climbing back down to the stage again.  We knew he had a reputation for climbing on top of things and doing somersaults, but we sure didn’t know that was going to happen when we bought our tickets!

Helix didn’t make as much use of the side ramps as I thought they would, but they did put on a hell of a show.  Doctor Doerner played that big doubleneck that we wanted to see so bad, and of course the “Wild in the Streets” guitar.  We got to see all their stage moves and tricks, and yes, the women in the audience were unlike any we’d ever seen before outside of a video.

We got all the songs we wanted, plus a few we didn’t know like “Dirty Dog”.  They put on one of the most energetic shows that I’m ever likely to see.  It was the MTV/MuchMusic era and all we had seen before were music videos.  The quick cut-and-paste editing of a music video is hard to compete with.  Helix had to work hard on stage, and they went above and beyond that night.

Not a bad “first”.  What I did notice was that Vollmer’s voice sounded thinner than on album.  I wondered if all concerts were like that?  I couldn’t believe how deaf I was afterwards!  Both of us were experiencing this for the first time.  It was a strange sensation and we must have been yelling in the car the whole way home, when my dad came to pick us up.

We couldn’t stop talking about Helix for days.  Weeks.  They didn’t really have to win us over; they were hometown heroes to us.  Instead Helix just cemented our loyalty.  It is said that a great rock show can change a life.  In this case, it simply affirmed everything we had hoped.

Rock Candy reissue

#914: The Bad Batch

RECORD STORE TALES #914 The Bad Batch

Mrs. Powers used to say to us, “You are the worst class I have ever taught!”  She was good at the guilt thing.  I understand that she continued to tell subsequent generations that they too were the worst class she has ever taught.  With the benefit of hindsight, she was the worst teacher we ever had.

I had her two years in a row.  Grades seven and eight.  We were the worst class she had ever taught both years.  Coincidentally, also the worst two years of grade school.  A couple years later, my sister had her.  She was still guilting and shaming the students when my sister had her.  She was the epitome of old lady Catholic school teacher clichés.

We were not particularly worse than any other class.  We had our bad apples, that the teachers didn’t seem to know how to contain.  My time with Powers coincided with my discover of heavy metal music:  Kiss, Priest, Maiden.  Wearing my Judas Priest shirt to school was one of the biggest mistakes I made in the 8th grade.  Powers gave me a good scolding in front of everyone else, who found it hilarious.  She must have thought I was going bad too.  I will always resent Powers for teaming me up with my nemesis Steve Hartman in gym class.  The guy had been picking on me since grade two, and she thought we’d get over it by doing gymnastics together?  The fact that I even had to touch the guy was disgusting to me.  Why did she have to do that?  Isn’t that borderline abusive?

In the 8th grade I had enough with Hartman and fought him one night after school.  He brought friends; my only backup was Kevin Kirby.  He was just there to enjoy the show, he didn’t care who won.  But I managed to get Steve Hartman to leave me alone for the year after that night.  That was pretty much it for his career in bullying; he never had a comeback though not without trying.

Kiss really did a lot to get me through the Powers years.  My year of discovery for Kiss was 1985, the Asylum period.  Not the greatest entry point, but I quickly found myself drawn to better albums like Hotter Than Hell and Creatures of the Night.  It was Mrs. Powers who presided over the school retreat to Mount Mary.  Possibly the loneliest week of my entire childhood as I bunked with every kid who ever tormented me.  But we had to go; Powers scared everyone in class by telling us that any student she had that skipped the Mount Mary retreat ended up “dead or on drugs”.   Bringing your own music was forbidden, so I memorized as much Kiss music as I could, to replay in my head when the going got rough.

