mike uzelac

REVIEW(S): Helix – Breaking Loose, White Lace & Black Leather (2019 expanded editions)

HELIX –

  • Breaking Loose – 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition (originally 1979, 2019 Prog AOR)
  • White Lace & Black Leather – Classic Hard Rock Expanded Edition (originally 1981, 2019 Prog AOR)

Helix have really done it this year. They have a new album (Old School) made up of some pretty excellent songs that were never completed before. On top of that, you can also get brand new reissues of their first two indi albums, Breaking Loose and White Lace & Black Leather.  Those two albums have already been reviewed in full, so this time we will focus primarily on the perks of these new CD versions.

Both discs feature lyrics, rare photos, and liner notes by Brian Vollmer.  All essential things for a reissue, so what else?  Unreleased tracks, that’s what else.  Good ones!  The hell, Brian?  Where have you been hiding this stuff?  If anyone assumed thought Helix cleared the vaults with their B-Sides album, they were mistaken.  Maybe Universal should have been storing their tapes at Planet Helix….

Too soon?

Breaking Loose features “Let Me Take You Dancin'” (not the Bryan Adams song), apparently the first song they ever recorded, at the behest of manager William Seip.  You can understand why they didn’t put it out, considering the Disco revolution going around.  It’s too dance-y for what Helix wanted to be:  a rock band.  With 40 years hindsight, it’s bloody brilliant.  Full-on horn section blasting away on a blatantly commercial rock song with just a whif of surf rock.  Nothing wrong with any of that in 2019.  “Sidewalk Sally” is the very first Brent Vollmer/Brian Doerner composition and you can tell by Dr. Doerner’s trademark chunky riff.  This song is strictly outtake quality, but it’s notable for historic reasons (and the pretty advanced drumming by Brian Doerner).

The second album, White Lace & Black Leather, has two interesting bonus cuts as well.  Brent Doerner wrote and sang a killer tune called “When the Fire is Hot”, which is one of the songs submitted to Capitol that got them signed.  It’s never been released.  It’s a very unpolished demo, but with a serious stomp and stunning guitar solo.  The final bonus track is an unreleased early version of “White Lace & Black Leather”, which was re-recorded for their third album No Rest for the Wicked.  See, for the first couple Helix albums, you had to wait until the next record to get the title track!

A brief talk about the albums themselves:  both are chock full of great, unpolished youthful rock.  Helix were just learning how to make records, but they had more than enough original material.  Between the key songwriters (Paul Hackman, Brian Vollmer & Brent Doerner), they had plenty of quality songs.  “Billy Oxygen”, “I Could Never Leave”, “Here I Go Again”, “You’re a Woman Now” and “Wish I Could Be There” from the first album alone are must-haves.  Nobody should be forced to live their life without hearing “Billy Oxygen”.  The second LP was almost as great as the first.  “It’s Too Late”, “Breaking Loose”, “Mainline”, and “It’s What I Wanted” stand with the best material from the first.  Sure, the band were rough around the edges, but they could already sing, play and write.  They were goin’ places!

As for the mastering job, the music is not brickwalled like the versions of some songs on the Rock It Science CD.  These discs are the versions to get; the expanded tracklist making them musts to the collecting fan who already own them all.  Best of all, Planet Helix is offering them and the new Helix album for just 40 bucks.  40 bucks for 3 CDs is a ridiculous deal.  I daresay these two albums have been steady companions to me over the years, and I look forward to re-enjoying them in this new form.

5/5 stars for Breaking Loose

4/5 stars for White Lace & Black Leather

 

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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REVIEW: Helix – No Rest For the Wicked (1983)

Part 3 of 3 in this week’s Helix miniseries.  The original review was posted in August 2012, but this is completely new and improved!

HELIX – No Rest For the Wicked (1983 EMI)

Finally!  The big break came, after nearly 10 years of hard work.  The trick was re-branding Helix as a “metal band” instead of a plain old bar rock band.  An early video for “Heavy Metal Love” was filmed in T-shirts and jeans.  It was only after they switched to leather clothing and a more “metal” image, did people start to take notice.  “Heavy Metal Love” was re-filmed for a more metallic music video, and Helix were more or less off to the races. They had a boost from CanCon rules, which meant the video went into rotation on MuchMusic.

