Monday, February 4, 2013

Meister's "Views of the Cruise" - Volume #6 - My Fellow Countrymen, I'll Lend You My Ears

Hello, I'm The Meister, one of the "Canadian Decibel Geeks" from the Great White North of Canada.  Situated in North America, we are the world’s second largest country and our border with the US is the largest land border.  Canada is a diverse country with two official national languages, English and French and we recognise the Queen as our head of state.   We love our hockey (although not so much after the strike this year, I suspect), Canada has lots to be proud of and our music is no exception.

This year my fellow cruisers and I are joined by some excellent Canadian musicians.  Let’s take a look at my fellow countrymen playing on this year’s cruise.  First up we have returning cruise veterans, Helix.


Helix got together originally in 1974 in Kitchener Ontario, but it would be two years later before the more "classic line up" joined vocalist Brian Vollmer and became part of the group that already included guitarists Brent “The Doctor” Doerner and Paul Hackman.  The original incarnation saw Brent’s twin brother Brian on drums and Keith Zurbrigg on bass. 

This line up issued the début Breaking Loose on their own independent label, H&S Records.  There are a couple of notable tracks on this release, the first being You’re A Woman Now which was played in regular rotation on a radio station in Texas, helping to expand their fan base and pave the way for the band to play south of the border.  The second stand out piece is entitled Billy Oxygen and is composed and sung by guitarist Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.  I had the extreme pleasure of hearing this tune live for the first time on Monsters of Rock: The Voyage, the inaugural cruise in 2012.

The second release from Helix came in 1981 and was again put out independently.  White Lace & Black Leather saw the departure of Zurbrigg with Mike Uzelac stepping in as his replacement and Leo Niebudek behind the kit for Brian Doerner.  Helix had signed on with new management William Seip and he advised them to change their image, dropping the jeans and t-shirts and going with the more heavy metal style of leather clothing.  Both of these first independent albums are available on one compilation CD titled The Early Years which is available for purchase from their website and is also usually for sale (along with other merchandise) at the shows.

They signed to Capitol Records after previously being rejected three times and released the stellar No Rest for the Wicked in 1983.  The record saw another line up change with Greg “Fritz” Hinz taking a seat behind the drum kit.  No Rest For The Wicked was produced by noted producer Tom Tremuth.  The title track is absolutely blistering and I've heard them play it live on several occasions.  Heavy Metal Love saw video play in Canada, showcasing  their new look and sound on Much Music (the Canadian MTV).  Other tracks here have become concert staples even to this day, such as my personal favourite Dirty Dog.  The ensuing tour for this record brought new issues to the band as Mike Uzelac had a change of faith discovering the bible, quit drinking, drugs and smoking and left the band.  He returned briefly to fill in for the US leg of the tour as his replacement was not granted entry into the US. Heavy Metal Love

Daryl Gray joined Vollmer, Doerner, Hackman and Hinz for the new record, 1984’s Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge.  For this, their fourth album Helix included two cover songs with Crazy Elephant’s Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’ and A Foot In Cold Water’s Make Me Do Anything You Want, both concert staples still today.  A video was made for Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’, actually two.  One was released to music video stations and the other was an “adult” version featuring a topless future porn star Traci Lords that was aired on the Playboy Channel.  This album also contains their signature and probably most well-known song Rock You and the video for it features a cool scene with Brent Doerner emerging from the water of the rock quarry set to wail out his guitar solo.  Rock You (Uncensored)

The next year saw Long Way To Heaven hit the record store shelves.  Deep Cuts The Knife was released as a single and stayed for a long time at the top of a local radio station’s nightly top ten at ten list.  Much Music gave the video heavy exposure and radio stations in the US also spun the track in their regular rotation.  The song, The Kids Are All Shakin’ was inspired by a fan’s letter from Poland.  Long Way To Heaven saw them touring Sweden, the first Canadian band to perform a major tour in the Scandinavian country and they were rewarded with a number one album there for the efforts. Deep Cuts The Knife