Sex-ed was a joke of course.  I remember the usual school films with animated cells dividing, and sketches of genitalia.  The more we learned the less we knew.  But at least we got to sit there watching a movie, so the teacher didn’t have to explain anything herself.  Rock Hudson died of AIDS that fall, but none of us knew exactly what AIDS was.  She asked us if we knew.  One kid answered, “It makes you get old and die.”  She responded, “Well, it makes you look old, yes.”  We learned that much, and that you could get it from a blood infection.  That’s what we learned.  Can’t give this bad batch of kids too much graphic information.

Do you want to know the truth?  Maybe Powers was right.  Maybe our year really was the worst batch of kids she’d ever taught.  Some of them, at least.  Our only consolation was that she if she thought we were bad, she was going to find future generations were worse.  If she thought I was heading down the wrong path with Kiss and Judas Priest, I wonder what she thought of Marilyn Manson or rap!  She thought we were bad?  The 90s were still to come!

One thing that struck me from that time that will always remain is this.  Our family did not go to church much, but frequency in church visits didn’t seem to correlate to how good of a person you were.  My sister and I were good kids.  Some of these other kids that went to church every week were real assholes.  Just an observation.

I hope that Powers did end up with worse classes than us.  She deserved it.

#913: A Walk to the Mall 1988

RECORD STORE TALES #913: A Walk to the Mall 1988

Bob and I went to the mall a lot.  Stanley Park Mall was kind of epicenter of the neighborhood.  Though it didn’t have a record store of the caliber of Sam the Record Man downtown, it had an A&A and a Zellers where you could find all the big releases and a few singles.  It had a grocery store, which meant just about every neighbour bought their supplies at the same place.  The Zellers store stocked anything else you needed.  There was a liquor store.  Two banks.  We didn’t need to go elsewhere very often.

It was a nice short walk.  We used to take a short cut through the apartments at the very end of Secord Ave.  But they fenced up the shortcuts.  Sometimes Bob and I would go that way and jump the fences just out of spite.

“They can’t stop us from going this way,” we said.

We were little assholes sometimes, but we had a good time doing it.

The Little Short Stop was an important store.  That’s where I would buy my rock magazines.  Hit Parader, every single month.  I never missed an issue from some time in 1987 through 1990.  One thing we loved doing was leafing through seeing ads for all the rock albums that were due to come out.  “New Ace Frehley!” I exclaimed upon seeing an ad for Second Sighting.  The ads would often tell you names of the forthcoming singles.  The ad for Open Up and Say…Ahh! by Poison highlighted the track “Good Love” as a song to watch for.  Maybe the marketing for that album changed midway?

I eventually stopped buying Hit Parader, and switched to other mags like Metal Edge.  The reason?  I always suspected there was something up with their interviews.  There was a sameness to them, no matter who was answering.  Then, Sebastian Bach from Skid Row got in some serious trouble when an audience member at a concert threw a bottle at him.  Injured and enraged, he made the incredibly stupid mistake of throwing the bottle back, and hitting an innocent girl instead.  Hit Parader fabricated an interview with Bach where he was quoted as saying “That’s why rock stars have lawyers, man” or something to that effect.  The quote was used against him in court.

Not to deflect blame for the incident away from Bach, but I couldn’t support Hit Parader any more after that.  Not to mention, I was disappointed to realize that many of the rest of their interviews also had to be fake.  I gave away my collection many years ago.

In 1988, however, Hit Parader was my Bible.  That, and WWF Magazine, which was equally fake.  I always left that store with both magazines if I could.  If I couldn’t, the Zehrs store often had the WWF Magazine issues that I needed.  Some pop and chips, and we were all set for Short Stop.

WWF Magazine was devious.  They had the monthly publication, but also many periodical specials, and I had to collect them all.  There was the official Wrestlemania book.  Another one for Summer Slam.  Royal Rumble.  Survivor Series.  My mom used to say that the World Wrestling Federation got a lot of money out of us!  I would also buy the Toronto Sun the day after a major wrestling event.  They had the most complete coverage, often with full colour photos.  I may still have an old Toronto Sun from that time.

