Sunday, April 29, 2012

Brian Vollmer Interview / HELIX at the Rockpile

Photo by Wally Norton

On Friday, April 27th, HELIX rolled into Toronto to perform in front of a packed house at The Rockpile. I was not only fortunate enough to catch the show but was honoured to be able to sit down and chat with Brian Vollmer, the band's lead vocalist for the last 38 years. I am a huge Helix fan and in fact, my third concert ever was Helix/Kick Axe at Hamilton Place on Friday, January 25, 1985. Since then I have seen them many times over the years but tonight I was going to get to see the reformed "classic" Helix lineup that toured/recorded together through the 80's heavy metal decade.

I have broken this piece into 2 parts, up first is my sit down interview with Brian, followed by a review of the show. If you have no idea who Helix is you might want to back up and check out my Hoser Heavy Metal Vol 2 blog to famliarize yourself with the band's rock and roll history.

Photo by Wally Norton
It has been a few years now but can you tell us how the "Classic Helix" lineup got back together?

Oh geesh, long story and quite unplanned. When I did the Christmas Album I was working with rental players  I guess you would say we did a western tour of Canada. After the last show at Norma Jeans in London (Ont) everybody quit. So I had to go and find some new players. Sean Kelly had been facebooking me for a while wanting to work together so Sean came in as a bass player, I asked Brent (Doerner, lead guitar) if he'd rejoin. Once I had those guys I went to Daryl (Gray, bass) and I had Ron MacEarchin working playing drums for me. He had played drums on the "Power of Rock and Roll Album" but at that point I figured it made sense to get the original guys back together. I asked Ron if he would step aside if I was able to get "Fritz" (Greg Hinz, drums) back in the fold and he said yes. At that point Brent recommended Kaleb "Duckman" Duck and here we are.

Helix have been rocking now for almost 40 years and have released many great albums. Do you have a personal favourite?

I would have to say the Vagabond Bones CD is my favourite Helix album.

Speaking of albums, I see there is a new EP on the website Can you tell me about it?

Well it seems that albums as we know it are a tough sell in the market right now. So we decided to record just 5 tracks and market them to radio individually as a way of cutting costs but still getting some new Helix music out there for the fans.

Over the years Helix has gotten to tour with many great bands, who was your favourite band to tour with.

Probably when we toured with Motorhead. We were very lucky and honoured to have toured with many great artists over the years. Kiss were great, Whitesnake, Heart, Meatloaf, WASP, and Krokus. We just did the Monsters of Rock Cruise with Cinderella, Tesla, Kix, Stryper, Y & T, UFO, Keel and that was a lot of fun.

One of my all time favourite concerts was DIO/Helix/Rough Cutt at Toronto's CNE Stadium. Do you have any memories of working with Ronnie James Dio.

We did a number of dates with Dio and he was always great to us. He would come into our dressing room before the shows and sit and talk to us like we were human beings. He was a very warm and caring guy. I remember he used to come in and play Fritz's practice kit in the dressing room. He would say how much he liked Fritz's drums "They are small, just like me"

I understand that you also teach vocal technique, not surprising as your pipes sound as good as ever. Do you have any students the Decibel Geek listeners might know?

I have students from many different musical formats but the girls in Kittie have been students of mine.

Who are some of you musical influences, what might we find in your IPOD?

Wow, so many but I love the Guess Who, David Bowie of course the Rolling Stones

In your book, I read about the independent albums you guys financed and promoted yourselves and it really shows how the music industry has changed. Do you think its easier or harder for a new band now?

Definitely much harder for new bands today.

Do you have any advice for a new band starting out?

This would be my advice to a new band starting out or anyone going out into business or whatever. First, love what you do. If you don't love it your heart wont be in it and that's not cool. Then stick with it. You never know whats around the corner, when the breaks will come so it's important to be persistent and going after your dream.

So what's on the horizon for Helix? Anything we can look forward to?

This summer we will be out on the road and we are currently working on a documentary on the history of the band. Plans are in the works to unveil the movie at next years Monsters of Rock cruise. They will have big screens set up on the deck, should be an interesting way to premiere the film.

SHOW REVIEW April 27th at the Rockpile

Photo by Wally Norton

The band stormed the stage just after 11:00pm, opening with "When the Hammer Falls" off 1984's Walkin the Razor's Edge album. The "classic" lineup was BACK and there is a definite chemistry that these guys have together that comes from playing literally thousands of shows together.The twin guitar attack of Brent "Dr. Doerner" and the new guy Kaleb "Duckman" Duck provided an intense barrage of melodic power chords reminiscent of the Scorpians' Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabbs.

Photo by Wally Norton
Rhythm section Daryl Gray (bass) and Greg "Fritz" Hinz (drums) layed down the foundation as Helix pounded through Vagabond Bones, Kids are All Shaken, Monday Morning Meltdown, Go Hard or Go Home. For 38 years now, frontman Brian Vollmer has been holding down the fort, his vocals are as strong and sharp now as they have ever been  Introducing "Heavy Metal Love" (A song written about Joan Jett) the band rocked with such intensity that it could have well been 1985.

They steamrolled through a setlist that in my opinion was incredibly strong. A two hour show that took the audience on a journey of classic Helix tunes, a large amount of newer material and a few surprising deep cuts that pleased every age of fan. Highlights included Runnin Wild in the 21st Century,Make Me Do Anything You Want, Make em Dance, Gimme Gimme Good Lovin, and Deep Cuts the Knife.

photo by Wally Norton
After Kaleb threw down a very tasteful guitar solo, giving the rest of the guys a short but well deserved break. Returning to the stage Dr. Doerner picked up the double neck Gibson as they launched into Wild in the Streets and the tunes just kept coming. The tunes off the new Skin in the Game EP went over great and fit perfectly into the set.

Photo by Wally Norton
Then came the biggest surprise of the night as they broke out Billy Oxygen from their independent album Breaking Loose. Brent Doerner sang the song like a man possessed providing me with the biggest thrill of the night. This would be like Kiss breaking out Mr. Blackwell, a true treasure for the hardcore fan.An encore of ROCK YOU! and Heavy Metal Cowboys closed out the show on a 90 mile an hour pace.

Photo by Wally Norton

When it all was said and done Helix rocked through 23 songs plus Kaleb's solo. Many years ago Helix were dubbed "Canada's Hardest Working Band" and tonight they proved it's still true.

Thanks Brian for the interview and THANKS HELIX for another great Rock and Roll Memory!


The Meister said...

Agreed Wally,

The boys sounded tight and just looked happy to be playing for us. I enjoyed hearing Monday Morning Meltdown as well.


Anonymous said...

The Show was amazing, with 22 songs and an hour and 40 min set this was the best Helix set list I have seen!! The first time was Aug 31st 1985 my first concert ever. CNE Toronto, Rough Cutt, Helix and Dio.

Wallygator said...

Hi Shawn,

That show was incredible. I truly miss the CNE stadium for shows. Still have my ticket stub for that show. And I agree that Friday night's set list was Helix's finest yet. Thanks for the comment maybe see you out at the Rockpile sometime.

Emidio said...

I just seen Helix a couple of week's ago in London,Ont.@ East Side Bar.They sounded really good & it was good seeing them again in their home town.
Helix never really got the reputation that they rightly deserve because of alot of bad managment that continuously ripped the band off.
Good to have seen them again.

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