paul hackman

REVIEW: Helix – Long Way to Heaven (1985)

HELIX – Long Way to Heaven (1985 Capitol Records)

Helix’s fifth album was an important one.  They were following the “big hit” album (Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge) and there were expectations.  The band collected another batch of original material and hit the studio with producer Tom Treumuth again.

1985’s Long Way to Heaven is the second album with the “classic” Helix lineup:  Brian Vollmer, Brent “the Doctor” Doerner, Paul Hackman, Greg “Fritz” Hinz and Daryl Gray.  All but drummer Fritz contributed songs, with Vollmer, Hackman and Doerner leading the pack.

The two singles were the opening tracks.  “The Kids Are All Shakin’” is a catchy for American radio play.  It has always been a damn fine song.

Down in New York City,
All the way to L.A.,
Boys and girls are gonna shake it,
Yeah, each and every day.

There’s also a reference to a fan letter from Poland that was a big deal to the band at the time.  “Kids Are All Shakin’” is a great rock and roll celebration, but the single version with additional keyboards is better.

The other single was the hit acoustic/electric ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife” written by Hackman and Bob Halligan, Jr.  To this day it remains one of, if not the very best ballad Helix have done.  It has atmosphere and bite, and a killer vocal performance by Brian Vollmer.

There are good tracks after the first two, but nothing quite as memorable.  “Ride the Rocket” (Vollmer/Halligan) is fun but silly.  I’m sure you can guess what kind of rocket Brian is singing about when he says “Reach in the pocket”.  Other decent songs include the title track, which has a great chorus melody, and the heavy-as-fuck “House on Fire”.  There’s also another ballad called “Without You (Jasmine’s Song)” that is worthy of praise.

There is nothing wrong with any of the other tunes, and some have some pretty cool moments.  “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” has a nifty a cappella section that proves what great vocalists the band are.  It’s just that none of the other songs really have a lot of staying power in the brain.

Long Way to Heaven was one of those follow-ups that was good enough, but always remain in the shadow of the more successful predecessors.

3.25/5 stars


REVIEW: Helix – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984, Rock Candy remaster)

HELIX – Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (1984 Capitol, 2009 Rock Candy reissue)

If you’re from Canada, then chances are you already know how to properly respond when somebody requests of you to “Gimme an R!”

You give them a fuckin’ R!

To quote Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, “Helix was a wicked concert. Fuck I sold a lot of dope at that concert. They had good lyrics, like ‘Gimme an R, O, C, K,’ and then the crowd yells ROCK really loud. Now that’s a fuckin’ concert.”

Bob Halligan Jr. wrote it, but Helix made it legendary.  In turn, “Rock You” put them on the map.  It’s pure arena rock:  “Don’t just sit there, come on get up and move!”  With a riff, a catchy tune and a shout-along chorus, “Rock You” was custom built for 1984.   The Pepsi Power Hour gave it regular play, and the boys toured relentlessly.  Helix’s rep as a down n’ dirty hard rocking band was secure.  The music video scared away my neighbor, David Dolph, a kid from across the street whose very Catholic parents wouldn’t let him listen to rock music or watch Dr. Who.   Instant street cred!

“Rock You” opened Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge (their fourth LP) with a punch.  “Young & Wreckless” followed with a kick in the ass.  This chugging rocker is all about a good time.  Strangely enough, this track somehow frequently ended up on Kiss bootleg CDs.  Bootleggers most likely confused it with Kiss’ own “Young and Wasted” from 1983’s Lick it Up.  Needless to say, if you find a Kiss bootleg claiming to have an unreleased song on it called “Young & Wreckless”, it’s not Kiss.  It’s Helix.  And it kicks ass.

“Animal House” is a Helix concert classic, a bar-bustin’ rocker with a sweet slide guitar licks from Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.  He and gui-partner-in-crime Paul Hackman formed a formidable and underrated duo.   They supplied Helix with a seemingly bottomless well of riffage and tasty guitar hooks.  Meanwhile lead howler Brian Vollmer was in peak voice, driving the whole thing home.  Next up is “Feel the Fire”, basically a re-write of “Heavy Metal Love” from 1983’s awesome No Rest for the Wicked LP.  Though the songs are similar, both kick equal amounts of ass, so we will allow some self-plagiarism.  The first side was finished off with a real sledge:  “When the Hammer Falls”.  It’s a real headbanger in the classic sense, fast and loud.