Then we were off to browse the music at A&A.  We’d look at the charts and see if any bands we liked were up there.  Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was for about a week.  I was pleased when I saw Priest’s Ram It Down on the chart later that year.  We’d shop around, but I rarely had enough money for a new tape.  Bob did — he had a job.

But browse we did, usually looking for Kiss tapes that we had never seen in stock before.  Or Europe.  Or Ozzy.  Whitesnake, Cinderella, AC/DC, Def Leppard, all of our favourites.  Cassettes were like crack to us.  We were always searching.  Something “rare” would be a must-buy.

Bob would often save his money and buy five tapes at a time.  He took chances on stuff I never heard of, like Fifth Angel.  He would caution me and make sure I was making the right purchase.  He was somewhat surprised when I got into Bon Jovi and decided I wanted to buy Slippery When Wet.  He wasn’t really into them that much.  “Are you sure that’s what you want?” he asked me one night at the Zellers store.  I was sure.

“Have you ever seen this one before?” we would ask each other.  The Bon Jovi cassette single “Wanted: Dead or Alive” was one I had my eyes on for several months at that A&A store.  You just did not see it very often, so when I had the money, I grabbed it.  It was worth it for the incredible acoustic version of the song.  Bob didn’t buy singles as often.  He valued a full length for his money, but he made exceptions for bands like Iron Maiden.  You couldn’t find Maiden singles at A&A though.  You had to go to Sam’s for those.  Bob wold trek there on his bike.  Fortunately he sold his Maiden singles collection to me when he did finally let them go.

One of the most distinctive features of the old Stanley Park Mall that people remember is that it was shaped like a big “O”; like an oval.  We would walk around and around.  Just talking, looking at the magazines I had purchased.  Or the tapes he just bought.  Discussing everything going on in music, in the neighbourhood and at school.  Because the mall was such a central location for so many people, we’d always run into schoolmates or neighbours.  Sometimes a girl that I liked, but I never had the courage to talk to any.

The mall has changed so much and the “O” is gone.  All the good stuff is gone.  A harsh reminder of the passage of time.  But I can still retrace my steps.

Bob was a fast walker but I could keep up.  You didn’t waste a lot of time on your way home from the mall.  You wanted to get down to business of listening to the new music, or reading the new magazines.  That was a special kind of Saturday in old ’88.

 

#912: My First Guitar

RECORD STORE TALES #912: My First Guitar

Bob had a blue and yellow BMX bike, so I had to have a blue and yellow BMX bike.

Bob had a leather jacket, and so I had to have a leather jacket.

Bob had an electric guitar…so I had to have an electric guitar.

Early in 1988, Bob bought his first and only guitar.  It was a jagged, black Stinger with a whammy bar.   It had two double coil pickups.  He had strap locks so he could twirl his guitar over his shoulder if he wanted.  And I had to have all these things too.

Bob bought his guitar second-hand from a guy who said “it used to belong to the guy from Helix”.  Of course there was no way to verify this so we never treated it as fact.   The first weekend he had it, he invited me over to check it out.  How hard could a guitar be to play?  They used to teach sheet music in grade school, so I thought “piece of cake, I can play guitar”.

I told my parents that I was getting a guitar, and to them it was just another thing that Bob had, that I had to have too.  And since Bob was two years older and had a part-time job, they’d be paying for this guitar that I insisted I was getting.  Bob and I went out on our own one afternoon, to East End Music in downtown Kitchener.  We browsed, got the help of the man working (probably the owner) and I picked out a generic white guitar.  It had what I needed — the humbucking pickups and whammy bar like Bob had.

“The black and white guitars will be a cool contrast,” we both thought.

I really wanted that guitar.  I thought it was just meant to be.  Bob and I were going to form a band.  This was the first step.  We already had a few band names picked out.

“We’ll be back,” I told the guy as we left.  I was really excited.  Upon arriving at home, I proceeded with begging my parents for the guitar.  My dad wasn’t happy, especially when I explained to him that we already told the guy that I was coming back for it.

