Mark Chichkan

#983: Gimme Another R!

RECORD STORE TALES #983: Gimme Another R!

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 2:  Gimme An R!

There’s a certain amount of pride that one takes in being a Helix fan.  Helix the band are almost as old as I am!  They formed in 1974 and put out their first independent album Breaking Loose in 1979.  And what a debut it was!  With a handful of road-tested songs, the band plied the waters of guitar rock, with a foot in sci-fi prog and another in boogie-woogie.  Just check out their first minor hit “Billy Oxygen” if you don’t believe me.  They’ve been releasing music steadily ever since, with Capitol Records and others, with only a minor five year gap between It’s a Business Doing Pleasure (1993) and half-ALIVE (1998).

In 2022, Helix are back with a new single called “Not My Circus, Not My Clowns”.  They’re getting ready to start gigging again after two years of Covid-induced hibernation.  The current lineup consists of founder Brian Vollmer, classic members Daryl Gray and Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and guitarists Chris Julke and Mark Chichkan.  Julke has already been in the band eight years, and Chichkan had countless gigs with Helix in the mid-90s.  These veterans absolutely know how to give ’em an R.  Then we have Sean Kelly helping out in the studio to boot, adding some nitro to the mix.  In other words:  Helix are still potent.

It’s fair to say we all miss Paul Hackman.  I never met Paul though I’ve met most of the others.  He sure was a talented writer, and many of his songs like “Heavy Metal Love” are beloved classics today.  Fritz Hinz has been through hell and back, making a stunning recovery after a coma-inducing fall from a roof.  In recent years we also lost original guitarist Ron Watson, keyboardist Don Simmons, and road warrior Brian Knight.  Brian Knight was a kid from our neighborhood, who went to do road work with Helix for many years.  We lost him in 2021.  Yet Helix keep on going, and going, and going.  Even former guitarist Brent “the Doctor” Doerner has a new album coming out called The Ashtray Sonatas.

Speaking of the good Doctor, I first befriended the guitarist in 2006 at a Helix gig.  I knew a guy named Shane Schedler, who was in his new solo band, and this led to an interview with Brent at his home.  It was the first of several visits.  A few months later, with a few gigs under his belt, Brent screened some live footage of the band and had some friends over to celebrate.  It was that night that I wrote up the official bios for his band.  I remember telling Brent I wanted to write the band member bios for his website and then running around the room getting quotes from all the members.  It was a lot of fun.  Definitely a personal highlight.

So for the first time since the first time, here are the Brent Doerner’s Decibel bios that I wrote.

Thanks to everyone who’s ever been in Helix for rocking us.


BRENT DOERNER’S DECIBEL

Band Bios and Fascinating Factoids

 

BRENT DOERNER (Lead Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitars)

“What’s right is what’s left after you’ve done everything else wrong.”

Not just every guitar slinger out there can claim to be a part of a Canadian rock institution.  Brent Doerner can:  He spent over 15 years in Helix playing guitar, writing, singing, blowing minds and winning fans the world over.  He has the battle scars and the gold records to prove it, but that’s not the end of the story.  A new chapter has just begun with Decibel, a new rock band of good-time tunes and unique lyrics that continues his legacy with pride and vision for the future.

CHICK (Rhythm Guitars)

“If you don’t have rhythm, stay at home.”

Ralph “Chick” Schumilas has been around the block once or thrice.  He has 40 years experience as a musician.   In the beginning, he was a drummer which gives him a rhythmic edge that’s tough to beat.  Formerly, he was the co-owner of  Buzz Marshall studios, and has played and written with such luminaries as Cheryl Lescom, Rob Juneau, and Keith Gallagher among others.  He brings his immense songwriting experience to Decibel’s solid live repertoire.

HILLS WALTER (Bass, Lead & Backing Vocals)

“I’m not working for road rash.”

Hilliard Walter’s résumé is impressive in its diversity and scope.  He’s been paying his dues in the clubs across Ontario for the better part of 30 years.  Rock, however, is only one part of Hills’ musical makeup:  He’s done punk, new wave, funk, soul, and every combination and isotope of those styles that is currently known to modern science.  He’s played with Soul Circus, Sthil, Dezmanhall, Ed Bertoli, and lots more.  He saw Helix make their big break and said, “I can do that too.”  Now, Decibel is the main focus of this talented bass player with the soulful voice.  When he sings, you listen.

SHANE SCHEDLER (Lead guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals)

“They tried to bury the double lead, but we’re going to rectify that.”

