1999 - Back to Our Roots

This would turn out to be a very significant year for the band. Even though it would be the year which saw the band play the least it has ever played in its 25 year history, it would see us start to restructure how we viewed the music industry and how we saw ourselves fitting into that picture. It is ironic that Helix, who in 1976 would release one of the first indie rock albums in the world, would return to their roots by going the indie route.

It was also the year in which Daryl and I defined what each of our roles were to be in the band. Daryl was an expert on putting together dates and acting as a Road Manager, Agent and Publicist. He was especially adept at the job of being a publicist and did a fantastic job putting together press or getting me a radio interview whenever we played a gig. I was good at the other stuff like putting the press kits together, arranging the sets and writing new material. We were now doing jobs ourselves which in the past would have been handled by other people and having fun doing it!

This would also be the year that I released my first solo CD. It was a scary prospect for me to begin recording the When Pigs Fly CD. I had never had to organize the recording of a CD from start to finish. Previously my job consisted of writing the songs and then singing them in the studio. Suddenly I had to arrange all the things my manager, record company, or whoever did in the past. I had to learn a lot very quickly.

The first thing I did was to select a studio that I wanted to use and a producer. The natural choice for me was DB Studios in London. It was very close to where I lived, a good price, and I was familiar with the studio having done recording there on the Half-Alive CD. I wanted Danny Broadbeck, who ran the studio, to produce and he agreed. Danny had done work with the Garharvas and Thundermug and I had liked the results.

My next step was to get a drummer for the project. Rob Long had by this time quit the band.

Tony Palleschi and Bill Gadd, whom I had written the CD with, had never recorded a CD before so I felt that they needed a solid player with experience to anchor them. Enter Brian Doerner, Brent 's twin brother and former percussionist for Helix, Lee Aaron, and Refugee. Brian's drumming added immensely to the songs. Danny played keyboards on several tracks as well as singing background vocals. Other background vocals were sung by Gordy Pryor of Blue Bones and Doug Weir of Syre. By summer the tracks were recorded and by fall, after several mixes, we mastered the CD with Nik Blogona (Deep Purple producer) at the Metalworks Studios in Toronto. The CD was finally released in December (although not officially until the spring of 2000).

At the same time that we were recording When Pigs Fly, I decided to pursue one of my other goals which was to get all the previous Helix recordings available on CD. Most of the Helix albums were the property of Capitol Records, so I decided to begin with the albums that I still owned which were Breaking Loose (1977-H&S Records) and White Lace and Black Leather (1981 H&S Records). With the help of my brother Bill who loaned me the money, I had the two albums printed up for the first time on CD, adding some new photos to the CD artwork, but for the most part keeping them in their original form. My plan was to sell them through the web site and to phone mail order companies out of the backs of magazines such as Metal Edge and simply ask them if they wanted to buy any CDs.

During one of my phone calls to Perris Records from Austin, Texas I talked to Tom Maurer and he asked if I would be interested in singing on the new Cherry St. CD called Buster Cherry. Two weeks later Lynda and I were on a plane for the Lone Star State. Singing on the CD was a great change for me. The music was different from Helix and my solo stuff. It was more rock n' roll in the AC\DC style and I loved it. I stepped off the plane with all the lyrics memorized and several skats I had thought up in my head. I banged off all the tracks in the first two days and then Lynda and I went on holidays to San Antonio and Corpus Christie.

On the song Dogtown, which the band had previously recorded with the singer for the Bullet Boys, I sang a duet with the lead singer of Dangerous Toys. I never did meet him however he sang all his tracks after I had left.

Another connection I made through my mail order phoning was Steve Friess of Impulse Records out of Chicago. Steve suggested I put together a "B-Sides" CD of unreleased material. At first I thought we had used just about everything we had left over for the Half-Alive CD, but the more I thought about it, the more songs I realized we had.

Once again I set about rummaging through all my tapes compiling a list of potential songs to put on the CD. I found the song Danger Zone on an old cassette tape I had thrown in a drawer somewhere. It was the last song Paul and I had ever written together. I also took a 1/4" tape of songs recorded in 1976 and had them "thermally baked" at Metalworks Studios in Toronto. From that tape I was able to retreive the songs Thinking it Over (Del Shannon), Like Taking Candy from a Baby and Sidewalk Sally. The first two songs I used. It was a labour of love putting the whole project together, and to top it all off, I had the original 80's version of Helix ( Brent Doerner, Fritz Hinz, Daryl Gray, and my self) record four new tracks. The CD was released in June and friends from the past 25 years of the band were on hand for one of the most memorable days in the history of the Helix.

Christine Newland of the London Symphony Orchestra
Christine played cello on Stumblin' Blind
At the Hamilton Tigercats playoff game against the Toronto Argonauts with our new Russian guitar player Alexi Karposov aka. Gerry Finn
This was a funny gig because it was teeth-chattering cold. In the middle of the show freezing rain, buffeted by a high wind, started blowing across the stage. I was wearing a snowmobile suit and a Russian hat (seen on Gerry Finn in the picture) which Neil Murray of Whitesnake had bought my wife when they played in Moscow . There was a beer tent with a big umbrella and the umbrella started rolling end over end down the football field with a mob of people chasing it. We were laughing our butts off and freezing at the same time. When people ask me about memorable gigs, this is right up there in the weird section.
Nik Blogona (who produced Deep Purple) & Brian Vollmer at Metalworks Studio in Toronto , Canada
At DB Studios
That's Brian Vollmer at the mixing board.
Later in the year I was also able to get the No Rest for the Wicked and the Long Way to Heaven albums released for the first time on CD. So, over the year Helix fans were able to buy on CD for the first time Breaking Loose, White Lace & Black Leather, B-Sides, When Pigs Fly, Deep Cuts (a best-of CD released by Razor & Tie from New York), No Rest for the Wicked, Long Way to Heaven, and Buster Cherry. WHEW!!!!!!!

This would be the last year we would spend with The Agency, which we had been with for several years. All three gigs we got ourselves, and all three were very successful. The first was in late July in Mattawa, Ontario with Five Man Electrical Band and April Wine (10,000 attendance), the second was at a tailgate party for the Hamilton Tigercats in their playoff game against the Toronto Argonauts, and the last one with Humble Pie (3,000 attendance) in front of the Casino in Windsor, Ontario looking out across the Detroit skyline. Cool...