“Oh no,” he moaned.  But they agreed, as long as I took music lessons.  That seemed like a pretty sweet deal!  My dad got out his cheque book, asked the man, “What can you do for me here?” and bought me the white generic instrument that I couldn’t live without, at a slightly reduced price!  I was the only one who was happy with the outcome.

It was at this point that I discovered that guitar was really hard.

Look closely in this picture and you can see the black cardboard “air guitar” that I made, and our old Atari 2600 console.  

Sure, I could pick out the first six or seven notes of the “Detroit Rock City” solo, but not in time.  Bob and I figured out how to do a simple version of the “Wasted Years” intro, but couldn’t play the song any further than that.  I saw a kid at school playing acoustic guitar, and he did something with his fingers that I couldn’t.  He laid his index finger on the fretboard, and played multiple strings at once — the skill of chording that I had yet to learn.

My mom found a teacher that did housecalls.  It was perfect — my sister was learning keyboards from him.  Gary Mertz was his name, a keyboard player by nature but also able to teach guitar.  Bob would come over on Saturday mornings, and take his lesson after Kathryn and I had finished.  Gary could teach three lessons in one stop, and I believe there was a fourth kid in the neighborhood that he taught as well.  After lessons, sometimes Bob and I would hang out and listen to music, or go to the mall.

The first lesson I really learned about guitar is why you don’t want a whammy bar.  I spent most of my time tuning that thing, and replacing a set of strings was a nightmare.  “I’ll never buy another guitar with a whammy bar,” I said after buying a second guitar with a whammy bar.

The reason I bought that second guitar was due to an accident with the first.  I left it lying upright, leaning on a bench.  It got tangled in a cable, and when my sister got her keyboard out to practice, the cable yanked on the whammy bar.  The guitar hit the bench and the headstock broke in two.  It was made clear to me by both Gary and my parents that this accident was my fault.  But Gary found a guy who would fix it.

A broken guitar is never as good as it was brand new.  A couple years later I bought my Kramer flying V, which became my preferred instrument.  It too was a white guitar, and so I said to Bob:  “My gimmick is that every guitar I own will be a white guitar.”  He thought that was cool, because two of my favourite players, Adrian Smith and Phil Collen, frequently played white guitars.

The fact of the matter is, some people can play instruments, and some people can’t.  I went the full distance before admitting that I can’t.   I modified my first axe with some cool stickers. Bob and I both bought “super slinky” guitar strings thinking it would help us play fast.   For my guitar strap, I chose a cool faux-snakeskin thing.  (I didn’t want animal print — too 1984.)  I had an electronic tuner, a suitably heavy ancient tube amp with a reverb pedal, and a collection of different picks.  Gary tried to make my mom feel better about my difficulty.  “It’s not as easy as the keyboard,” he explained.  “If I dropped an ashtray on this key, it’s still going to make the right note.  A guitar won’t.”  But eventually, I called it quits.  It turns out that my sister got all the talent.

Bob didn’t think he was learning anything from Gary, and he quit several months before I did.  He had a new interest now:  sailboarding.

“Oh I suppose you’re going to want a sailboard now!” said my mom with a warning tone in her voice.

But I didn’t follow Bob this time.  Sailboarding was the first thing Bob was into, that I had no interest in.  I toiled away at guitar a little longer, thinking now I could be a solo artist.  I wrote some lyrics and recorded some ideas on cassette.  Half of my ideas were played on the keyboard using the “guitar” voice, because I just couldn’t play guitar.

My first guitar, the one bought in February 1988 at East End Music in downtown Kitchener, with the repaired headstock, was sold to an older lady that Gary was teaching.  I’m sure she was able to get more music out of it than I did.