“Heavy Metal Love”, written in a crummy hotel room in Seaforth Ontario, is an ode to Joan Jett; or rather a fantasy about  Joan Jett.  It remains as fun now as it was then. Helix re-recorded the tune in 2006 for their Get Up EP, but it is this version produced by Tom Treumuth that has become timeless.  Indeed, it was chosen for the wedding scene in the Trailer Park Boys movie that same year.  It’s still a great groove, and a whole lot of fun.

“Fun” is a great word to describe Helix’s music in general, and No Rest For the Wicked is perhaps their strongest effort, at least from their years on Capitol Records.  It is true that I gave Breaking Loose (1979) high praise and a 5/5 star rating, but No Rest is easier to sink your teeth into on just one listen.

Helix in 1983 consisted of:

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “the Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Paul Hackman – guitar
  • Mike Uzelac – bass
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz –  drums

The only lineup change this time was the drum seat.  Leo Niebudek departed, and was replaced by Fritz Hinz, ex-Starchild.  (Starchild’s claim to history is an early single produced by some unknown guy named Daniel Lanois.  Fritz played on their later, uber-rare Children of the Stars album.)  With Hinz, the band had acquired an easy-to-love showman who had the chops required.  I shall never forget the sight of Fritz’s buttless chaps, giving us the moon at a 1987 concert.

Even though I hold Breaking Loose in very high esteem, No Rest For the Wicked is probably just as good, but in a different way.  The new heavier direction didn’t alienate their old fans, but it did gain them plenty of new ones.  It seemed a lot of kids on my street had a copy of this LP or cassette.  It’s more than just the one song — every track is great, every single one of ’em.  The title track still serves as Helix’ show opener.  Live, they change part of the lyrics to “Ain’t no rest for the Helix band!”  It’s true!  It’s an unrelenting and cool metal assault.  But again…plenty fun.

Need some party rock?  Look no further than “Let’s All Do It Tonight”.  Listen to that one, and then try to forget the chorus!   If you like that kind of melodic hard rock, then you’ll probably also dig “Don’t Get Mad Get Even”, the second (much less seen) video made for the album.

Need some sleeze?  Then “Check Out the Love”, before you do the “Dirty Dog”.  Both songs are killer grooves.    “Dirty Dog” never fails to make the setlists today.  It is suspended by a killer riff and Vollmer’s shredded vocal cords. And let’s not forget “White Lace and Black Leather”. (Like they did with the track “Breaking Loose”, Helix put the title song on the next album!) This is about as dirty as they get, and I love it.

Need a ballad? Naw, didn’t think so. But just in case, Helix put on a ballsy one, in “Never Want To Lose You”. Sounds wimpy, yes, but it has the guitars and heavy chorus necessary to keep you from losing your cool.

Need a boost of adrenaline? Then the doctor prescribes “Ain’t No High Like Rock ‘N’ Roll”. Kicking up the pace a few notches, it still retains that Helix knack for melody.

Also recommended, chase this with the live album called Live In Buffalo, which was  recorded for radio shortly afterwards.  It has high-octane live versions of most of these tracks as well as a sneak preview of the next album, Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge.

I think this one sounds particularly good on vinyl. Gimme an R!

5/5 R’s

REVIEW: Helix – White Lace & Black Leather (1981 H&S)

Part two of a Helix three-fer!

HELIX – White Lace & Black Leather (1981 H&S)

Having already done it once themselves, why not do it again?  Once again Helix with manager Bill Seip raised the funds to record an independent album.  Drummer Brian Doerner was gone, replaced by Leo Niebudek.  On bass, Keith “Bert” Zurbrigg hung around long enough to record one new song (“It’s Too Late”).  He was replaced by the young, talented and troubled Mike Uzelac.  He was only 17 when he first joined Helix.  He told them he was 19.

Sticking to the same formula as Breaking Loose, there is really no deviation in sound.  Some members have changed but little else.  The band still managed to come up with enough good material to fill an album to follow the first.  I don’t know if the track “Breaking Loose” was a leftover from the first album or not, but quality-wise there is nothing “leftover” about it.  I would call it a typical Helix party rocker: a fast one, often used back in the day to open their sets.  The lyrics are the kind of thing that Helix were about:  the weekend!

“4 O’clock Friday afternoon,
Punch that time clock, now you’ll be home soon,
Your week’s all done, now it’s time to roll,
You’re like a time bomb about to explode.”

