The Windsor Star
Star photo: Scott Webster - Photo illustration: Bev Pentland
Local rocker Mark Chichkan offers some Helix-like attitude as he prepares for Saturday's performance with the band.
|Then, after an hour and your head feels like Jimmy Hoffa's buried there, dragging your sorry behind back to the bus.
Peeling off the tights. And crashing.
Crashing until the bus finds a 24-hour drive-through on some nowhere stretch of highway between the last bucket of blood and the next.
No rest for the wicked. Indeed.
Vollmer probably didn't figure it this way. Not back in 1974 when he was in his 20's, part of rock'n'rolls great unwashed, buting into a dream and putting together a band in Kitchener called Helix.
The world could handle another heavy metal act back then.
There were Molly Hatchets, Quiet Riots, Motorheads, Blue Oyster Cults and dozens of others. And there was no rest for any of them.
Helix had pedigree, too. It came from the land of Rush, the brontosaurus of dinosaur rock. Down the highway, there was Triumph. Fists punched the air everywhere.
Vollmer and his southwestern Ontario mates, who used to be known as the Helix Field Band, found themselves swept up by the loud and proud of heavy metal. They toured the world with Kiss, Whitesnake.
Helix can still strut its stuff
They signed with Capitol Records and had hit songs. One was No Rest for the Wicked. Others were Rock You, Deep Cuts the Knife, Heavy Metal Love, Don't Get Mad Get Even. Poetry to a headbanger's ears.
They did decent covers of Gimme Good Lovin' and (Make Me Do) Anything You Want.
They went No.1 in Sweden, where they've always known how to make it burn. They has two platinum records in Canada and one gold.
The song soon ended. Heavy metal rusted over and Helix landed on the scrap heap.
Today, you can find Brian Vollmer teaching other people, many of them half his age, how to sing. When he hits the road now, it's usually to his voice lessons in London, Cambridge and Brantford.
"We used to do 360 days of touring a year," says Vollmer. "That can burn you out."
But that wasn't the worst of it. Helix, he said, never made any money. The band saw the world, hung out, then bowed out.
It was the road that did them in. The road, and management squabbles, label hassles, soured affairs, a stream of personnel changes, poor spending habits. You name it.
By the early 1990's, Vollmer was "frustrated and disillusioned."
Then, in 1992, the kiss-off. Vollmer's longtime writing and business partner, Helix's original guitarist, Paul Hackman, was killed when the van he was in went off the road in British Columbia.
For all intents and purposes, he took Helix with him.
"I'm still getting over it," Vollmer said. "I had started considering getting out before that, though."
"We had all got to a point in our lives, in our 30's, when it just didn't seem to be worth the effort, any more. We were all broke, and running a band can be very, very time-consuming."
Something in Vollmer can't say die. Five years after the last recording - It's a Business Doing Pleasure, in 1993 - Vollmer has reassembled a touring version of Helix and is hitting the road for select dates to promote the new album.
They're booked to play Windsor's California's Roadhouse this Saturday.
The new Helix boasts a mix of veterans and young upstarts. Like Windsor's Mark Chichkan, 30, one of this area's more dynamic lead guitarists.
He has been playing with Vollmer off and on since 1995 and insists Helix is one great song away from breaking it into the big time again.
"They'll always have the name and one song could do it," said Chichkan, known around these parts for his bar band of eight years, United Snakes.
The title of the album, Half Alive, is Vollmer's little joke. He has earned the right to laugh at himself and his band.
But Half Alive also refers to the fact half the album is live concert material, and half was done in the studio.
Distributed by California's DeRoc Records, Half Alive, Helix's 12th album, will be out at the end of May. The first single, featuring Chichkan on lead guitar, is Same Room. And there's a video in the works.
Even in its rough, unedited form, Half Alive shows Helix can still strut its stuff. The live half has hits like Rock You, Dirty Dog, No Rest for the Wicked. The studio half features new takes on the heavy metal theme - Big Bang Boom, Shock City, and Wrecking Ball, which Chichkan co-wrote. There's a hard-nosed cover of Steppenwolf's The Pusher; too.
Maybe Helix remains an expensive hobby to Vollmer. He's in his 40's and he has a wife and teenage daughter to support. But, who knows?
The right pieces fall into place, Chichkan's looks get some serious babe interest, Same Room takes hold, and Helix is back, wicked as ever.
There's even a Helix website under construction.
"We still get 30 pieces of fan mail a month from around the world," said Vollmer.
"This is a part-time gig right now. But we've always been international. It's important to just stick with your guns."