“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” kicked off the second side, a Crazy Elephant cover that became one of Helix’s most notorious music videos.  There was a TV version and a uncensored cut with full frontal nudity.  One of the girls in the video was an underage Tracy Lords.  Whoops!  Meanwhile, a 13-year-old me couldn’t take my eyes off the TV!  (A classmate of mine called Ian Johnson was known for his tall tales, and took credit for giving Helix the idea for the video!)  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” was one of those instantly catchy songs that seemingly everyone dug, and check out Doerner’s killer solo.

The shot with Doctor Doerner kicking the lightbulbs is possibly the coolest of all time.

Helix want to tell you what turns them on in “My Kind of Rock”, but I think it’s the biting riffs.  Not a bad tune, but Helix have done better.  That’s just filler before the ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”, a cover of A Foot in Cold Water.  Helix’s take is remarkably true to the original.  It’s considerably softer than anything else on the album, but that’s the function of a ballad on a rock album.  Vollmer’s performance helped make it a Helix favourite that’s still played live in concert.  Another track called “Six Strings, Nine Lives” is the only tune that should have been excised.  Good chorus, but without a song to go with it.  One of the best Helix originals was saved for the closing position:  “You Keep Me Rockin'”.  Dark and edgy, it’s a heavy and memorable tune to end Helix’s best selling LP.

Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge is a good record, but as is so often the case with the “big hit” albums, it’s not their best.  No Rest for the Wicked is the one to seek out for the “all killer, no filler” experience.  Razor’s Edge has some essential cuts, but a couple fillers too.  If you’re thinking about picking this up, the wisest purchase would be the 2009 reissue by Rock Candy.  This remastered disc contains rare photos and liner notes including an interview with Brian Vollmer.  It also has three must-have bonus tracks:  Live versions of “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You” and “Animal House” from the uber-rare promo EP Live at the Marquee.  Since Helix were (and are) known for their blitzkrieg live shows, these tracks are well worth having on CD.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Live at the Marquee (1985 promo EP)

HELIX – Live at the Marquee (1985 Capitol promo exclusive EP)

Gratuity goes to two people:  Helix associate John Hockey who initially hooked me up with an mp3 rip of his copy of this Holy Grail rarity, and to Boppin for finding this original copy on vinyl!  Helix’s Live at the Marquee EP is one of those releases that lots of people have heard of, but few have heard.  First of all, it’s a promo, which means it was only distributed within the industry and never made available for sale to the public.  Promos can be very desirable collectibles, especially when they contain exclusive music.  Live at the Marquee was nothing but!  In 1985, Helix had released nothing in terms of live product, not even a live single B-side.  Live at the Marquee was the only one, and before the internet, few fans even knew about it.

For full disclosure, there is a rare Rock Candy reissue of 1984’s Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge, an unauthorized but valuable release that does contain three of the six Marquee tracks.  That 2009 release includes “Young & Wreckless”, “Rock You”, and “Animal House” from this EP.  The other three songs have yet to be reissued anywhere, so half of Live at the Marquee is still exclusive to the EP.

What you need to know about Live at the Marquee is that this is Helix at their prime.  The classic lineup was in full swing:  Brian Vollmer (vocals), Brent “Doctor” Doerner & Paul Hackman (guitars), Greg “Fritz” Hinz (drums), and Daryl Gray (bass).  They were performing their most popular tracks from the Razor’s Edge and No Rest for the Wicked LPs.  Starting with “Young & Reckless” and “Rock You”, it’s full octane in the tank and pedal to the metal.  Helix were and are known as a loud band, and this EP sure sounds like it.  They take a step back on the hit ballad “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  Helix could do love songs like that without sounding wimpy.

Side two continues with the single “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” (Crazy Elephant cover) which sounds like a blast.  Helix do not get recognition for the dual guitar alliance of Doerner and Hackman as perhaps they should.  Check out “Animal House” for more of their stellar interplay including a bit of slide.  Finally “Heavy Metal Love” closes the record, an enduring favourite today that sounds fantastic performed by the classic band.

