Origin: Kitchener, Ontario
Helix was formed in 1974 in Kitchener, Ontario. The original members were: Bruce Arnold (drums & band leader), Brian Vollmer (vocals), Ron Watson & Rick Trembley (guitars), Keith Zurbrigg (bass), and Don Simmons (keyboards). Within a short time Ron and Bruce decided to fire Rick Trembley. He was a nice guy but couldn’t play very well (not that any of us could-LOL) We never replaced Rick with another guitar. We just carried on with one less member. The next member to leave was guitarist Ron Watson, who was replaced by “Bad Boy” Brent Doerner. Brent would be in the band off and on until 2012.
After existing for about a year we attained the services of William Seip as our manager. Bill put the band out on the Canadian bar circuit, first to Northern Ontario, then to the Canadian Maritimes, and eventually right out to B.C.
The first couple of years on the circuit saw many membership changes in the band. Don Simmons, the keyboard player in the band, was the first casualty of the bar circuit. Don had been in a high school band called “Homegrown” with me and both of us had never been on the road before. I ended up loving the road. Most of the guys who left hated it. Don was replaced by Paul Hackman, a guitarist, because we couldn’t find another keyboard player. Paul would change the sound of the band. Paul would become my writing partner, friend, and business partner.
Around the same time Don left the band, so did Bruce Arnold. Bruce was the founder of the band and played drums. He was replaced by Brent’s identical twin brother Brian. Together they were a volatile pair.
So… By 1976 the line-up had changed to me (Brian Vollmer/vocals), Brent Doerner and Paul Hackman (guitars), Brian Doerner (drums) and Keith Zurbrigg (bass).
From 1976 until getting signed to Capitol/E.M.I. in 1983 we toured incessantly across the country from coast to coast, developing a large following. In that time we also started playing the occasional gig south of the border, mostly at the After Dark Club in Lockport, N.Y. and the Penny Arcade in Rochester, N.Y. However, their first U.S. date was a bar called “The Underground” in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
The band recorded it’s first “indie” album entitled Breaking Loose in 1979. This was after we had been turned down by every major Canadian label. One rejection letter called our music music “Dinosaur Music.” The album was recorded on the H&S label (Helix & Seip) and recorded with money borrowed from Bill, Bill’s mother, my parents, and Brent’s parents. In all, it cost $26,000.00. The album was produced by Bob Morton and sold roughly 15,000 copies. Most of these albums we sold between sets while we played the bar circuit. We were only making about $100/week at the time, but I found I could make more money than that by selling albums and making $2 a disc.
Breaking Loose would become a hit in the state of Texas, largely from the push given to the song “You’re A Woman Now”, written by Paul Hackman. The person giving the song airplay was a guy named Joe Anthony from KISS/KAMAC Radio in San Antonio. Joe Anthony was known as “The Godfather of Rock and Roll” and controlled a large portion of the Texas radio market. We also received heavy airplay at Amarillo College from radio programmer Chris Johnson.
Due to this airplay in Texas we embarked on our first ever “U.S. tour” which consisted of four dates: Helotiz (outside San Antonio) with Y&T, Amarillo College, and The Bijoux in Dallas and Houston. To our friends back home we were stars. I still bump into Dave Meneketti, as recently as the last Monsters of Rock Boat Cruise in 2014.
By the end of the 70’s Keith Zurbrigg had left the band to be replaced by Mike Uzilac, who would play on Helix’s next indi album “White Lace & Black Leather” (1981). He would stay until No Rest for the Wicked was recorded (1983). Shortly after Zurbrigg’s departure, the band would play it’s first ever concert gig at the Kitchener Auditorium as the opening act for Max Webster. Opening the show was BB Gabor.
The Eighties started where the seventies ended off for Helix-more touring on the bar circuit from coast to coast in Canada flogging their first indie album Breaking Loose. Towards the end of the seventies Brian Doerner had been replaced by Leo Niebudek and Keith (Bert) Zurbrigg had been replaced by Mike Uzilac.