Vollmer reminds us “You only got two days, so make it last,” a philosophy I heartily agree with.  Brent Doerner and Paul Hackman lay down a pair of ripping guitar solos for the icing on the cake.  Then “It’s Too Late” is the kind of melodic mid-tempo rocker that their first album was loaded with.  Surely something like “It’s Too Late” could have worked on the radio, and I think that was the intent.  That takes away nothing from the song, which is classy with quality.

“Long Distance Heartbreak” at almost seven minutes is Helix’s longest song ever.  In the early days they tended to experiment with their songwriting, coming up with the odd mini-epic.  Like many Helix classics, this one reads as a road song.  Thin Lizzy they were not, but Vollmer captures the heartbreak in their lyrics while Doerner and Hackman take care of the guitar drama.

Helix get even more serious for a moment with “Time For a Change”, and “Hangman’s Tree” also brings a few issues to the table.  “Time For a Change” is sadly even more valid today.

“Everyday there’s a new headline,
Another war and another lie,
When will we learn to stop this killing while we can?”

It’s interesting that Helix didn’t seem to know their direction yet, but still infused every song with their bare honesty.  They were riding a line between a party band and a more serious, more experimental rock band.  In the end they chose the route that they were intended for, but that takes nothing away from these early songs.  “Time For a Change” and “Hangman’s Tree” are unexpectedly ambitious for a young bar band from Canada.  In each case, it is the guitar work that elevates the songs.

WHITE LACE

“It’s What I Wanted” lightens the mood, a mid-tempo rocker with a great melody. I don’t know why it is, but these melodic rock songs really sound like home to me. They conjure images of a more innocent time, when the world seemed smaller to me. They capture and bring back hazy, happy pictures of Kitchener in the late 70’s.

Brent Doener comes back with his only lead vocal on the track “Mainline”. Sounds like Brent was having no trouble getting satisfaction back then. “She keeps me happy, what can I say?” he sings, lamenting that his lady keeps him up all night and late for work in the morning! “Pick up my cheque at the end of the day, I find I’m down a couple hours’ pay.” So in essence, “Mainline” is about choices. You can either have tons and tons of sex at all hours of the day, or get to work on time. It’s your choice, people!

“Women, Whiskey & Sin” is pretty simple in its message. This smoking track is more like Helix would evolve on later albums like No Rest For the Wicked. “Ain’t no laws to hold us back on a Saturday night,” sings Brian Vollmer. (Hate to tell ya Brian, there actually are laws about some of the things you boys were doing back in the day!) Then “Thoughts That Bleed” is a proggy, slow closer with lots of dynamics, similar to how Helix ended the first album with “Wish I Could Be There”.

Ultimately there is no question that Helix made the right move to drop some of these softer, more progressive moments and focus on the heavy metal side of their sound. It got them signed to Capitol Records and secured their biggest hits. That leaves these first two albums as evidence of an earlier, more naive Helix willing to stretch out a bit more.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: My Wicked Twin – Decibel Music (2008)

MY WICKED TWIN – Decibel Music (2008 MWT)

Helix fans take note, since My Wicked Twin was 3/4 composed of former members of that band.  Brent Doerner and his twin brother Brian first joined Helix in 1975-76, and both were members of that band more than once.  Brent in particular clocked in a couple decades total in Helix.   Brian spent a few years touring and recorded with Saga as well.  Joining them on bass is Mike Uzelac aka “Uzi”, who played and wrote on their Capitol Records debut No Rest for the Wicked (1983).  None of these guys seemed to have lost anything with the years.

SHANEMy Wicked Twin evolved from Brent’s first solo outfit, Brent Doerner’s Decibel who released an excellent CD in 2006.  From that earlier incarnation comes guitarist/vocalist Shane Schedler, a talented Kitchener-area musician whom I first met back in the 90’s at the old Record Store.  Needless to say I’m a little biased when it comes to reviewing these guys.  Being objective is the goal, so let’s get on with it!

On first listen it’s clear that Brent has raised the bar. This time there’s more music (12 songs), and it’s noticeably heavier.  At the same time it’s also more diverse, and the production is improved.

