russ dwarf

VHS Archives #73: Killer Dwarfs interview + Bruce Dickinson rips off Darrell Dwarf’s undies! (1989)

“‘Arry wants it…’Arry gets it.” – Killer Dwarfs

You won’t believe this got broadcast on daytime television!

Laurie Brown talked to the Killer Dwarfs in rehearsal for their excellent fourth LP Dirty Weapons. Additionally you will hear a preview for a new song called “Nothing Gets Nothing” live in concert, plus some behind the scenes footage.  The band talk about the music scene in Canada at the time (not good) and touring with Iron Maiden.  “What Harry wants, Harry gets,” they tell us.

But the real reason you’re watching this video is to see Bruce Dickinson rip the pants right off Darrell Dwarf.  It was the last night of the tour and therefore prank night!  Enjoy seeing “all of Darrell” as the audience did that night!

 

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REVIEW: Killer Dwarfs – Reunion of Scribes Live 2001

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
 Mike and Aaron are doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums that these two intrepid music reporters have sent to each other. Buckle up, buttercups, it’s gonna be a blast!

 

 

“You guys do like to drink, don’t ya?  You are Canadian aren’t ya?  Most of us are Canadian in here, except for there’s one guy that I know of.  Security!”  — Russ Dwarf

Scan_20160313KILLER DWARFS – Reunion of Scribes Live 2001 (2002 Bullseye)

Aaron scored this for cheap at his “junk shop” and passed it down to me.  It was the only Killer Dwarfs CD I was missing — and for good reason.  I had the chance to hear it once, at the Record Store, while I was working for a stretch in Hamilton.   I didn’t think much of it then.  Has anything changed?

The Killer Dwarfs quietly went extinct after their final studio album, 1992’s Method to the Madness.  10 years later, the band reunited including Mike (Hall) Dwarf, who had actually left the band prior to 1992.  This is a full reunion of the classic lineup:  The Dwarfs Russty, Mike, Darrell and Bad Ronbo.  Let’s “Go DuNK” and see what the Killer Dwarfs 2001 sounded like.  At one hour and 11 minutes, Reunion of Scribes is the longest Killer Dwarfs album to date.

Strangely enough for a Canadian band, the concert begins with a recording of “The U.S. Air Force” (also known as “The Wild Blue Yonder”) before the band emerges with a limp version of their own “Dirty Weapons”.  What’s the problem?  It’s certainly not Russ Dwarf, who sounds vintage strong.   The guitar is too thin, and blemished with sour notes here and there.  Hey, it’s been a long time since Mike was a Dwarf!  The drums also sound disconnected from the song from time to time.  Chock it up to a bad recording?  (At the Docks, in Toronto.)  “Stand Tall” also suffers: the guitar needs to be front and center.  The sound of the band suddenly becomes sparse and weak every time Mike Dwarf stops playing the riff in order to lay down a solo.  The bass isn’t fat enough to fill the gap.

Another weakness to this recording is a concentration on songs from 1988-1992.  There’s nothing at all from their first self-titled album, even their first single “Heavy Mental Breakdown”, the song that helped put them on the map.  Instead the Dwarfs focused on more radio-friendly later music for this set.  Of that tunage, most of the hits are here:  “Stand Tall”, “Keep the Spirit Alive”, “Dirty Weapons”, “Doesn’t Matter”, “Hard Luck Town”.  Their first big label single, “We Stand Alone” is missing from the set, which instead includes lots of notable album cuts.  The best of these include “Believe in Me” from their second album Stand Tall.  Russ Dwarf’s ageless voice delivers hard-edged numbers like “Starting to Shine”, “Last Laugh”, “Nothin’ Gets Nothin'”, and “Comin’ Through” with all its usual intensity.

The most emotional moment (for fans) has to be the ballad “Doesn’t Matter”.  “Roll the dice and play the game, for the fortune and the fame.”  The Dwarfs did roll the dice, at least they tried.  “Doesn’t Matter” is a pretty simple lyrically:  get out there and give’r.*  The live recording doesn’t deliver its full power, but I do get the feels to hear them return to Toronto and play this song for their friends.