In 1981 the band released it’s second indie album White Lace & Black Leather. This album was produced by Laclan McFadden, who had produced the Canadian hit makers Harlequin. White Lace & Black Leather was not as well received by the band in Texas, but in England the band scored a Number One Import due to the song Women Whiskey & Sin written by Vollmer. The band played another tour of Texas and then returned home to begin writing their next indie album.
By 1983 the band was starting to develop a “sound” of their own. In Canada they had become one of the highest paid and most sought after bands on the circuit. The band started working with producer Tom Tremouth and the momentum and hype around them started to snowball. Due to the support of magazines such as Music Express and Meat Magazine in Canada and Sounds and Kerrang Magazine in England, the band was developing a following world-wide.
The album, which the band named No Rest for the Wicked, was now finished and the band intended to release it on their own once again. The final mix had been done by none other than Toni Bongiovi at the Power Plant in N.Y.C. William Seip (manager) and Tom Tremouth (producer) decided before the band released it they would shop it around one last time. Maybe the record companies would have a change of heart?
After showcasing for every label and nearly every one dropping out, finally it came down to two labels: Aquarius and Capitol. The band chose Capitol/E.M.I and signed with them. What ultimately changed their minds were two things: The band had changed it’s stage clothes to metal and studs from the colored cloth shirts they had previously worn, and secondly, when the record company came to see the band at the Gasworks they had blown them away with their work ethic. Dean Cameron, who was the president of Capitol Canada at the time went to bat for the band. He got Helix signed to the American label. Record company politics as they were, he thought being signed to the American label would be better for Helix than being signed to the Canadian arm of the company. Read between the lines…
The band’s first tour of the U.S. was with Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot. Eventually Helix ended up on the “Another Perfect Day Tour” with Motorhead. When that tour was finished ICM sent the band out with everyone from Heart to Michael Bolton to Marshall Krenshaw. In Europe Helix was the opening act for KISS on the lick it up tour. In Canada the band toured with The Headpins and played scattered dates with Streetheart & Kickaxe. No Rest for the Wicked was Helix’s first gold album.
Interesting to note here was that the band’s first U.S. release “Heavy Metal Love” went to heavy rotation on the just formed MTV. This had a tremendous impact on exposing the band to an American audience. The song was written about Joan Jett and is a staple of the band’s set to this day. It can also be heard on the sound track of The Trailer Park Boy’s second movie “Countdown to Liquor Day.” The second video for this album was “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even”, a song penned by Lisa DaBello and Tim Thorny.
After the success of No Rest for the Wicked and the instant jump in status from being on a major label, the band was feeling the heat to quickly follow up that record. This album was recorded at Phase I studios in Toronto. It was produced by Tom Tremouth and mixed by Rodney Mills, who was known for his work with 38 Special. Playing bass on this album was Spider Sineuve from Streetheart, who would later go on to play for Tom Cochrane and Loverboy.
The release of Walking the Razor’s Edge a year later in 1984 would catapult the band to world class status with the huge hit Rock You. The band also scored hits with Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’ (the old Crazy Elephant song) and Make Me Do (Anything You Want). In the U.S. the band toured with Quiot Riot and Whitesnake, in Europe with Motorhead, and in Canada with Triumph.
Videos for this album include Rock You, Gimme Good Lovin’, and Make Me Do (Anything You Want).
The Rock You video was filmed at the old Toronto Brick Yards in Toronto. There were two versions of the song. One was for Much Music and MTV in the States, the other was for the newly formed Playboy channel. This version had all the girls topless. The record company thought it was such a good idea that they did two versions for the next video (Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’) as well…This vid was shot in Hollywood at Francis Ford Coppola’s old studio Zoetrope. It featured girls from Penthouse, Oui, and Playboy magazines plus some of the Solid Gold Dancers. Also in the video was porn star Traci Lords. During filming, the band is visited on set by Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, and Rip Taylor. They had been filming next door on the set for Pryor’s Place. Richard Pryor asked the band for a signed album to which the band readily agreed. Rip Taylor volunteers to be in the end of the video sitting on a motorcycle surrounded by all the girls.