I need to single out “Maybe Love” as a particularly outstanding track. When I saw them debut it live in ’07 it was obvious what a great song it was going to be. Its evolved into a superior hard rock song with a melodic vocal and a thoughtful lyric.  There are top-tier rock bands who don’t put out material as good as “Maybe Love” on their albums.  This is a song to be proud of, absolutely.  Brent made a pretty cool video for the song too.

Most of the rest of the album is more raw, and more rock. “All The Action”, with its adventurous melodies, is a highlight. “One Big Bad Whoopie” is a lyric in which Brent shows his sly humour, something that comes frequently on this album. “Decibel City Hall” and “Get Your Game On” are fast boogie rockers a-la-Van-Halen-with-Roth. If you’re a hockey fan, you may have heard “Get Your Game On” before the album came out, as the band submitted it to the CBC for their “Write the new Hockey Night In Canada theme song” contest.  (I prefer it to the selection they finally picked, but hey, it may be a tad too rock n’ roll for Hockey Night In Canada.)

Other standouts include “The Sting I Need” and “Love is What I Lean On”. “Alone Again, Face to Face” is a nocturnal, sneering rocker.  “That Kind of a Love” is a guitar haven within a stunning power ballad.  I tend to use the word “epic” a lot, but it does apply here, especially in the middle when it goes all Zeppelin. As one would expect with musicians of this caliber, the playing is more than competent. Brent and Shane weave cool lick after cool lick, while Brian and Mike groove with nuance. While everything is solidly rock n’ roll, the rhythms are not simplistic, and paying attention to the drums will produce many smiles.

Pick up My Wicked Twin’s Decibel Music, if you’re a fan of rock “the way they used to make it”.  But give it time to grow on you.  Some songs have a lot going on, and not many are instant.  Play it a few times.  You’ll be glad you found this band.  Or, in their words:

“So don’t steal our record,
Cause we gotta eat,
So buy our record,
Satisfies, ’cause we love the taste of meat,
We love the taste of meat!”

I’ve seen the juicy ribs Brent eats, so I’m inclined to agree.

4/5 stars

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”.

CONCERT REVIEW: Brent Doerner’s Decibel – 3/10/2007, Edelweiss Tavern, Kitchener ON

I keep finding these old concert reviews that I forgot to post here!  Enjoy this one from former HELIX guitarist Brent Doerner.  This was written the day of the show.  Photos from an old crap Motorola phone.

BRENT DOERNER’S DECIBEL – March 10 2007, Edelweiss Tavern, Kitchener ON

It was only an hour ago, but it is already a blur.

Just after 9:30 pm, Brent Doerner’s DECIBEL hit the stage at the Edelweiss with earthshaking volume. The three Gibsons of Shane Schedler, Ralph “Chick” Schumilas, and Brent himself were crystal clear and gelling beautifully. I can’t even remember what song they opened with, but it might have been “Taking The Colour Out Of The Blues”, one of the best tracks from their debut CD. This was only their second “real” show, and the new lineup (featuring bassist Hilliard Walter and Brent’s twin brother Brian Doerner, fresh off a Saga tour) sounded hot. Most importantly, the pressures of playing to a hometown crowd didn’t phase them at all, and they looked like they were having an awesome time.

Brent Doerner has evolved from Helix’s lead gunslinger to a frontman in his own right. I suppose if one is in a band for a decade and a half with a guy like Brian Vollmer, you’re bound to learn something about being a frontman. Yet Brent has his own style. He points to the crowd, he interacts with them, he slings his guitar to the side and sings to them. He hoists his guitar like a shotgun for emphasis, and does it all as if it’s second nature. The guy is a natural, no doubts there.

All the best tunes from the CD were played, in effective order, along with four new ones. And let me tell ya, folks, these weary heavy-metal eardrums of mine rarely hear a song as good as “Maybe Love”. The song has only been played twice, and they band are still working out the kinks, but could you tell? No, this song smoked, as more than one person in the audience noticed. As my fiancée noted on the way out, “that song was the single.” And yes, indeed, if Decibel were to suddenly press up a slab of 7” vinyl, that would be the song to put on the A-side.

Video for “Maybe Love”, after some lineup changes and a name switch to My Wicked Twin

The show was not without technical problems, but the band overcame with lots of comedy courtesy of Brian Doerner, and a wicked impromptu drum solo from the rock god. In the dark. He couldn’t have even seen what he was doing, but did that solo ever smoke. While some bands would view a blackout as a disaster, Decibel turned it into a rare chance to see a drum solo by one of Canada’s most underrated percussionists. And he made sure that lots of people got complimentary sticks, too, which was really cool.