Over the years, fans became widely aware of the existence of this release.  It would be listed and pictured among official discographies, but never found in stores.  Until/unless those final three recordings become available on CD, this record should be sought after by every serious Helix fan.  I’m happy to have a copy signed by Fritz Hinz.  Also awesome?  John Hockley hooked me up with a CD copy of the Rock Candy release of Razor’s Edge, signed by all four surviving members of the classic Helix band.  Thank you John, and rest in peace Paul Hackman.

4.5/5 stars

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Helix – B-Sides (1999)

Scan_20150918 (5)HELIX – B-Sides (1999 Beak Records)

The occasion:  It was Helix’s 25th anniversary.  How about an album, and some classic returning band members, for a good time?

The title B-Sides here is misleading; a B-side is a track that appears on the flipside of a single, and is often not on the album. No tracks on this album appeared on the flipside of any singles, at least not these versions. However, the misleading title does not mar the excellent music contained within.

B-Sides contains songs written and/or demo’d for various Helix albums from 1990 onwards. Some of these have been re-recorded, such as “Love Is A Crazy Game”, which appeared as an acoustic version on the Business Doing Pleasure CD. This version is electric and is much heavier. I could imagine this version fitting right in on an Aerosmith album. “S.E.X. Rated” has also been re-recorded. It’s the only song that actually appeared as a B-side, but it’s not the same version as on that single.

Various versions of the Helix band appear on this album, but most interesting is the lineup on the bonus tracks. “Like Taking Candy From A Baby” and “Thinking It Over” are both from the sessions from Helix’s excellent first album (Breaking Loose), left unreleased until now. “Thinking It Over”, a terrific pop rock song, is a Del Shannon cover.  Helix worked as Shannon’s backing band during an early 70’s Canadian tour. There are also three songs by a reunited “80’s Helix”, and it’s great to hear that version of the band again.

In a way, it’s a shame that this album was given the title and terrible album cover that it has. Brian Vollmer and Co. could have simply put this out as the next Helix album, which may have given it the respect it deserves. From the ballads to the heavy stuff, this Helix CD has a bit of everything you already liked about the band, with a modern edge. Every song kicks, there’s not a weak track in the bunch. By the time you get to the bonus tracks, Helix have already pummelled your eardrums.

Helix fans absolutely need to hear this music; not B-sides but in fact some of Helix’s best stuff. Along the way, there are appearances from pretty much every major Helix member from the indi days to the mid-90’s. You will even hear songs written and performed by Paul Hackman, the late Helix guitarist who was tragically killed in a 1992 auto accident.  The major selling point of the disc was that three songs featured a reunion of the surviving members of the classic 80’s Helix.  With Hackman gone, that consisted of leader singer Brian Vollmer, guitarist Brent “the Doctor” Doerner, bassist Daryl Gray, and drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz.

Personal faves:

  • “Thinking It Over” which my wife thinks sounds like Sloan.
  • “Devil’s Gate”, hard and hammering.
  • “You Got Me Chained”, with killer horn section.
  • “Take It Or Leave It”, moody and dark but catchy as hell.

Final bonus:  a booklet absolutely chock full of never before seen photos.  A real treat!

5/5 stars

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 – Back For Another Taste (1990)

Epic review time!!


HELIX – Back For Another Taste (1990 Capitol)

Helix’s Back For Another Taste was easily their best album since No Rest for the Wicked. It was also their last for Capitol. As such it received a neat, very limited vinyl release with a special cover commemorating the last (planned) printing of Capitol vinyl. I wish I had bought it when I had the chance. I recall seeing it at Sam the Record Man (owned by Gil Zurbrigg, brother of original Helix bassist Keith Zurbrigg) in downtown Kitchener. I didn’t have a good way of playing records back then, so it didn’t seem worth it.