 

This Is Your Life, Jacob Moon on the LeBrain Train + musical performance of “Someday”

The LeBrain Train reunites old friends — it is what we do!  Whether it be Mike Fraser and Andy Curran, or members of the community at large, we enjoy bringing people together.  We also enjoy improvisation, both in our music and in the live show.  This time, flying by the seats of our pants, we reunited Jacob Moon with old friends from his past.  By the stories told, you can call this episode This Is Your Life, Jacob Moon.

Watch as Meat, Trevor and Jacob relive their favourite memories, musical and otherwise.  Observe as Meat forgets how to count up to eleven.  Enjoy as Jacob performs some of his favourite impressions.  Ed Grimley?  Check.  Tom Waits?  Check.  Nigel Tufnel?  Top ten!

In a LeBrain Train first, Jacob gave us the show’s first full musical performance.  Steve Earle’s “Someday”, live by Jacob Moon, is a LeBrain Train exclusive musical performance!  He also gave us a partial version of “Downtown Train” with some hilarious impressions.

We took viewer questions and a celebrity guest question from Andy Curran.  Discussion subjects included:

  • The making of “Subdivisions”
  • Musical adventures with Trev and Eric
  • “Christmas Goalie”
  • Playing a Rush song in front of Rush
  • Playing the Marillion weekend
  • Looping and technical stuff
  • Streaming live

Thank you Meat, Trevor and especially Jacob Moon for an awesome Saturday show.  Jacob, I am honoured and flattered to have you play live on my little show!  I cannot thank you enough.

 

#904: 2000 Dates

A sequel to #616:  None of My Exes Live in Texas (But One Lives in Thunder Bay)
and #903: Online Dating in the Brave New World

 

RECORD STORE TALES #904: 2000 Dates

When I think back on the year 2000, I realize, holy shit:  I went on a lot of dates that year.  Most of them were first dates; things generally weren’t working out for me.  When I look back,  I can’t believe how many there were.  I’ve already talked about “Hamilton #1”, “Toronto”, “Hamilton #2” (in detail!) and briefly “Kingston”.  But there were more.  Many more.  Some names are forgotten; the rest are redacted.  The cities and places are clear in my memory.

“Kingston” was cute and I fell for her hard over the telephone.  I remember finding it cool that she wore mismatched socks on purpose.  Some people teased me for that.  But she was quirky and had great taste in music.  She was a musician; a really good one too.  She came up to visit me one weekend.  We met in the parking lot of the Cambridge Record Store as it was right off the highway.  We drove from there to the cottage where we spent the night.  She brought her acoustic guitar and played some of her original tunes for me.  She also brought her copy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  The next day we came back to Waterloo for a Record Store party.  You can see why I liked her.

I was supposed to visit her in Kingston next.  The day of departure, there was a massive accident on highway 401.  I was stuck in it for hours and ultimately had to turn back home.  Things fizzled out from there.  She was planning on going to school in Thunder Bay, and while I said “no problem, I can do long distance relationships,” it was not meant to be.  Kingston is four hours away by car.  Thunder Bay takes a whole day, unless you fly.  It wasn’t going to work and I reluctantly had to let her go.  She already knew there was no future to it; I was the holdout.

I wasn’t over her yet, but immediately I jumped into dating once more.  It was a new girl every two weeks.  I was on the rebound.

“Guelph 1” was nice.  She was a student, who had long black synthetic dreadlocks.  The most memorable thing about her was that she was legally blind.  Maybe that was one reason why she went out with me!  She could see, she could get around, but her vision was impaired enough that she was classified as blind.   This meant that she actually got in to movies for free.  She had to sit in the very front row to see anything, but that was OK by me.

We went to see The Cell, starring Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Vince Vaughn.  It was shit, but good enough for a date movie.   We actually went out a second time, after she had relocated to Hamilton.  But she wasn’t into me and there wasn’t much chemistry aside from a couple pleasant dates.