One of the many highlights of the show was Shane Schedler’s vocal turn on “Never Turn Your Back”. Not to be outdone, however, Hills Walter kicked out the jams on his vocal “Dancin’ Frogs” featuring not a dancing frog, but a dancing blonde in a top hat, fishnets and Decibel panties. Sweet!

Such was the reaction from the crowd that Decibel were unexpectedly forced to retake the stage after they had already said goodnight. Having nothing else to play, they played “Taking The Colour” one more time, this time with even more excitement. The crowd ate it up, every last morsel, and left very very satisfied.

You simply must see the band live. If you care about rock and roll, if you care about local artists, then you must see this band live. If you don’t, you are the only one missing out.

Good show boys. See you next time, front row center.

5/5 stars

BOOK REVIEW: Brian Vollmer – Gimme An R! (2005)

BRIAN VOLLMER – Gimme An R!
The story of Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of Helix
(2005)

Forget all those books by the mega stars like Slash and Sammy Hagar that have come out in recent years. Those books have one thing in common — they were written (or co-written, anyway) by guys who are rock superstars! Megastars! It’s hard for me as a reader to relate to a guy who hasn’t had to hold down a job in 30 years. Not that there’s anything wrong with stardom, it’s just an observation.  I can’t relate to the human beings.   Not so with this book!

Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of the hardest working band in Canada (that would be Helix), comes across as a pretty regular guy.  (I’ve met him a number of times, and he’s about as regular as anybody you’d know.)  Yes, he’s traveled the world in a rock band and played for thousands of people, but at the end of the day the book is something I can still relate to. Through crappy jobs in crappy convenience stores, crappy apartments, getting mugged, it doesn’t seem like a rock star’s life.  There are parallels in the story similar to other bands such as Anvil (another hard-working Canadian band). While Vollmer always manages to scrape by and continue to Rock Us, nothing comes easy.  Incredibly through it all Brian Vollmer never really stopped being an artist.  He seemed to always keep music, and Helix in his life even after dozens of lineup changes and band members.  (Approximately 35 people have been in Helix since 1974.  The newest member is Cambridge’s Chris Julke, replacing John Claus.)

From humble beginnings in Listowel Ontario to playing in Sweden, England and Trinidad, Vollmer’s tome has plenty of rock and roll stories. As one of the first Canadian bands to release independent albums in the 1970’s, he was a bit of a pioneer. Gimme An R! is loaded with rock star encounters one after the other, from Eddie Van Halen (on stage!) to Gene Simmons.  Vollmer remains himself through it all, even after Helix signed their big deal with Capitol and released “Rock You”.  The tragic death of primary co-writer Paul Hackman nearly derailed the band.  Even after the departures of longtime partners Brent Doerner, Fritz Hinz, and finally Daryl Gray, Brian kept going.  He kept the Helix name alive, finding success on the internet which was a brand new way for him to make contact, and sell albums directly to his fans.  Then, a little TV show called Trailer Park Boys helped expose Helix to a new audience.


Included between the covers are dozens of black and white photos of the band over the years.  From small-town Ontario to meeting superstars like Richard Pryor and Robin Williams, it’s a pretty cool collection of snaps. Unfortunately while reading I found myself distracted by spelling errors — “Atlantis Morissette” for example.  I would like to see a second printing that corrects these mistakes.  (A new chapter on the last decade would be cool too Brian!)

Vollmer’s prose is not frilly or poetic, but it’s conversational and descriptive.  There’s no ghost writer, so the pictures that Brian paints of all those seedy bars in the dead of winter come straight from his memory to the page.  He’s a great storyteller.  The bottom line is that the story of Helix keeps you hooked.  I’ve had friends come over and pick up the book, and they just get entranced. It’s a really different side of the rock and roll tales.  It shows what old fashioned determination and hard work can accomplish.

I have to knock off half a star for the spelling errors. It’s just one of those pet peeves — nothing personal, Brian!  I do highly recommend it Gimme An R! to rock fans world wide who’d like a different, more humble angle on the whole rock star thing.