Special release aside, Back For Another Taste will always be associated with some hard times in Helix. Brent “the Doctor” Doerner, with the band since LP #1, decided to move on from rock and roll. Although lead howler Brian Vollmer saw the departure coming, it still hit hard. Doerner stuck around long enough to record some rhythm guitars and solos for the new album. His brother Brian Doerner played drums on three tracks, as he often has on past Helix albums. (Helix mainstay Fritz Hinz played on the rest). The songs were written by Vollmer and guitarist Paul Hackman, with the exception of two. Vollmer took a trip down to the US to work with Marc Ribler who helped him hone his songwriting chops.

Helix presented themselves as a four-piece in promo photos and music videos, for the first time. Doerner would prove hard to replace over the years, with American Denny Balicki taking over for the tour. He was Helix’s first American member. He made notable appearances in a one-hour MuchMusic special called “Waltzing With Helix”, a documentary on Helix’s European tour with Sacred Reich, and opening for Ian Gillan. (Also in that documentary: a kid I grew up with in the neighborhood called Brian Knight. He was a Helix roadie at the time. Brian Vollmer misspelled his name in his book as “Brian McKnight“. Whoops!)

Back For Another Taste was produced by Tony Bongiovi, who gave the band a raw, more kicking sound in the studio.  It was clear from track one “The Storm” that Helix meant business again.  A mean sounding gritty groove-rocker, “The Storm” was unlike anything they’d done before.  It was a completely un-wimpy lead single and a surprising one at that, since it’s not a very commercial.  The new four-piece Helix sound great here, with Hackman able to really dig in and play, while bassist Daryl Gray gets more room to groove.

The really impressive track on the album was “Running Wild in the 21st Century”. When every other band seemed to be softening it up, Helix seemed to go full-on metal. An edgy music video featuring London’s “Snake the Tattooed Man” won Helix some acclaim and recognition. Snake was a friend of the band, and when the idea came up for a music video, Vollmer said “I know the perfect guy for this.” (I myself encountered Snake at the Record Store, in Part 118 of Record Store Tales.)

“Running Wild” is a killer track, pure Helix adrenaline with their trademark smooth backing vocals.  In the lyrics, Brian seems confident of rock and roll’s future survival. Once again Paul Hackman confidently handles the guitars, allowing his personality to really shine.

Right up the alley of old Helix rockers is “That’s Life”, a classic sounding tune that’s great for drinking to.  Just you try not having fun while hoisting a frosty to “That’s Life”!  But Helix are more than just a party band, always have been.  “Breakdown” is the long dramatic slow one.  Vollmer had been going through some rough times: divorce, having to work at a convenience store to pay the rent, getting mugged, and then heave-ho and re-locating to London Ontario.  “Breakdown” must come from those times, because you can hear the desperation and the determination.  This track is the closest Helix ever got to re-capturing the golden sound of their first album, Breaking Loose.  But you gotta end side one on a party rocker, doncha?  So “Heavy Metal Cowboys” is that track and it sounds exactly how you expect.   Hackman throws down some slide guitar for good measure.

The title track is quintessential Helix.  “Back For Another Taste” indeed, this track could have been right at home on Wild in the Streets.  It’s dirty and rocking, just like you like it.  The stretching out a bit, the pop side of Helix emerges on “Rockin’ Rollercoaster”.  I immediately noticed a higher rating on the 10-point Catchiness Factor scale (c), than other songs on this album.  But then it’s even higher on “Midnight Express”, a real singalong!   I really like these two songs, and even the ballad “Good to the Last Drop” really impressed.

Marc Ribler wanted to write a song called “Can’t Eat Just One”, but Vollmer found the title cumbersome, so he suggested “Good to the Last Drop” instead.  What came from this was a hit ballad with heaps of class and all the right ingredients – a solid 9 on the Catchiness Factor scale.  The music video received a swanky remix with extra keyboard overdubs, and that’s the version I go for.  (It’s on many Helix best-of’s, but not this CD.)




“Give It to You” wasn’t exactly a new song. An earlier version (more raw) surfaced on 1989’s Over 20 Minutes With…Helix compilation. I prefer the raw version, but it’s still a great dirty lil’ Helix number. “Pull the trigger of my honey gun.” Oh, Brian. “Special delivery, just for you!”