Wild in the Streets came in 1987 and was the first Helix cassette tape that I purchased spurned into it by the allure of the Freddy Kreuger like claw marks on the cover…..hey I was a 14 year old kid and Freddy Kreuger was cool!  Wild in the Streets itself is a great song that still holds up well today and often gets the live treatment.  They did a cover version of a classic Nazareth song, Dream On, no relation to the Aerosmith song of the same name.  The song She’s So Tough was penned by Joe Elliot from Def Leppard.  Def Leppard also recorded the song but it didn't appear until their 1993 Retro Active album.  The original Canadian pressing of the cassette was encased in a glow-in the dark shell, but unfortunately I didn't purchase it until after that run.  Wild In The Streets

"The Doctor" had grown tired of the constant grind of touring and decided to leave the band.  He did however contribute song writing and guitar parts to Helix’s 1990 Back For Another Taste record.  This was my second Helix cassette and is still a favourite spin of mine with the tracks Running Wild In The 21st Century, The Storm and Heavy Metal Cowboys.  There was no permanent replacement chosen for Doerner, but Denny Balicky did fill in for the album tour.  Two years later in 1992, Helix embarked on a tour of Western Canada with Doerner taking Balicky’s spot (originally his anyway) and with Greg “Fritz” Hinz unavailable who better to fill in than Brian Doerner.  During this tour after a show in Vancouver on July 5th, 1992 the group’s van rolled down a forty foot embankment and Paul Hackman who was not wearing his seatbelt was killed.

In the wake of this tragedy, Brian Vollmer joined forces with Brent Dorener and Brighton Rock shredder Greg Fraser and took the songs that he had prepared for his first solo album and released them under the Helix moniker with It's A Business Doing Pleasure in 1993.  The album is a departure from the classic Helix sound and is said to be because these songs were a planned Vollmer solo record.  There was some controversy over the credits of the album as it has been said that no then members of Helix actually played on the record even though they were pictured and credited in the liner notes.  Brian himself has admitted that this record was a blunder and though he was proud of his compositions they did not fit appropriately under the Helix name.  The lead track, That Day Is Gonna Come is a tribute to Paul Hackman and the video was made from Brian's video footage shot on the road over several years. That Day Is Gonna Come.  Special guest artists credited in the liner notes are Canadian superstars Kim Mitchell and Lee Aaron.

Five years later Brian and Daryl Gray were the only remaining members of Helix and they soldiered forth using a variety of line ups for live shows and the 1998 release of Half-ALIVE.  The record contained five new recordings of old unused demo songs and eleven live recorded tracks (although Smile is a 45 second instrumental) throughout the 90's.  Half-ALIVE was produced by long time bassist Daryl Gray.  The lead-off track Shock City Psycho Rock was actually penned by early bassist Mike Uzelac, but never recorded until now.  These live tracks surprisingly mark the first Helix live recordings.  The liner notes also request that Mike Uzelac "Please call home!!"

In 1999 Helix brought forth the B-Sides compilation comprised of mostly demo recordings done during the Back For Another Taste and Half-ALIVE eras.  It also contained three new tracks for which the original members reunited to record and were produced by Daryl Gray.  By 2002 Brian was the only remaining original member as Daryl Gray had vacated Helix.  The 30th anniversary of Helix rolled around in 2004 and to mark the occasion Vollmer and the new members of Helix released two compilation albums and the first recording of all new Helix material for eleven years with Rockin' In My Outer Space.  Rockin' In My Outer Space was a bit of an experimental departure from the Helix sound going with a little bit more of an
alternative rock sound.  Helix played a concert to mark the occasion that included appearances from many past Helix band members and was released on DVD as The 30th Anniversary, not to be confused with the documentary DVD from the same year entitled 30 Years Of Helix: No Rest For The Wicked.  Helix was a subject of discussion in the Canadian TV show The Trailer Park Boys during a season three episode from 2004.  The hugely popular show brought a renewed public interest in Helix.  Gimme An 'R', Brian's autobiographical book was published in 2005 and I really must get around to reading it sometime, shame on me calling myself a Helix fan and not having read it.....even after Brian and I talked about the book during our impromptu lunch during last year's cruise!