4.5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Helix – 30th Anniversary Concert (2004)

HELIX FRONT

HELIX – 30th Anniversary Concert (2004 EMI)

Helix will be turning 40 in 2014!  When I talked to Brian Vollmer back in September, he wasn’t interested in taking a look back this time.  Helix did glance back for their 30th in 2004, and this DVD was one of several celebratory releases.

The Helix DVD, the 30th Anniversary Concert, is one of the best rock videos I’ve seen. This band has so much history, and most of it was onstage that night, July 17 2004.

Vollmer decided to celebrate the 30th in style. Traveling to nearby Brantford and taking over the beautiful Sanderson Centre, Helix unveiled a setlist that honored their entire history, and guested nearly every band member from 1974 to 1990!

There were a few conspicuous by their absence, such as longtime bassist Daryl Gray, and a few that we knew couldn’t turn up (the then-missing Mike Uzelac, the late Paul Hackman). However, Brian Vollmer (only remaining original Helix member) proceeded to reunite members of the original 1974 Helix, which had never even been recorded before! From there we go to the lineup responsible for the first two albums (sans Hackman and Uzelac, replaced here by current Helix alum Rainer Weickmann and 1976 bassist Keith “Bert” Zurbrigg, wearing trademark tux). Brian Doerner is introduced as Canada’s greatest drummer, and while Neil Peart and Gary McCracken might disagree, he’s definitely up there. His brother Brent literally steals the show. Singing such lost classics as “Billy Oxygen” and “Crazy Women”, Brent still has that rock star quality. His guitar playing was stellar that night.

Other members from back in the day turned up: Leo Niebudek on drums, and then, finally…Greg “Fritz” Hinz, all the way from sunny Florida, behind the skins to celebrate Helix’ late 80’s heyday.

Not to be overshadowed, the 2004 Helix lineup returned to the stage for some more hits. “Archie” Gamble is a fantastic drummer, it should be noted, spinning his sticks while creatively keeping the time. The addition of a female vocalist, Cindy Weichmann, allowed the band to perform 1976’s “You’re A Woman Now” for the first time ever with a female vocal, just as it was on the album.

The nucleus of this DVD are the six tunes from the 70’s that rarely, if ever, get played today. As great as the hit 80’s material was, the 70’s stuff is what makes this DVD different from any other Helix product you can buy.

There are generous bonus features: interviews with Brian and his ever-supportive wife Lynda, candid scenes of rehearsals and Brian trying to get this monster concert together. There are interviews with fans who traveled all the way across the country to see this one show. Best of all are the clips of the old band members, now short-haired, meeting up again for the first time in years. “I’m Brian Drummer and I play Doerner,” says the drummer as he arrives. As Brian stands next to his twin brother Brent, Fritz says, “I never could tell you two apart”. It’s like watching someone’s family reunion video.

If you are a Helix fan, you have no excuse for not owning this. If you are only a casual Helix fan and want to check out some of their best stuff, this is the DVD package to get. Not only do you get the hits, but you get the history, and that’s not something to be ignored for a band that turned 30.

5/5 stars

This stuff below taken from the Wikipedia page, but I don’t care; I wrote the Wikipedia page.

Chapters

All songs written by Brian Vollmer and Paul Hackman except where noted.

  1. The Band (includes the song “Ave Maria” performed by Brian Vollmer) (6:58)
  2. The Sanderson Theatre (5:54)
  3. The Concert: “Space Junk” (taped intro) (Rainer Wiechmann)/”Rockin’ In My Outer Space” (Bill Gadd, Rob Long, Tony Paleschi, Vollmer) (5:53)
  4. “Running Wild In The 21st Century” (3:53)
  5. “The Ballad of Sam and Mary” (Gadd, Long, Paleschi, Vollmer) (4:11)
  6. “It’s Hard to Feel the Sunshine When Your Heart is Full of Rain” (Gadd, Long, Paleschi, Vollmer) (3:35)
  7. The Original Helix: “Thinking It Over” (studio recording) (Del Shannon)/”Buff’s Bar Blues” (Alex Harvey) (9:59)
  8. The Early Years: “I Could Never Leave” (studio recording) (4:01)
  9. “Crazy Women” (Brent Doener) (3:41)
  10. “You’re A Woman Now” (Hackman) (6:59)
  11. “Billy Oxygen” (Doerner) (5:08)
  12. The Early 80’s: “Women, Whiskey & Sin” (studio recording) (Vollmer) (3:36)
  13. “It’s Too Late” (Doerner) (4:01)
  14. “Breaking Loose” (Vollmer, Doerner) (4:23)
  15. The Capitol Years: “Give It To You” (studio recording) (4:10)
  16. “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” (Joey Levine, Richard Rosenblatt) (3:24)
  17. “Heavy Metal Love” (3:45)
  18. “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want” (Paul Naummann, Danny Taylor) (4:03)
  19. “Deep Cuts the Knife” (Hackman, Bob Halligan, Jr. (4:31)
  20. “Wild in the Streets” (Hackman, Ray Lyell) (4:30)
  21. “Dirty Dog” (Vollmer, Doerner) (3:40)
  22. “Rock You” (Halligan) (6:23)
  23. “The Kids are All Shakin'” (4:54)
  24. Aftermath (includes the song “Danny Boy” performed by Brian Vollmer) (3:15)