So Helix stretched out on this album a bit, and went back to their roots while exercising their melodic songwriting muscles. They went heavier, they went softer, they went dramatic, and they revisited some of their pop roots. What’s left? Faster, faster, faster!

“Wheels of Thunder” is probably the fastest, heaviest Helix track of all time and it closes Back For Another Taste on a killer note. Dr. Doerner handles the solo on this one, and Fritz is absolutely thrash metal mad. The only Helix track that might be faster is “Jaws of a Tiger” (also from Over 20 Minutes With…Helix), but we’re splitting hairs. What a ballsy way to end the album.

There were some cool singles available, but most interesting was the cassette single for “Good to the Last Drop”. That had an unreleased B-side, a song called “S.E.X. Rated”. This is a completely different version from the one that later appeared on the album B-Sides. This one has Paul Hackman, and that’s significant.

In July of 1992, Fritz Hinz was injured (slipped disc) and unable to tour, so Brian Doerner returned for a few western Canadian dates.  As a bonus, so did his brother Brent.  After a final date in Vancouver the band headed home.  Paul Hackman elected to travel home in the tour van with bassist Daryl Gray, while the rest of the band booked flights.  Hackman, not wearing a seat belt, went to sleep.  Then, according to reports, the van veered off the road and down an embankment when the driver fell asleep at the wheel.  Three men were thrown from the vehicle, and Hackman was killed.  Daryl Gray suffered minor injuries and flagged down help.  20 cars passed the frantic, bleeding bassist before someone stopped.

Back For Another Taste was Paul’s final recording.

5/5 stars


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.


“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: Helix – Breaking Loose (1979 H&S)

Part one of a Helix three-fer!

IMG_20150605_184257HELIX – Breaking Loose (1979 H&S)

Long before they gave you an ‘R’, Helix earned a reputation as the hardest working band in Canada, year after year in the cold dirty clubs of the Great White North.  Formed in 1974, Helix had a number of lineup changes before they even recorded their debut.  If you want to get technical about it, even on their first album, Helix only had two remaining original members in singer Brian Vollmer and bassist Keith “Bert” Zurbrigg.  Helix really solidified when they eventually acquired guitarist Paul Hackman, and twin brothers Brent (guitar) and Brian Doerner (drums).

Manager Bill Seip, who eventually guided Helix to a major label deal with Capitol Records in the early 80’s, was an early believer.  Under his leadership, they managed to scrape together enough cash to record an independent album — something very few bands did back then.  They released it on their own “H&S Records”, for Helix & Seip.  What is remarkable about the album they created, Breaking Loose, is how great it still is today.  I know people, very respected in the local rock community, who will tell you this is Helix’s best album.

Breaking Loose isn’t metal, but what it lacks in firepower is made up for in class, ambition and natural talent.  Brian Doerner is one of the most respected drummers around, having acquired an extensive discography over the decades.  As for Brent Doener and Paul Hackman, together they forged a guitar partnership that would take them up to the big leagues.  They are not Downing & Tipton, nor are they Smith & Murray.  Doerner & Hackman (R.I.P.) were in a hard rocking bar band, and Helix were damn good for their demographic.  What they brought to the table was ability, but not flash.  Both were capable of writing songs on their own, as the writing credits on Breaking Loose attest to.

Having toured extensively, Helix worked up a number of originals.  The entire album is written by the trio of Doerner, Hackman and Vollmer, in various permutations.   Even then, Brian Vollmer had a remarkable voice: power with just a tiny bit of grit, but also the ability to sing clean.  The production on the album is flat by today’s standards, but perspective and context are everything.  For a self-financed album in 1979, it sounds incredible!  Though it lacks the oomph of Helix today, it’s perfectly listenable.

Starting with the mid-tempo “I Could Never Leave”, Helix right away hit you right off the bat with one of their catchiest tunes.  You’ll notice the nice backing vocals, Brent being particularly audible.  “Don’t Hide Your Love” has a similar vibe, that being hard rock with an emphasis on catchy melodies.  Maybe Helix were aiming for the radio, but the songs aren’t wimpy by any stretch.