With more line up changes plaguing the band, Brian soldiered on with the song Heavy Metal Love appearing in the feature film The Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, but it did not see the vinyl of the accompanying soundtrack due to record label politics.  They re-recorded the song and included it on the 2006 EP Get Up! The EP was a hearkening back to the 80's heydays of Helix with a sound that Brian Vollmer compared to the No Rest For The Wicked album and he is not wrong!  There are some great tracks on here and I would love to hear a few of them added to the live sets especially the title track Get Up!  And is that actually you jumping like that for the cover photo Brian?  2007 saw all the tracks from Get UP! be included on the full length release of The Power Of Rock And Roll.  They played the Sweden Rock Festival (which I'll be travelling to take part in this year, it would be great if Helix would accompany me!) and the song Fill Your Head With Rock from The Power Of Rock And Roll album was chosen as the festival's theme song.  Heavy Mental Christmas was issued in 2008 and contained the then current line up performing Christmas songs.

Vagabond Bones assaulted us in 2009.  The boys were clearly back on track with this issue and the band consisted of the stalwart and constant member vocalist Brian Vollmer along with the surviving members of the "classic" line up returning to the fold in bassist Daryl Gray, Guitarist Brent "The Doctor" Doerner and Greg "Fritz" Hinz.  Guitarist Sean Kelly had just recently moved on (but remains involved in song writing  to play with Nelly Furtado's band and Kaleb "Duckman" Duck (who had played with Brent Doerner previously) signed on.  Moe Berg from The Pursuit of Happiness (a Toronto band best known for the song I'm An Adult Now) assisted Vollmer and Kelly with the song creations here including Hung Over But Still Hangin' In.  Hung Over But Still Hangin' In features their shipmate and fellow countryman Russ "Dwarf" Graham singing as a duet with Vollmer.  Videos were made by Brent Doerner's Red D Film & Editing company for the songs Monday Morning Meltdown and Make 'Em Dance.

2010 saw the band issue Smash Hits...Unplugged which was just what you'd expect, classic Helix tracks recorded acoustically produced by Sean Kelly among others.  Helix's latest effort Skin In The Game dropped in 2011.  It's a five song EP of all new material and maintains the sounds and styling of Vagabond Bones.  Kaleb's guitar work here is blistering, especially on the arrangement of William Tell Overture which comes off great in a live performance.  I sorely wish this had been a full album and can only hope that there are more Helix songs to follow.  I purchased the EP on last year's Monster's of Rock Cruise and as it wasn't released until shortly before cruising was my first time hearing the songs played live.

As the majority of Canadians do, Helix loves their hockey and supports the local Toronto Maple Leafs team.  Prior to the strike and partial cancellation of this year's season they released their Christmas wish song entitled All I Want For Christmas....Is The Leafs To Win The Cup.  I wouldn't hold your breath guys!  They also took the
Heavy Mental Christmas show on the road this year which promises all your favourite Christmas songs to a rock & roll beat.  The show is also offered with a dinner package in some markets.
All I Want For Christmas

Over the long Helix history, through all the line up changes the Canadians became to be known as "The Hardest Working Band in Metal" especially back in the 80's heyday.   Aside from Helix various members have or did have other projects on the go.   Brian Vollmer released his solo album If Pigs Could Fly in 1999 and any Helix fan should surely enjoy the recordings contained herein.  Brian also teaches Bel Canto vocal style.  website:

2009 saw Brent form his own band under the moniker of My Wicked Twin and also seen as Brent Doerner's Decibel.  The band consisted of Brent and twin brother Brian on drums, Mike Uzelac (guess he finally called home) and Shane Schedler.  The band issued two albums, Brent Doerner's Decibel (2006) and Decibel Music (2009).  His company, Red D Film & Editing is also doing well currently working with Swedish band Killer Bee and if it wasn't for him personally telling me to check them out I would have completely missed out on this great band, so now I'm telling you.....check out Killer Bee!  Brent has recently departed from Helix once again and personally told me that although he loves it, he's just tired of the grind of the constant touring and wanted to concentrate on Red D Film and Editing....if you need a video made email Brent at