Bonus Features

  1. 8mm Memories (8:44)

Personnel

Helix

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Jim Lawson – guitar
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar
  • Cindy Wiechmann – acoustic guitar, vocals, keyboards
  • Jeff “Stan” Fountain – bass
  • Glen “Archie” Gamble – drums

Special guests: Everyone on “Rock You”

The Original Helix

Chapter 7, “Buff’s Bar Blues”

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Bruce Arnold – drums
  • Ron Watson – guitar
  • Don Simmons – keyboards
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass

The Early Years

Chapters 8-11

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals on all except “Crazy Women” and “Billy Oxygen”
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar, lead vocals on “Crazy Women” and “Billy Oxygen”
  • Brian Doerner – drums
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

Special guests: Cindy Wiechmann and Cheryl Lescom – backing vocals on “You’re a Woman Now”, Cole G. Benjamin – keyboards on “Billy Oxygen”

The Early 80’s

Chapters 12-14

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Leo Niebudek – drums
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass (standing in for Mike Uzelac)
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

The Capitol Years

Chapters 15-22

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doerner – guitar
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz – drums
  • Jeff “Stan” Fountain – bass (standing in for Mike Uzelac and Daryl Gray)
  • Rainer Wiechmann – guitar (standing in for Paul Hackman)

Special guest: Ray Lyell – vocals on “Wild in the Streets”

Studio songs

  • Brian Vollmer – lead vocals on all studio songs
  • Paul Hackman – guitar on all studio songs
  • Brent “The Doctor” Doener – guitar on all studio songs
  • Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg – bass on “Thinking It Over” and “I Could Never Leave”
  • Brian Doerner – drums on “Thinking It Over” and “I Could Never Leave”
  • Mike Uzelac – bass on “Women, Whiskey & Sin”
  • Leo Niebudek – drums on “Women, Whiskey & Sin”
  • Daryl Gray – bass on “Give It To You”
  • Greg “Fritz” Hinz – drums on “Give It To You”

Part 177 / REVIEW: Helix – Live! In Buffalo

Another double feature for y’all boys and girls.  First the Record Store Tale, then the review…

Brent live October 3 2007

RECORD STORE TALES Part 177:  Hot On the Heels of Love

The record store had begun selling Brent Doerner’s Decibel, the first solo album by the ex-Helix guitarist on consignment.  My buddy Chuck hooked me up with a copy.  I opened it up, and lo and behold — another buddy of mine, and one of my best customers, was playing guitar in Brent’s band!  I have talked about Shane Schedler in the past, he was a great guy and I was glad he had hooked up with Brent.

I met Brent at a Helix gig at Molly Bloom’s, told him about how I knew Shane from my store, and this led to our first interview, which I published a while ago on this site.  I did numerous other writing jobs for Brent over the years as well.

Anyway, we shot the shit for a couple hours, just talking about music.  He was very passionate about songwriting, particularly lyrics.  Sometimes he would come up with a catchy song title or interesting phrase, and try to write lyrics around it.  He was heavily influenced by the lyrics of Burton Cummings, from The Guess Who.

“I like the fact that Burton Cummings kind of sang in riddles,” said Brent.  “You could listen to the song 100 times and try to pick the meaning out of the sentences.  And therefore, it doesn’t have a high burnout factor.  When I’m writing, that’s the big challenge.  I don’t want it to have a burnout factor.”