That’s not be confused with “Hamilton #3”.  I distinctly remember going to have coffee in Hamilton with a girl I never saw again.  I can’t recall any other details about her.  She had short black hair?  I think she brought a friend with her?  I got somewhat lost on my way back home (as I usually did when visiting Hamilton) but managed to turn myself around this time without having to call for directions.

“Toronto #2” was more memorable.  I felt a little weird that I was meeting her in the same parking lot as “Kingston”, but she didn’t need to know that.   We wanted to get a bite to eat, so we headed over to East Side Mario’s in the mall next door.

“Make sure we get a smoking table,” she said.

To her surprise, I answered “No such thing here!”

“Whaaaat?” she exclaimed.

Unbeknownst to her, the region had implemented an indoor smoking ban on January 1 2000.  They don’t pay attention to Kitchener news in Toronto, so she had no idea.  Not happy!  That was our only date.  The indoor smoking ban was a trial run, and it was soon enforced everywhere else.  There was a lot of complaining then, and a temporary dip in revenues at bingo halls.  Just like with Covid lockdowns today, many establishments fought the ban and were served up hefty fines.  Things bounced back eventually.

Not me though.  I was still rebounding.  Around the same time as  “Toronto #2” came “London”.  That was my first drive-in movie in 15 years.  The setting was more memorable than the movie, which was the Kevin Bacon turd called Hollow Man.  All I can really remember is the windows fogging up – and we weren’t even doing anything.

Then came “Mississauga”.  This is the one I felt worst about.  Most of the other dates were just dates.  We went out, we hung out, we went home.  “Mississauga” met me at the local Chapters store and we went book shopping.  Then, I believe, we went to see a movie.  I can’t remember exactly because the night ended with us making out in the back seat of my car.  Although I felt cool as hell at the time for having finally made out with a girl in the back seat of a car, afterwards I felt shitty.  She went home, and we never saw each other again.  I didn’t like that.  I was really confused, working my way through all these feelings.  But it was a mutual thing.  She didn’t call me, and I didn’t call her.

“Guelph #2” was the second last date of the year 2000.  Also a student.  Nice enough girl; we went out a couple times.  I think the moment I bailed was when she messaged me one weekend telling about this other guy she was hanging out with.  I had no problem with her seeing another guy.  We had just gone on a couple dates, we weren’t exclusive or anything like that.  It was the nature of this one specific message that scared me away.

“I’m here with a guy and his penis is stuck in a bottle!” she said.

All the best of luck to ya!  I didn’t have any follow-up questions.

At the same time, I had just met “Kitchener #1”.  The year was coming to an end.  I was 28.  I was tired.  I had done all the rebounding a man could do.  I was ready, but the first date didn’t work out as well as I hoped.  We went to the Boathouse and had lunch.  Afterwards she sent me an email titled “Let’s Hang”.  She just wanted to be friends.  I was OK with that because I did like her, and I thought, “Being friends is OK.  Nothing wrong with that.  I would like more friends.”

Right around the time some dude in Guelph was struggling to remove his penis from a bottle, “Kitchener” was having second thoughts.  We got along really well, and had continued to hang out as she wanted to.  A few weeks after that first date at the Boathouse, she had a change of heart.  She asked if I was still interested and I was.

And so, as the year 2000 ended (and with it the millennium), so did my misadventures in dating!  “Kitchener” and I stuck together for two years which was the longest relationship I ever had at that point.  We had good times.  She became like a member of the family.  In fact she still has Christmases with our family today, even though we split in 2003.  When I finally met my true soulmate Jennifer, my ex attended my wedding.  I liked that we were able to do that.  And now, my dating days are truly over!

 

 

 

#878: Building Empires

GETTING MORE TALE #878: Building Empires

On multiple occasions I’ve said the best years working at the Record Store were the early years.  1994, 1995, into 1996…I’d never been happier working hard, and maybe never will be again.  There was no corporate head office, no regional managers, and minimal pre-fab signage that all looked the same.  It was just a few of us, die hard music fans, and a Record Store.  We were in the process of building empires!