Most of these songs are still high-quality hard rock workhorses.  While Russ Dwarf brings it all and then some, the poor recording renders Reunion of Scribes an album that will only get infrequent plays at LeBrain HQ.

2/5 stars

* The Killer Dwarfs are the only band I can think of who actually used the word “give’r” in a song lyric.

REVIEW: Russ Dwarf – Wireless (2013)

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
 Mike and Aaron will be doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums these two intrepid music reporters have sent to each other. Buckle up, buttercups, it’s gonna be a blast!

Aaron’s review: Russ Dwarf – Wireless

RUSS DWARFS – Wireless (2013 Smoothline)

I don’t know where Aaron finds this stuff up in Owen Sound, but here is a pristine digipack CD of Russ Dwarf (of Killer Dwarf) and friends doing acoustic versions of old Killer Dwarfs classics.  Wireless is a great name for such a venture, and the friends list includes Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (ex-Guns N’ Roses) and Glen Drover (ex-Megadeth).  Holed up in a studio in Newmarket, Ontario they laid down some pretty cool acoustic renditions of these numbers.

“Keep the Spirit Alive” remains irresistible today in acoustic form.  That’s because a good song has a lifespan.  A great chorus and memorable lyrics plus a pinch of magic made “Keep the Spirit Alive” a minor hit.  It’s one of the most purely enjoyable Dwarfs tunes and works well as an acoustic spirit booster.  Russ can still hit all the notes.  From the same album (Stand Tall, 1986) comes “Stand Tall”, which also makes the acoustic transition successfully.  A pretty incredible guitar solo (it’s not clear who is playing what) ensures this isn’t just “KD Lite”.

1988’s “I’m Alive” was an upbeat morale booster in its band arrangement.  Acoustically it’s the campfire version of the same thing.  The musical arrangements on Wireless do not deviate very far from the originals.  There are no radical re-imaginings.  What makes Wireless special for fans is Russell Graham’s earnest and still strong vocals, and of course the impressive six-string slinging of Drover and Bumblefoot.  The harder rock songs transition into an acoustic versions well enough, but ballads like “Doesn’t Matter” really shine.  A touch of piano and a vintage Russell vocal are the perfect topping.  A lot of this sounds live in the studio.  It doesn’t sound like a lot of time was spent mucking around fixing things in the mix, or sweetening things up.   What it sounds like, more or less, is Russ singing live in your living room.

The one thing that I did not think would work acoustically was “Comin’ Through”, the angry barnstormer from Dirty Weapons (1990).   It exists acoustically as a semi-epic and righteous twister through the plains of Canada.  “Crazy fuckin’ people living in the past, can’t you see that ain’t gonna last?” sings Russ with all the grit of the original.  Whatever Mr. Dwarf is doing to maintain his voice…well, good on you sir!  “Dirty Weapons” itself is mournful and slow rather than aggressive.  Interestingly, Russ arranged this album in chronological order.  The last three songs are from the final Dwarfs studio album Method to the Madness (1992).  That puts a nice bow on it, serving as a reminder that the Killer Dwarfs were still writing great tunes right to the end.  I can’t think of a better tune to end with than “Driftin’ Back”.

I quite liked Wireless and recommend it to any fan of the mighty mites known as Killer Dwarfs who wants to check out some quieter versions of their best material.  No new songs, sadly.  That would have been bitchin’.

3.5/5 stars

Spot the Mitch

Spot the Mitch

REVIEW: Helix – Vagabond Bones (2009)

STRAT

Welcome back to Canadian Rawk Week!

Scan_20160210HELIX – Vagabond Bones (2009 Universal)

2009 was an exciting time to be a Helix fan.  15-odd years of rotating lineups kept the band alive and in the clubs, but it was hard to grow attached to any band members when they only stayed for a couple years and were off elsewhere.  Helix main man Brian Vollmer had always maintained strong ties with former members, and guys like Brent Doerner often showed up on albums, or in the audience at local Helix shows.  It was still a surprise when Doerner, drummer Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and bassist Daryl Gray all returned to the Helix lineup.  This completed the classic 80’s version of the band, or at least the surviving members thereof.  Paul Hackman was killed in 1993 in a tragic auto accident.  Replacing him in the lineup was Kaleb “Duckman” Duck, who had previously worked with Brent.