“Down in the City” is a Vollmer ballad, and a pretty good one too.  The lyrics are cringe-worthy, but the music had ambition.  It starts as a pretty, folky acoustic song and eventually builds with more guitars into something different.  Plenty of guitars to go around.  Then like night and day it’s onto “Crazy Women”, written and vocalized by Brent, otherwise known as “The Doctor”.  Doerner has a quirkier writing style, which is a good thing, because it helped Helix stand out a little more from the pack.  “Crazy Women” has plenty of guitars of course, but also has a neat drunken stumble to it.

Brent closed side one, and opened side two with a legendary song that helped them get a following on the west coast: “Billy Oxygen”. It’s still a favourite to this day, a short fast rocker about a guy named Billy Oxygen, captain of a starship called an ES-335, looking to meet some aliens to party with. Out of this world? Wait until you hear the band playing the shit out of it! Brian’s drumming reminds me of a good jazz drummer — fast, accurate, and hard! Keith Zurbrigg throws down a little bass, playing off with Brent and Paul in a three-way solo for the ages.

If you don’t like “Billy Oxygen”, then I’m not sure if we can be friends. The impact this song had on me cannot really be measured, as I played it on repeat ad-nauseum. As I recounted in Record Store Tales Part 2 (!), this tune even inspired me to do some writing of my own:

When I was in University I tried my hand at bad, bad science fiction short stories. Suffice to say, none of it survives today with good reason. However, Helix had a little moment in my fiction: My spaceship was called an ES-335, named after Billy Oxygen’s ship in the song. And only a little while ago did I learn that ES-335 wasn’t the name of a spaceship at all. An ES-335 was a Gibson guitar.

“Here I Go Again” is not the Whitesnake song, but another one of those melodic rock songs that seemed a bit contrived to get some radio play.  That’s just speculation on my part, but I’m glad it was “Billy Oxygen” that did get the airplay.  That’s not to say anything negative about the fine “Here I Go Again”.  There isn’t a weak song on this album, but two other highlights are definitely “You’re A Woman Now”, featuring female backing vocals and a structure that builds into something dramatic, as if it’s Helix’s own “Stairway To Heaven”. “Wish I Could Be There” brings back the outer space theme, and has acoustic and heavy sections, sort of Helix’s foray into prog rock.

I should note that both “Wish I Could Be There” and “Billy Oxygen” made the Sausagefest countdown a few years ago, a lofty achievement indeed.  “Billy” even cracked the top five.  Musical scholar Scotty Geffros holds both songs in high esteem, and voted for them accordingly, as did I.  Our host, Iron Tom Sharpe also voted for “Billy”.


This lineup only lasted for one album, both Brian Doerner and Keith Zurbrigg departed shortly after this, leaving Vollmer the sole original member. Their legacy of the lineup is this debut album, something any band would be proud of.  Unfortunately, CDs are hard to find.  Capitol did a bare-bones but fine CD reissue in 1992, with both Breaking Loose and the second album White Lace & Black Leather, on one disc.  That release was called The Early Years, but it went out of print many years ago. Brian Vollmer did a CD reissue of each individually, but both are now sold out.

Now, fair warning:  I have to disclose that I am biased when it comes to this band.  I’ve met them a number of times, and I have the phone numbers of two guys who played on this album. For another perspective, I asked Scotty Geffros, who has a Masters degree in Rockology, about his relationship with Breaking Loose:

After being handed this album, as a youngster of maybe 9 or 10, I remember examining the cover first…and seeing the photos of the band on the back, and wondering why the singer had a Blackhawks jersey on? I was told by my father to listen to “Billy Oxygen” and quickly went to the turntable to give it a spin. Low and behold, instant love. From catchy tunes like “Here I Go Again”, to more epic works like “Wish I Could Be There”, this album grabbed me and holds up today as a really good, albeit under-appreciated record.

[Note: I was wondering the same thing. Brian, why are you wearing a Blackhawks jersey?]

I’d go a step further than Scott and call it really great. Being completely honest though, the only complaint I have about this album would be that some of the lyrics were a little weak.  Young band…first album…I’ll forgive them.  If you can too, then I suggest you hear Breaking Loose at your earliest convenience.

5/5 stars