The boss was always looking to expand our CD inventory.  Rarities of any kind were hard to find in Kitchener.  Be they singles, Japanese imports, or live bootlegs, they were hard to come by.  Periodically, let’s say once every couple months, the boss would drive to Toronto to pick up our weekly inventory orders from Records on Wheels.  R.O.W. didn’t carry anything particularly rare, just the major label hits that we needed.  Occasionally the boss would stop at other retailers in Toronto to pick up live bootlegs.  Nirvana, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses, whatever was popular.  There were a couple stores in Toronto that had massive amounts of bootleg CDs.  He’d bring them back here and sell them for around $40.  Nobody in Kitchener had access to that kind of stock.  They weren’t cheap and we didn’t make any profit off them, but they sure made us look better.  A lot better.  It gave us a chance to catch up a little bit with Sam’s and Encore in the “cool” stakes.

We also tried some more obscure distributors.  One of them carried UK, US and Japanese imports.  But again they were expensive and we had to hope they’d sell.  These distributors were really unreliable.  Long backorders were a problem, and there was no guarantee we’d get what we ordered.  We sometimes got lucky.  Nirvana’s Hormoaning was in demand, and we did get a few of those.

I’ll never forget this one Nirvana kid who wanted Hormoaning so bad.   He didn’t have enough cash so he kept trading in discs until he had enough credit to cover it.  You had to trade in a lot of CDs to cover $40 plus tax.  But he got his Hormoaning.  Until he had to trade that one in, too.  And he did.


There was another guy (he kind of looked like a little troll doll), and he worked up at Carry On Comics in Waterloo.  I think his brother was friends with the owner, and that’s why he started coming in.  He had his eyes set on an R.E.M. bootleg, specifically because it had a song called “Where’s Captain Kirk?”.  It was one of R.E.M.’s non-album singles, a cover of a band called Spizzenergi.

I was beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise,
What I felt what I saw was a total surprise,
I looked around and wondered can this be,
Or is this the start of my insanity.
Oh but its true,
As we went warp factor 2,
And I met all of the crew,
Where’s Captain Kirk?

The comic book guy salivated over that CD until he finally had enough cash to buy it.  I didn’t think he was serious.  He used to talk about buying this vintage Millenium Falcon toy and hanging it from his ceiling.  He was serious this time!


I managed to snag a couple live bootlegs.  No discounts on these!  Nine Inch Nails – Woodstock ’94, and Guns N’ Roses Covering ‘Em were both favourites of mine.  Money well spent and still in the collection today.  The boss hated that we took some of his good Toronto stock.  He was selling them virtually at cost, so that’s why we had to pay full price.  But he really, really did not appreciate when T-Rev and I bought stuff like that.  Here he was, stocking them to make our store look cooler…but in swoops T-Rev and metal Mike!  Maybe he should have charged more for them, across the board.  Where else in town were you going to find them?

On one of those early Toronto runs, the boss was one of the first victims of the Ontario NDP government’s photo radar project.  In order to curb speeding, the NDP launched the 400-series highway photo radar.  The boss was caught speeding on the 401 and found a nice photo and fine in his mailbox.  It was from one of the trips back from R.O.W.  The project was only semi-successful.  Drivers experimented with methods of covering up their license plates from photo radar cameras, and over 5000 photos were deemed useless.  The incoming Mike Harris government campaigned on getting rid of photo radar, and they did immediately after taking office.  The great experiment was over, but the boss was one of the drivers dinged.  All he was trying to do was bring us some rock and roll!  But it was the first and only photo radar picture I saw back then.

Damn government always cutting into our profits!

Behind the scenes, he was building empires.  He announced that he wanted us to buy even more stock from the public.  Trade-in CDs were big business but we were now going to be buying for two stores.  Or more.

It was just the beginning!