Vollmer was working on a new album (originally called It’s Rock Science, NOT Rocket Science!), writing with his partners Sean Kelly and Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness).   The final product entitled Vagabond Bones has a variety of different players on it.  Former Helix members Brent “Ned” Niemi and Rob MacEachern play drums, and guitar maestro Kelly (also briefly a Helix member) contributed to guitar and bass.  Also on the CD is Steve Georgakopoulos who played on a few past Helix albums.  You’d think it would be a case of “too many cooks” in the kitchen.  That’s not the case; Vollmer and Co. brewed a potent mixture of songs, with all the attitude and quality that you have come to expect from this band.

Immediately you’re hit over the head by the slick production work by Vollmer, Kelly and Aaron Murray. “The Animal Inside (Won’t Be Denied)” has the stamps of both Helix and Sean Kelly all over it, from the absurdly catchy chorus to the shredding solos. Vollmer sings powerfully, but his voice has so much depth character from years of training and road work.  Very few singers from the 70’s still sound the same, but Brian Vollmer is damn close!  “Go Hard or Go Home” has another powerful chorus, plus great catchy riff, and fun lyrics.  “Go hard, or go home, take your little whiny candy ass and go.”  Considering all that Helix has been through, Vollmer surely knows only the strong survive.  “No short cuts, no sweet deals,” he sings and he knows it!  The title track “Vagabond Bones” makes it three great songs in a row. It’s an instantly likeable good time hard rock boogie.

Helix really developed a knack for melody as they grew. One of the most pop moments is “Monday Morning Meltdown”, a song that Brian compared to Cheap Trick in terms of style.  You can hear it in the choruses, but it’s just a great pop rock song with another great Sean Kelly riff holding down the fort.  Very different for Helix, and very good.

Onto a fast vintage Van Halen style shuffle, “When The Bitter’s Got The Better Of You” is the fifth straight up great song in a row.  It too is very different for Helix.  It continues a theme of “down on your luck” songs, but always with a message to keep on givin’ ‘er.  That holds true on “Hung Over But Still Hanging In”, a sleeze rock duet with Russ Dwarf of Killer Dwarfs.  If you need a hard rocking party song, then this is what you want. It has the groove, the fun, and the lyrics so just hoist them wobbly-pops and rock on!

My personal favourite song has always been “Best Mistake I Never Made”. It has a classic 70’s rock aura, an acoustic guitar, and if I had to compare it to something else it would be Helix’s excellent 1992 single “That Day Is Gonna Come”.  That’s a trip down memory lane that I don’t mind taking.  “Make ‘Em Dance” is a fast stomper with a beat that strikes me as almost Disco.  It just rages though, I wouldn’t try dancing to it until you want to break your neck!

Ending the album on a funky rock vibe is “Jack it Up”. This is a really interesting song, because I used to hate it. You may have to let it grow on you because, like much of this album, it’s forging new territory for Helix. It’s still great party rock, but just a little laid back.

With sharp production, Vagabond Bones was certainly the best sounding Helix album, and the best overall in many a year. And that’s saying something, because 2007’s The Power Of Rock And Roll was very, very strong.  Hearing this album for the first time, I just smiled.  I had to.  Helix were back and pretty much better than ever.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Metal On Ice – Various artists (2013)

NEW…ish RELEASE!

METAL ON ICE – Tunes from Canada’s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal heroes (2013 Warner Canada)

Good Sir Aaron purchased this for me at his local establishment for the low, low price of $5.  In Aaron’s review, he stated, “This is the best $5 I’ve spent on spec in ages. Bar none.”  That’s mighty tribute from a guy like Aaron, who buys a lot of CDs on spec.

What is Metal On Ice?  The talented guitarist Sean Kelly (Crash Kelly, Four By Fate, The #1 Classical Guitar Album) put together a book of rock tales from Canada’s best of the 80’s:  Helix, Anvil, Coney Hatch, Killer Dwarfs, Kick Axe and more.  To go with it, he also produced this EP.  Metal On Ice, the CD, consists of remakes of Canadian heavy metal classics.  For all but one song, he has the original singers from the bands singing lead vocals.  For the one that he doesn’t, (Kick Axe’s “On the Road to Rock”) he has Nick Walsh from Slik Toxik.  Then to top it all off, he and Walsh wrote a new song called “Metal On Ice” featuring vocals from almost everybody.