The third video from the Walking the Razor’s Edge album is for the song Make Me Do (Anything You Want). It was filmed in Toronto and stayed on heavy rotation on Much Music for most of the year.
Long Way to Heaven was released in 1985. The album was produced once again by Tom Tremouth and recorded at Phase 1 Studios in Toronto. The first release was the song “Deep Cuts the Knife” which went to double breaker status on U.S. radio. In Canada the song stayed in Toronto’s Q107’s “Top 7 at 7” list for months. The band kicked off touring in Sweden and the band scored it’s first Number One album there. In Canada the band headlined it’s own tour across the country from coast to coast. In the U.S. the band opened for Accept with Keel also on the bill. This album produced two videos: Deep Cuts the Knife & the Kids are All Shakin’.
Wild in the Streets (1987) was the first album recorded by the band outside of Canada. For this disc the band flew to England and recorded at The Manor Studios, owned by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson. (Branson actually came to the studio several times to see how things were going-nice man) The album was produced by world famous producer Mike Stone, known for his previous work with Journey, Queen, and Whitesnake, just to mention a few. The band spent 2 months recording in the countryside recording the tracks. For the mix the band stayed another month at The Townhouse Studios in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. It was on the second last night in England that Brian would meet his future wife-to-be, Lynda Cowgill. They are married to this day.
This album produced two singles and videos for the songs Wild in the Streets and Dream On. Both songs did well for the band but the band by now had dropped back into playing the bars and their popularity was on the down swing. The band toured the U.S. through showcase bars. For the first time since signing with Capitol they did not go to Europe. In Canada they played their last headline tour. To add to the misery, long time band member Brent Doerner decided to pack it in at the end of the Wild in the Streets tour and the band lost it’s deal with Capitol/E.M.I. The album eventually was licensed to Capitol in Canada, Grudge Records in the U.S., and GWR records in Europe.
The band decided to record as a four piece, going into River Studios in Fort Erie to record. Using money they had set aside over the years, they recorded “Back for Another Taste”, their 7th disc. The first release “Running Wild in the 21st Century” went to heavy rotation on Much Music in Canada and at the Much Music video awards won for “Best Metal video of the Year”. For their live show they enlisted the guitar services of Denny Balicki, the first and only American member of the band. (Denny would later change his name to Denny Blake.) The band toured Europe with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple and did headline dates in England. In the U.S. they played small clubs. Towards the end of their tour in Europe the Canadian record company released the Tony Bongiovi re-mix of “Good to the Last Drop” to Canadian radio. It became a huge hit for the band and triggered a trans country tour.
Interesting to note on this album is that when the band toured Europe they played Hungary while it was still communist. They also played in East Berlin.
While the 80’s had been very kind to Helix, not so much the 90’s. These were tough times for the band. They had lost their record deal with Capitol/E.M.I. and their licensing deal with Grudge Records in the U.S. had turned out to be a nightmare experience. They had gone from playing concert tours to whatever clubs would have them. And then in 1993 the unimaginable happened-Paul Hackman was killed in an automobile accident while returning from western Canada. Many thought this meant the end of the band. But they soldiered on…
This meant there were now only 3 original members of the 80’s line-up left-Brian Vollmer/vocals, Greg “Fritz” Hinz/drums, and Daryl Gray/bass. Denny Blake, the only American member of the band, had returned to his U.S. home after the Ian Gillan tour across Europe. He was replaced by Gary Borden. Paul’s position was taken over by Mark Chichken from the Windsor band United Snakes, but throughout the 90’s there was a succession of rental players, depending on who was available: Mike Hall, Greg Fraser, Jerry Finn, Stan Mizchek, Saun Sanders, Dan Faucett, Jeff Fountain, and more. Eventually Fritz moved to Florida to be replaced by “Archie” Glen Gamble. Around the year 1999 Daryl left the band as well.