 

REVIEW: Max the Axe – “Randy” Live at the Boathouse – VinylArt.co custom picture disc

There are plenty of services online for cutting your own music to vinyl these days.  The one that caught my eye was VinylArt.co, based out of Wales.  This company will cut picture discs with your chosen artwork and (legal) music to four sizes:  5″, 7″, 10″ and 12″.  How well does it work?  Read on to find out.

MAX THE AXE – “Randy” (Live at the Boathouse) (VinylArt.co custom picture disc)

“How many times can you say Randy?”

The first thing I need to note is that I didn’t choose a song to put on vinyl for its fidelity.  The prime factor behind me spending my money wasn’t to test the product for review, it was to make something that I wanted for myself.  It had to be something that you can’t get physically — I wanted to create my own physical product for something that only exists digitally.  In 2018, I recorded a song by Max the Axe when they played the Boathouse, and a few people commented that they liked the video.  I think the live version of “Randy” they played that night was outstanding.  It had bite and presence.  Singer Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller really gives his all in this version, particularly on the chorus.  I decided to turn that version, recorded on my phone, into an “official bootleg” live record.  Sound quality wasn’t even a concern in that regard.

VinyArt.co seem to market these records as keepsakes more than a way to play music.  For example, you have two packaging options:  a coloured paper sleeve, or a frame.  You don’t buy frames for records you plan on playing.  I planned on playing my Max the Axe “Randy” bootleg.  I wanted it to sound decent.  Does it?

Actually yeah.  It sounds OK for a picture disc.  There is surface noise that you can hear during the fades.  As you can see from the waveform image below, you also lose volume with a picture disc.  By nature it is not going to sound as clean as the original mp3 file that it was made from.  However VinylArt “master” the track as part of the process, and it does sound full and beefy enough for my needs.

Unaltered vinyl at top, original mp3 at bottom

It’s a very easy process.  All you have to do is upload a photo, and a track that you own (or one from their library).  Then you choose the record size.   The smaller the cheaper, but also the less music that will fit.  A 5″ record can only handle up to four minutes, so I had to go with the standard 7″ single.  The records are one-sided with a smooth white finish on the B-side.  With shipping to Canada, the whole thing cost me $55 CAD and took just over a week.  They track the whole process for you, from photo printing to audio mastering to record cutting.

Keep in mind picture discs do not typically offer the same quality as pure black vinyl, but this is something I wanted for myself as a keepsake.  The bass is nice and fat and the vocals clear as a bell.  Except for the fade-in and fade-out, which are noisy, it sounds like a vinyl record should.  About what I expected.

Now Max the Axe can boast that he has been bootlegged to vinyl, and a decent one at that.  I can claim to own the only copy in existence, a limited edition of one!  The rarest record in my collection.

VinylArt.co aren’t going to make your music sound better than the source material, but it will sound like vinyl.  Your music, on a playable picture disc!  I plan on ordering something from them again, so if repeating a sale is a way to judge a company, then VinylArt gets the passing grade.  And so does Max the Axe!

4/5 stars

VIDEO: Max the Axe – “Hard Drive” / Traffic jam on Highway 401

It was a drizzly drive home, with an accident right in the “Sweet Spot” of Highway 401 heading into Kitchener.  Perfect for another Max the Axe video.  The track is called “Hard Drive” (see what I did there?) and it’s from his 1995 debut cassette Bodies of Water.  It’s a killer epic featuring flute, saxophone, and the works.

In this video you’ll notice I’m a patient driver; I don’t change lanes to go faster.  I get in the lane I’m supposed to be in and I stay there.  I only change lanes a couple times in the whole video.

Pay attention and you’ll see the anti-abortion protesters across from Freeport hospital.  You’ll also notice landmarks such as Tim Horton’s (see how many you can spot) and the striking Grand River bridge.  Mostly you’ll be annoyed at the tail lights and other drivers.  Get a coffee.  (This video has been sped up 2.5 times to match the length of the song.)  Enjoy the drive!

 

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