HELIX pays homage to original keyboardist DON SIMMONS, ZZ TOP bassist DUSTY HILL with live performance of “Heavy Metal Cowboys” (video)
Canadian rock veterans Helix uploaded new live footage with the following message:
“Last Saturday night at Widder Station in Thedford, the beautiful new open-air concert hall in Lampton Shores. This is the song we sent to Donny Simmons, one of the original Helix band members from 1974, who died suddenly the same day ZZ TOP’s Dusty Hill died. We performed with ZZ Top in 2019 at Rock Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain. What’s the song we dedicated? Why, ‘Heavy Metal Cowboys’, of course! “
Don Simmons, the founding keyboardist of Helix, recently passed away at the age of 64.
Simmons performed in the original Helix band with vocalist Brian Vollmer, drummer Bruce Arnold, guitarist Ron Watson and bassist Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg. Simmons performed with Helix from 1974 to 1976 and was still in the band for a short time when Brent “The Doctor” Doerner joined, beginning the transformation into a modern band.
In 2004, Helix hosted a massive reunion that included many of their surviving former members. The original group, including Simmons on keyboards, took the stage for the first time in 30 years and performed “Buff’s Bar Blues,” a mainstay of their early sets. The show was released as a 30th anniversary concert.
Helix frontman Brian Vollmer paid tribute to Simmons via a Facebook post, which you can read below.
Vollmer: “Yesterday I found out through my cousin Elaine Schiestel that the original Helix keyboardist Don Simmons had passed away suddenly. That makes two of the original Helix members who have passed away within the past two years; the other being guitarist Ron Watson.
Don was from Listowel and we both went to school at LDSS. We had both been in a high school group called Homegrown. The drummer was Kevin Webster on drums, Larry Schneider on guitar and Bill Bailey on bass. We weren’t very good but it was a start, and it allowed us to play some dances in high school. Kevin decided to enter us for a contest in Kitchener, about 30 miles away. The competition in question was The Battle of the Bands at the Central Ontario Exhibition. We went the day before to check out the competition, and after seeing what we were up against, we wanted to crawl and hide under a rock. These bands from Kitchener made us look like newbies. We were now afraid. But we still played the next night. Needless to say, we weren’t the highlight of the competition, but we caught the attention of a few musicians from Kitchener, Bruce Arnold and Rob Watson.
The first incarnation of Helix was Don Simmons / keyboards, Bruce Arnold / drums, Rick Trembly / guitar, Ron Watson / guitar, Keith Zurbrigg / bass and myself. Rick was quickly ousted from the group by Bruce & Ron. We rehearsed the same 5 songs or so every night in the rehearsal room on Margaret Street in Kitchener, above an old garage. The main house, which once belonged to JM Schneider, ironically enough, was rented out by a group called Cerebrum. Eventually we extended that to a few sets and started getting gigs through DRAM Agency. We bombed them all, but in retrospect, we had just emerged from the basement. Rock and roll babies …
When William Seip entered the scene, things suddenly got very serious. Our first concert on the road was in Deep River, Ontario, via Petawawa. We’ve also played at the Kap Inn in Kapuskasing, Travelhost in Timmins, and a few other bars that I’d rather forget. Life on the road was particularly hard and decidedly unglamorous.
One of our best places to play was The Sebringvilla in Sebringville. The main attraction that drew people to us was Donny on his keyboards playing “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter, “Roundabout” by Yes and “Funeral For A Friend” by Elton John. Don was all in his glory and was a chick magnet. Add to that he had a hot car in his Chevy Nova, and voila!
However, like I said, life on the road was a lot less glamorous than everyone claimed. The pay was crap, the northern rooms belonged to the third world, and life itself was lonely. Bruce was the first to leave the group to marry his wife Bonnie. They are still together today. Unlike Bruce, with whom I have kept constant contact, Donny has followed his path and I have followed mine. It was not a conscious effort; I just didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. Every now and then he would surface or I would accidentally run into him when I was visiting my parents in Listowel.
That all changed when we celebrated the 30th anniversary concert at the Sanderson Center and the original band kicked off the show with ‘The Buff’s Bar Blues’. The practices that took place up to the actual play date were full of warm and hazy feelings, cool vibes, and reconnection. I could tell that all of the old members loved being in the spotlight again, even if it was only for one song a night. I enjoyed being there with them for that. It was a special moment in my life, a moment that I will never forget.
After that, I rarely met Don. The exception was one day in a restaurant in Listowel. Don was seated at the next table and I went and we had a pleasant conversation for about 20 minutes. I was with my mother, so I couldn’t talk anymore. It was the last time I saw him, although I tried to contact Bruce Arnold on several occasions, but even Bruce wasn’t quite sure where he was or how to contact him.
I spoke with Bruce yesterday and he told me that he and Donny had made a lot of jam tapes that he hopes to do something with. He last saw Don a few weeks ago when he unexpectedly showed up at his house. The two had a pleasant conversation; Don looked healthy, then he left.
Then raise your glass to Don Simmons! He was there at the start and was part of Helix’s story and part of my life. Thanks for those memories, Don.
Much love and peace on the other side. “