Prior to joining Helix Daryl Gray was a member of the popular Canadian 80's band Tracy Kane based in Niagara Falls Ontario.  He now plays locally in a band called Holly Woods and Toronto, a Canadian Icon band from the 80's newly reformed with Daryl Gray in the fold  Along with Helix and Toronto, Daryl also performs solo gigs and acoustic shows at local bars and clubs and his band Scurvy Dogz can be caught around town.  If you're wanting to learn the bass guitar or take vocal lessons, Daryl provides both and is located in St. Catharines Ontario.  Daryl also promises a big announcement coming in March!

Kaleb "Duckman" Duck also plays guitar and handles lead vocals for BraVurA, a kitchener, Ontario based hard rock/metal band.  The five piece (including three guitarists) band has released an album, which Kaleb promises to be bringing me a copy for purchase on the cruise.  To hear some BraVurA, check out the myspace page:  Kaleb has also started another project called Chain Effect that hopes to be releasing a demo in February and playing some acoustic shows as well.

All things Helix can be found at:

Russ DWaRf of KiLLeR DWaRfS

In Oshawa Ontario in the early 80's a group of guys got together and formed a band.  They were
often known for their sense of humour, calling themselves The KiLLer DWaRfS and all the members even adopted the DWaRf surname.  Russ "DWaRf" Graham handles the vocal duties with Darrell "DWaRf" Millar taking a seat behind the kit, Brice "DWaRf" Trewin slinging the axe and Ange "DWaRf" Fodero on bass.  This incarnation released the excellent self titled debut which spawned the single Heavy Mental Breakdown that was awarded airplay on MuchMusic, Canada's MTV.  After this recording Trewin and Fodero left the fold, feeling that the band was stale and were replaced by guitarist Michael "DWaRf" Hall and bassist Ronald "Bad Ronbo DWaRf" Mayer........Bad Ronbo is rather a cool handle actually!

Three years after the début the KiLLer DWaRfS new line up came back with Stand Tall.  The song Stand Tall (Stick to Your Guns) received substantial exposure and video play on MuchMusic.  I remember watching the video as a kid, which features the band pressing their own records at home after being thrown out of the record company.  Watch lead vocalist Russ DWaRf's facial expressions: Stand Tall (Stick To Your Guns).  Keep the Spirit Alive was another single and video from Stand Tall that received play on MTV.  The video again is light and humorous with
vocalist Russ DWaRf (the shortest of the DWaRves, contained in a wooden crate marked "Danger Killer DWaRf": Keep The Spirit Alive

Big Deal was issued in 1988.  The album featured the single We Stand Alone which received rotation on both sides of the border.  The video for We Stand Alone is hilarious and just what a video should be in my!  It features the theme started in Stand Tall of the record company's reaction to the KiLLeR DWaRfS.  Watch for the KiLLeR
DWaRf in the wooden crate!  We Stand Alone

Probably my favourite KiLLeR DWaRfS album Dirty Weapons got released in 1990 and saw the boys become a bit more serious in their approach.  I used to spin this LP on my parents hand me down turntable every day when I got home from school, several times during homework sessions.  Here's the link for the Title track and video: Dirty Weapons

Guitarist Michael Hall left after Dirty Weapons and Gerry "DWaRf" Finn stepped in for their final studio album Method to the Madness.  This release continued the more serious approach that began on Dirty Weapons and the music is a bit harder edged.  I remember the first single Hard Luck Town (minus the foul mouthed old miner intro) making it into the top ten at ten on a local radio station.  The album was produced by Andy Johns, but it failed to achieve commercial success and the DWaRfS were put to rest.  Throughout their career they were nominated for two Juno awards and the "classic" line up reunited in 2001 for a live performance resulting in the live release entitled The Reunion of Scribes.