Throughout the 90’s the band continued to release albums/CDs.
In 1993, shortly after Hackman’s death, they released “It’s A Business Doing Pleasure”. The CD produced the Top 40 Canadian hit “That Day Is Gonna Come” a Vollmer/Ribbler composition. Other songs from the CD, Tug O’ War and Look Me Straight in the Heart also did well on radio. Look Me Straight in the Heart was a duet with Lee Aaron. Kim Mitchell also guested on the CD, playing the lead in “Sleeping In The Doghouse Again”. The “It’s A Business Doing Pleasure” CD was released on Aquarius Records in Canada but the band failed to secure licensing in the U.S. or Europe. The CD was a 90 degree turn direction wise for the band, largely due to the fact that it was initially supposed to be Brian Vollmer’s solo CD, not a Helix album. But as it is with every band with longevity, there’s always one or two albums a little off the beaten trail…For Helix it was this one.
Most of the Helix songs up until Hackman’s death had been written by Hackman/Vollmer or Doerner/Vollmer. Now, with both Hackman and Doerner gone Vollmer was forced to try to find people to write with. With the band’s career on the down swing and 80’s metal totally out of fashion, it was easier said than done. Not only that, but finding another talented writer like Paul Hackman was no easy feat. There had been a back lash from the Business Doing Pleasure CD and this further widened the rift between Vollmer and longtime manager William Seip. Finally, around 1995 they split company after being together for 20 years.
The band realized it needed to release something new to the fans but had very little written. As a band-aid solution to tide them over to their next studio CD they put together Half-alive, a CD which was half un-released tracks; half were live cuts from various venues. This CD was released on DeRock Records.
It was around this time that the band set up it’s first web site and started selling their own CDs. Vollmer began by re-releasing the first two Helix indie albums Breaking Loose and White Lace & Black Leather. He searched the back pages of all the rock magazines he could find for CD distribution companies, phoned & emailed them, and began to sell Helix CDs to these companies around the world. The CDs sold well and raised enough cash to put together B-Sides, another collection of forgotten unreleased Helix songs, Live! In Buffalo, and a Vollmer solo CD entitled “When Pigs Fly”. It was during the recording of the song Delilah around 1999 when Daryl Gray decided to leave the band. Vollmer ended off the decade by releasing Rockin’ In My Outer Space in the year 2000. When Pigs Fly and Rockin’ In My Outer Space were both written by Vollmer and his weekend band Seven Year Itch, which was comprised of Tony Paleschi, Bill Gadd, and Rob Long.
The 90s nearly destroyed Helix, but out of the ashes rose a stronger band better equipped to deal with the new musical landscape of the computer age. The old model of shopping your music to the record companies in an attempt to get signed were over. Vollmer decided to do it the opposite way and record his own albums with his own money and then look for licensing. If that failed he simply sold them himself through mail order companies, at live gigs, or through the Helix website. Sales didn’t set the world on fire but they did pay the bills, enough to keep the band going.
The live band struggled along. The band, which for the past decade had been a concert act, was suddenly forced by economics back into the bars. It looked like the band was down and out. Dates were starting to disappear and the band was now playing venues with poor lighting, poor sound systems, and terrible sight lines. Brent had left the band by 1988 and from the time he left the band the succession of players to come and go seemed to be endless…By the time Helix reached the year 2000, Brian Vollmer was the only original member of the band left.