Shane’s history as a recording artist goes back to the mid-90’s when he was a member of the guitar-driven trio Martyrs of Melody.  With the Martyrs, he released two independent CDs and began honing his songwriting craft.  He’s been grinding his axe for “seven point something Olympic years” (you do the math).  He now writes, sings and plays for Decibel, a band that makes him beam with pride.  Shane is also proud that he hasn’t cut his hair since grade nine.

BRIAN DOERNER (Drums, Vocals)

“Some drummers think ‘time’ is a magazine, but they don’t have a subscription!”

Brent’s twin brother Brian Doerner is legend on the skins.  His discography reads like a “who’s-who” of rock:  Helix, Saga, Brian Vollmer, Ray Lyell, Refugee, Myles Hunter, and more.  He first picked up the sticks after seeing the Beatles on TV in ’65, and it’s been a love affair with music ever since.  A respected session man and teacher, Brian has inspired the others to new levels in their playing.  Now that the twins are back together, the chemistry onstage is infectious.


 

REVIEW: Helix – half-ALIVE (1998)

“Ain’t no rest for the Helix band!” – Brian Vollmer

HELIX – half-ALIVE (1998 DeRock)

The 90’s weren’t a kind decade to Helix. Longtime guitarist Paul Hackman was killed in a 1992 auto accident. Without any Helix tracks written for a new album, Brian Vollmer chose to reconceive his in-the-works solo album as a Helix one, It’s a Business Doing Pleasure. The largely acoustic leanings of that (excellent) album didn’t fit with the overall Helix sound, and the album was tragically ignored. It would be five years before half-ALIVE finally followed it.

With their original heavy rock sound intact, Helix came roaring back with this mostly live, partly studio recording. With some live gigs recorded, as well as a handful of unreleased and unfinished new songs, half-ALIVE maybe should have been called one-third-ALIVE. Either way, it rocks. If you’ve seen this band live, then you know how much they kick it on stage.

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After the death of Paul Hackman, it seemed like Helix became more a “project” than a band, with rotating members around the nucleus of Brian Vollmer (vocals) and Daryl Gray (bass). On half-ALIVE, you will hear appearances from members such as Greg “Fritz” Hinz (drums), Paul Hackman and Dr. Doerner (guitars), and even a song written by Mike Uzelac, their bass player when they signed to Capitol Records  (who was actually a missing person for a long time). In addition, newer members like drummer Glen “Archie” Gamble and guitarists Denny Balicki, Gary Borden, Rick Mead and Mark Chichkan all contribute. These guys helped keep Helix going as a touring entity in the 90’s.  Gamble in particular, since he was in the band for almost a whole decade.

Could the Helix of the 90’s cut it as much as the classic 80’s band? The five studio tracks roar “yes”! A far cry from the acoustic rock of It’s a Business Doing Pleasure, this is a return to the hard rock/metal sounds of Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge. Best tracks among the studio crop are “Wrecking Ball”, Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” and a ballad called “The Same Room” (the single).  “Big Bang Boom” is the only one I do not care for.  The rest are decent songs, not necessarily career highlights, but solid.  Of course, Vollmer’s voice is in fine form.  It always is.  No matter what Helix do on an album, you can count on Brian’s vocals sounding as they always has.  That’s his Bel Canto training.

Video shoot for the unreleased “The Same Room” clip

From there we go to the live material. Virtually all the hits are present (“Rock You”, “Running Wild In The 21st Century”, “Good To The Last Drop”, “Heavy Metal Love”, “Wild In The Streets”, etc.) There’s also a new acoustic composition called “Smile”, written and performed by Gary Borden. What really sets this live stuff apart from their studio albums is Vollmer’s friendly on-stage banter. As he relates a tale of staying in a hotel in Seaforth Ontario (population at the time: less than 2000), you’ll laugh along, especially if you’ve been there!  Equally good is Brian’s mid-song speech in “No Rest for the Wicked”. (Hits that are missing include “The Kids are all Shakin'”.)

The live songs were taken from various tours, 1992-1997, so there are a variety of material and band members (as noted above). Yet there’s a cohesiveness that similar live albums lack. The songs are mixed together and flow seamlessly, and you really can’t hear the five years passing. The sound is hard, clear, and rocking, and begs the question: “What took them five years to release this stuff?” I guess it was circumstance.  It had nothing to do with quality, that’s for sure.  The performances are raw though, and it doesn’t sound like much in terms of overdubs was done to the recordings.

My only real complaint about this otherwise competent live album is the cheesy cover art. Up close, it kind of looks cheap and crappy. And Brian’s haircut…I’m sorry man! I’ve met Brian and he was so cool and kind, so I hate to say bad things, but yeah…I’m glad you grew your hair back man!

4/5 stars

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HELIX HA_0004Below:  Promo CD single for “The Same Room”.