“I worked really hard at getting unique titles…I want unique titles so I can have unique songs,” he told me.

Chatting away, Brent told me of some future song ideas.  “I really want to write a song called ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’,” he said.  At first, I was quiet, and kind of confused.  Brent seemed to be waiting for my reaction.

“Brent,” I said, “You already have a song called that.”

“No I don’t,” he answered, and then paused.  “Really?”

“Yeah you do.  It’s on one of the Helix live albums,” I told him, trying to not embarrass him!

“Really?  Which one?” he asked me.

We were in his basement, sitting at this beautiful bar.  He had a small CD tower down there in the basement, with a complete selection of every Helix album he’d ever appeared on.  I studied the tower and spotted the album I was looking for:  Live! In Buffalo, which was recorded in 1983 but not released until 2001.

“Right there…Live! In Buffalo,” I said, “you have a song on there called ‘Hot On the Heels of Love’, that you sang, but as far as I know Helix never recorded a studio version of it.”

Brent grabbed the CD and looked it over.  Sure enough, there it was.  “Hot On the Heels of Love” is track #9.

I guess this shows that a good song title is a good song title no matter what.  But it was also the first time that LeBrain schooled a member of Helix!  (It was not the last time!)

Onto the review!

HELIX LIVE FRONT

HELIX – Live! In Buffalo (2001 Dirty Dog Records, recorded September 29, 1983)

Right from Vollmer’s first “Let’s rock!” at the beginning of this CD, Live! In Buffalo kicks you in the face and doesn’t stop until the end. Only one ballad (and barely a ballad at that, when performed at this volume), this concert sounds like it was a real sweaty affair. Helix were at the top of their game in ’83, hot on the heels of No Rest For The Wicked and “Heavy Metal Love”. This album is loud, there are no overdubs, this is a pure rock concert with no frills. The music is broken up with the occasional (breathless) intros by Vollmer, but then it’s right back into the high-octane rock.  Incredible to think this album was recorded in the middle of the day!

Sometimes I’ve felt that a good bootleg is much better than a well-recorded live album. There’s no fakery on a bootleg, and there is no fakery here. This was recorded for a radio broadcast, and miraculously the tapes were in good enough shape to release as a CD.

Helix opened with the title track from their current album.  “No Rest For the Wicked” is pounding, Fritz Hinz on the skins, pummeling them into submission, Brent on backing vocals while Vollmer seemingly shreds his own vocal cords.  This version is faster and heavier than the album version, as is every song on Live! In Buffalo.  Even a melodic rocker like “Let’s All Do It Tonite” has more bite.

Brian’s on stage raps are from the Paul Stanley school of thought.  For example, “White Lace & Black Leather”.

“This next song is about those ladies that you meet that got lots of class.  Lots of class…elegance.  When it comes to etiquette they’re at the top of their class…you’ll never find them with the fork on the wrong side of their plate.    You dare never tell a dirty joke to this lady because she’ll get up and leave the table.  But you get that same lady home, that very same night, get her back to your place, get her behind closed doors…she’ll turn out to be a moaner every time!  This is called ‘White Lace & Black Leather’!”

Elsewhere, a grizzled “Ain’t No High Like Rock and Roll” combines catchy licks with a driving melody.  A lot of these early Helix songs are among the best tunes they ever wrote.  Yet unfortunately, they are seldom if ever played anymore.  Thankfully, this album exists to remind us how great Helix can be.

Historically, this is also cool for a couple reasons. One, some of these songs had yet to be recorded on a studio album, such as “6 Strings 9 Lives” and “You Keep Me Rockin'”, which would turn up on the next album.  As mentioned in the above Record Store Tale Part 177, one tune was never released on a studio album at all. That is Brent Doerner’s “Hot On The Heels Of Love”, sung by Brent (don’t forget he also sang “Billy Oxygen”, one of Helix’ first hits from the debut album). It is a gritty fast rocker, with a memorably galvanic riff.

There are some other live offerings out there by Helix, such as Half-Alive and the promo-only Live At The Marquee, but this one blows them all away even though it was just for a radio broadcast. One of my favourite live albums, and one of my favourite Helix CDs.

5/5 R’s!

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES:

Part 178:  Some really kooky movie makers…