Still, Vollmer refused to pack it in. The 2000’s began with which was essentially the guys which had been in the London band Nasty Klass. Archie Gamble, who had been in the band since the time Fritz left around 1996, was in that band, and so, when Mike Hall and Daryl Gray left at the end of one particularly heated recording session, Vollmer ended up hiring Dan Faucett and Shawn Sanders to play guitar, and Jeff Fountain to play bass. Eventually I had to let Dan go, at which point Shawn also quit. I had been working at Mole Studios with Rainer Weichmann, so it only seemed natural to ask him to play guitar for me. Archie suggested I look into Jim Lawson to fill the other guitar position. Lawson had played for a band on the Bill Seip management roster called Cherry Smash. I also enlisted Cindy Rainer to sing background vocals-the first time a female had been in the band.
This line-up lasted about two years. Around this time Archie left the band and was replaced by Brian Doerner, who was eventually replaced by Ned Niemi, who was replaced by Fritz when the band reformed. Three notable live gigs we had during this time were Sweden Rock Festival (with Brian Doerner on drums), the Alice Cooper Tour (with Brent Neimi on drums) and The 30th anniversary concert. Generally we were touring in support of the Rockin’ In My Outer Space CD during this time.
Eventually Brian Doerner joined Saga to be replaced (as I’ve said above) by Brent Neimi. I had to let Rainer and Cindy go for economic and direction reasons and replaced Rainer with Rick Van Dyk. Jeff Fountain left to join Bobnoxious to be replaced by Paul Fonsenca. This was the line-up that toured on the POWER OF ROCK AND ROLL CD and eventually played on THE HEAVY MENTAL CHRISTMAS CD.
ON THE RECORDING SCENE:
In 2005 Vollmer re-kindled an old relationship with friends Gord Prior and Steve Georgakopoulos. Together they first wrote the EP “Get Up”. They thought it so good they wrote some more songs and changed the name of the now full length CD to The Power of Rock and Roll. The CD was recorded partly at Rainer Weichmann’s Mole Studios, partially at The A Room, and partially at EMAC studios. All these studios were in London, Ontario. It was produced by Gord Prior.
This time when the band shopped the songs to the record companies for distribution they got a huge bite. It was from Sanctuary Records in England. Not only did they license Power of Rock and Roll for Europe and pay a sizeable advance, but they also licensed many of the indie CDs that Vollmer had been putting out over the past decade. In the U.S. the band ended up being licensed to Perris Records and in Canada to Capitol/E.M.I.
Oddly enough, Helix followed up The Power of Rock and Roll with A Heavy Mental Christmas. The players on the CD were Steve Georgakopoulos (who had played guitar on Power) plus Vollmer’s rental players for Helix at the time: Rick Van Dyk/guitar, Paul Fonsenca/bass, Ned Niemi/drums. The CD was produced by Gord Prior and Aaron Murray at The A Room in London, Ontario. It was released to Walmart stores all across Canada and sold extremely well for the band.
After the western Canadian tour in support of A Heavy Mental Christmas there was once again trouble in Helix land. The live players decided at the end of the tour to quit. To add insult to injury, after Vollmer had just started to write the next CD with Prior and Georgakopoulos, they decided to part ways as well.
Vollmer’s first priority was to put together a new live band. He went back to ex-Helix guitarist Brent Doerner and begged him to come back. Brent agreed to try it for a year. Jim Lawson had been the only member of the former band to not quit, so that meant Vollmer had his guitar players, but what about the bass? There had been another guitarist who had approached Vollmer several years before. His name was Sean Kelly. Brian needed a bass player and asked Sean if he would consider playing bass instead of guitar. Sean agreed. Now the only member missing was the drummer…As if by synchronicity, Fritz had recently just moved back from Florida, and Voila! –suddenly Vollmer had his drummer.
This line-up only played a couple of gigs before Sean was offered the guitar playing job for Nelly Furtado, who was currently riding a hit album and numerous Juno Awards. Sean was worried Vollmer would be upset that he was leaving but Vollmer realized this was a great opportunity for Kelly, and besides, being upset about him leaving wasn’t going to make him stay. The important thing was that in the short time that Kelly was in the band that he and Vollmer had developed a writing relationship. Needing a bass player Vollmer went to Daryl Gray, original 80’s member of the band. Their relationship over the past several years had been strained but they both decided to bury the hatchet, forgive and forget, and get on with being a band once again. So that they did…
Jim Lawson was also replaced during this period by Kaleb Duck, who remains in the band to this day. Kaleb was hand picked and taught/trained by Brent himself.