Many of these songs are radio staples.  “Heavy Metal Love” is one of those Helix classics that has endured.  Written by Brian Vollmer and the late Paul Hackman, I think it’s one of Helix’s best tunes, period.  Vollmer’s pipes speak for themselves.  Sean Kelly was in Helix, on bass, for a few months before Brian reunited the classic lineup.  Playing bass on this version however is Helix bassist Daryl Gray.  It’s a pretty authentic remake.

METAL ON ICEI found “Metal Queen” by Lee Aaron to be the most impressive track.  I cannot believe Lee’s voice, powerful as ever!  With the new production and guitars by Sean Kelly, “Metal Queen” has actually been improved.  It’s still an old-school metal chugger, but you can actually hear the lyrics now!  What is important is that Kelly has not changed the songs very much at all.  His impressively tasteful playing is enough to make each one shine just a little more.  Each solo is 100% appropriate to the classic songs.

A great example of this is the Headpins’ “Don’t It Make Ya Feel” featuring Darby Mills.  He has captured the vibe of the original guitar tone, and the song is very authentic.  Similarly, Nick Walsh does not deviate too much from George Criston’s lead vocals from “On the Road to Rock”.  When Walsh screams the high notes, it’s perfect.   Carl Dixon sings lead on Coney Hatch’s classic “Hey Operator”.  Dixon nearly died in a car accident not too long ago; it’s great to hear his voice as strong as ever.  How do these Canadian singers stay perpetually young sounding?  Is it our cold, frosty air?

Russ Dwarf returns to remake the Killer Dwarfs favourite, “Keep the Spirit Alive”.  This has always been my favourite Killer Dwarfs song, right from the very beginning.  It’s absolutely wonderful to hear a well produced updated version.  I admit that when I first got this CD, I went back and played “Keep the Spirit Alive” four or five times in a row.

Finally, there is the new original song “Metal on Ice”.  This ode to the road features lead vocals from Dixon, Vollmer, Mills, Walsh and Aaron.  I love the lyrics: “Hello Kelowna, goodbye Kenora, but we do it all tomorrow in Thunder Bay,” for example.  It is these kinds of Canadian towns that has kept the rock alive through trends and changing winds.  Walsh proudly proclaims that even though they may never make it to the top, they’re never going to stop.

A great sentiment on which to end a great CD.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Killer Dwarfs – Dirty Weapons (1990)

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KILLER DWARFS – Dirty Weapons (1990 CBS)

I remember when the Dwarfs opened for Maiden on their Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour. They began playing a new song on that tour called “Nothing Gets Nothing”. It was fast and almost thrash metal in its delivery. The Dwarfs were heavying up!

Two years later, when Dirty Weapons finally hit the stores, it wasn’t thrash metal, but it was an up-ratchet from the previous album (and major label debut) Big Deal. It was also an improvement in sound, production, and song quality in general. This album is the Dwarfs very best. It is near-flawless. It is a must have for any true fan of Canadian metal.

Highlights include:

  • The title track and first single, with irrestible chorus.
  • “Last Laugh”, a great hard rocker, memorable and tough.
  • The angry “Comin’ Through”. “Outta my way, I’m coming through, I know what I want and I know how to get it!”
  • The melodic and rootsy “Not Foolin'”. “Not foolin’ me, you’re nothing but a sleeze”.
  • The atmospheric and slow closer “Want It Bad”.
  • The power ballad “Doesn’t Matter” which should have been the biggest hit of their entire career. Alas, it was one year too early as the following summer was the summer of the power ballads. But the band believed in it so much, they re-released it on the next album. Which, by then, was far too late, as grunge had hit in a big way.

I’ve heard people say that Russ Dwarf’s vocals are similar to Geddy Lee’s.  I’m not sure if I agree, I never saw it that way at the time.  All I know is, this is a great album, my favourite, and one that kept me rockin’ in the early 1990’s.

5/5 stars