Running Wild in the 21st Century

VHS Archives #33: Brian Vollmer and Snake the Tattoo Man on Much (1990)

“Outside of Toronto…that’s Kitchener anyway.”  – Dan Gallagher

This is a real treasure!  A legendary interview, it does not appear to be anywhere else online.  It’s also the only video I know of to have one of my old customers in it — Snake the Tattoo Man.  To be fair, Snake was T-Rev’s customer first.  Trevor sent him to me, because he knew I was a huge Helix fan.  Snake’s first claim to fame was appearing on the Phil Donahue show.  Snake has over 90% of his body tattooed, and was kicked out of a mall in London Ontario simply because of the way he looked.  His next bout with stardom was when he was cast in the Helix video for “Running Wild in the 21st Century”, one of their best songs!

MuchMusic’s Dan Gallagher talked to Brian Vollmer and Snake outside Speaker’s Corner in the spring of 1990.  Of course Snake’s tattoos are discussed, and a new technology called “Surround Sound” is rolled out.  Which of course you won’t hear, since Much was broadcast in stereo and I was recording in mono!

Great, classic interview that I proud to bring back to the world via Youtube.

REVIEW: Helix – Back For Another Taste (1990)

Epic review time!!


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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.

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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.)

 

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“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

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Part 118: Famous Persons

RECORD STORE TALES PART 118:  Famous Persons

People sometimes ask me, “LeBrain, did you ever meet anybody famous through your store?”  I wish that happened more often.  As it stands my list is pretty meager.  I met Dave McDonald, the local weather man.  He wanted in the store early one day.

My meager list:

1. London, Ontario’s “Snake the Tattoo Man”, whose biggest claim to fame was appearing on Phil Donahue, and in a Helix video (“Running Wild in the 21st Century”).  He thought he deserved a discount on CD’s because, as per his words:  “I’m the Tattoo Man”.

2. Country singer Beverley Mahood, a little bit after the initial fame.  She’d worked with David Foster in the past.  She was a regular.  One time she came in and held up her CD.  “That’s me!” she said.  I felt like saying, “Yup…and that’s you in the bargain bin at $4.99, too!”

3. Grammy Award winning Polka King Walter Ostenek, who I’m told is a bit of a pompous ass.  I talked about him in a previous installment.

4. Former Helix and Saga drummer Brian Doerner, who was a super nice guy that didn’t buy anything on that visit.  However I got some drum sticks and autographs out of him later on!

5. The dad of ex-Helix and Brighton Rock guitarist Greg “Shredder” Fraser.  Nice, chatty guy.  Very proud of his son.

6. Blue Rodeo slide guitarist Bob Egan, who never said much of anything.  Just looked around.  I wasn’t sure it was him until I heard that he lived in town, and sure enough, it was Bob Egan.  I believe today he occassionally collaborates with one of our store managers.

That’s about it.  This isn’t exactly a booming metropolis, and we attracted the bare minimum of people with any sort of fame.  During my 20’s, I used to fantasize that singer songwriter Dayna Manning who lived in Stratford would pop in, and we’d meet.  That never happened.

Instead, I had Snake the Tattoo Man coming in.  Good ol’ T-Rev ran into him first.  He said to Snake, “If you wanna talk to a huge Helix fan, talk to Mike.”  So he made a trip specifically to talk to me.  What Trevor failed to get through Snake’s head is that I was a huge Helix fan, not a huge Snake the Tattoo Man fan.  So Snake walked in trying to sell me Snake merch!  I disappointed him by not buying one of his autographed glossy photos.

“Do you want to buy a picture of me with Phil Donahue?  I signed it for you.  $10.  Me and Donahue.  I also have me and Helix.  I’ll give you a deal if you buy five.”

Thanks Trev.  That was such a wonderful experience!