Meanwhile Sean Kelly and Vollmer had written Vagabond Bones, the follow-up to The Power of Rock and Roll. This produced the Canadian radio hit “Make ‘em Dance” which hit the Top 30 on Canadian rock radio, not bad for what was basically now an indie band again. In the U.S. and Europe the band remained on Perris Records.
During this period of time the band played primarily across Canada in bars and on festivals. However they did play the U.S. on several occasions: Rocklahoma, The MOR boat cruise (although technically not in the U.S), The South Texas Rock Festival, and the Mohegan Sun. Helix also returned to Europe to play the Sweden Rock Boat Cruise from Stockholm to Turku, Finland with ANVIL and the Legends of Rock festival in Oolu, Finland with T.N.T.
“Smash Hits Unplugged” was the brain child of Sean Kelly, who opined that he thought it was well past time the band put out an acoustic version of their hits. This would be the follow-up to Vagabond Bones. The CD was licensed in Canada by E.M.I. In the U.S. and Europe Perris Records was the distributor.
Around 2011 Brent gave his notice that he was leaving for the final time. He had initially promised Vollmer he would stay for 1 year and ended up staying for 3, so Vollmer was happy. He continued his association with the band by taking over responsibility for making their videos and remained good friends with all the members. His replacement initially was John Klaus, who only was with the band for about two years. John was then replaced with Cambridge native Chris Julke. Julke would join the band in the middle of the recording of the band’s 14th full length studio CD “Bastard of the Blues” and his first gig would be in Madrid, Spain. Talk about a birth of fire!
This decade so far has seen as uptick in the band’s popularity once again. The line-up of Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, Brian Vollmer, Chris Julke, and Kaleb Duck is the most solid one since the classic 80’s line-up. By 2016 the band had jumped up to only playing casinos and festivals with a summer full of dates that took them from coast to coast in Canada and saw them play with everyone from Vince Neil to The Cult. In June, 2016 they released the single/video for the song (Gene Simmons Says) Rock Is Dead. They are presently working on new material, revamping the old web site, and booking shows for 2017 in both Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
Hold on to your hats and stay tuned! We ain’t dead yet…
Brian Vollmer: Lead Vocals
Greg "Fritz" Hinz: Drums
Daryl Gray: Bass
Kaleb "Duckman" Duck: Guitar
Chris Julke: Guitar
Ron Watson: 1974 to 1975
Brent Doerner: 1975 to 1990
Paul Hackman: 1977 to 1992
Denny Balicki-Blake 1990 to 1992
Greg Fraser: 1992 to 1996
Rick Mead: 1993 to 1996
Gary Borden: 1996 to 1998
Mark Chichkan: 1996 to 1999
Gerry Finn: 1998 to 2002
Shaun Sanders: 2002 to 2004
Dan Fawcett: 2002 to 2004
Rainer Wiechmann: 2004 to 2006
Jim Lawson: 2004 to 2009
Rick VanDyk: 2007 to 2009
Keyboards / Acoustic / Vocals
Don Simmons: 1974 to 1976:
Cindy Wiechmann 2004 to 2006
Keith "Bert" Zurbrigg: 1974 to 1979
Mike Uzelac: 1979 to 1983
Mark Rector: 1983 to 1983
Daryl Gray: 1983 to 2002
Jeff Fountain: 2002 to 2007
Bruce Arnold: 1974 to 1976
Brian Doerner: 1976 to 1980
Leo Niebudek 1980 to 1982
Greg "Fritz" Hinz: 1982 to 1997
Glen "Archie" Gamble: 1998 to 2004
Brian Doerner: (2nd time): 2004 to 2006
Brent Niemi: 2007 to 2009