After DWaRfS, guitarists Michael Hall and Gerry Finn both spent some time with Helix.  Darrell DWaRf went on to join a band called Laidlaw as drummer.  From there he shook things up a bit as he decided to come out from the protection of the kit and front a new band called  Check out my concert review from October:

After the demise of the DWaRfS Russ DWaRf went on to record and release a solo album called Penny Black.  From there the DWaRfS reunion in 2001 kept him busy on the road for awhile and with the DWaRfS going on a hiatus once again he surfaced in Canadian icon band Moxy.  Russ joined forces with Moxy's guitarist Earl Johnson, formed HardRoad together and released one album in 2011.  For more info on HardRoad see my Decibel Geek cohort Wallygator's interview with Russ: HardRoad.  Expect to see WiReLeSS arrive in stores in February 2013, Russ' new acoustic work encompassing KiLLeR DWaRfS tracks among others from his career.  Russ is also working on another solo album working with esteemed producer Andy Johns who helmed the
DWaRfS Dirty Weapons and Method to the Madness albums.  A couple of years ago Russ played a couple of acoustic shows in Canada with fellow shipmate John Corabi and recently with Randy Jackson of Zebra.  Russ has currently set to embark on a four week acoustic tour through the US, making his way down to Florida for the Monsters of Rock: The Lost Weekend Cruise and then back up to Toronto.  His website is currently under construction, but check back here for updates:

Never having had the opportunity to catch the DWaRfS live, I saw Darrell "DWaRf" Millar with and now I'm especially looking forward to seeing Russ and meeting him during the cruise.  There have been unconfirmed rumours that there may even be a new KiLLeR DWaRfS album in the works with the Method to the Madness line up......exciting news indeed, hopefully it comes to fruition.

To catch up on your cruise reading check out the previous volumes of Meister's "Views of the Cruise" with the links below:
Volume #1 – 2012 Recap

Volume #2 – Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys) Interview

Volume #3 – Heavy Metal Maidens of the Voyage
Volume #4 – Discovering New Music/Bands

Volume #5 - Nigel Glockler (Saxon) Interview

*****The Monsters of Rock: The Lost Weekend Cruise is now sold out, but you still may be able to find a cabin on this rock & roll party boat through Facebook's find a cabin mate page.  Check it out and join me aboard the MSC Poesia in March 2013*****

*****If you can't join us on the voyage, but still want to catch some of the bands live in Fort Lauderdale and surrounding areas as cruise bands roll into town and play gigs before and after the voyage.  Here's a few that I know about so far:
March 13th - Faster Pussycat is playing in Cape Coral at the Dixie Roadhouse. THIS SHOW IS UNCONFIRMED AS YET! (It was my plan to attend this show, but we'll have to wait and see if it's a "go" or not)
March 13th - L.A. Guns will be at Dirty Harry's in Daytona for Daytona Bikeweek.
March 15th - L.A. Guns takes the stage at Jake's Tavern in Sarasota
March 15th - Bang Tango is at The State Theatre in St. Petersburg
March 15th - Queensryche plays The Ritz Ybor in Tampa.
March 15th - Frank Hannon (of Tesla) at Brewster's Roc Bar in Jacksonville.
March 22nd - sees Bang Tango in Jacksonville at Brewster's Pit & Pub
March 22nd - has Queensryche playing H.O.B. in Lake Buena Vista Florida.*****
........And the most exciting pool party.......
March 14th - has a packed bill for the Rockerz Gone "Wild" Pool Party at the Days Inn Bahia Cabana along with L.A. Guns, Bang Tango, Ted Poley, Glitter Boys, Pretty Little Suicide and recently announced Liberty Lush (who are currently touring with L.A. Guns).  Tickets are still available for the pool party with this link: Rockerz Gone Wild Pool Party. Big John, Brett's right hand man from The Rock of Love will be on hand autographing 8x10 photos for $10.00 each with every dollar of proceeds going to The Wounded Warrior Project.  This pool party keeps getting better and better with L.A. Guns now raffling away an autographed guitar and CD for $20.00 a ticket with only 50 tickets being sold!

*****Watch for next week's "Views of the Cruise" as I explore the music of some of the returning bands from the inaugural voyage aboard the MSC Poesia in Volume #7*****

The Meister

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