An anthology of Helen Wheels (Robbins) recorded work, it spanned her earliest professonal recordings to some her last recordings just two years before her sudden and tragic death January 17, 2000. Most recordings were produced by either Albert or Joe Bouchard. These are carefully remastered recordings of a punk rock pioneer.
Here are some track notes from Helen herself:
This is the first song I ever wrote, before I had any tattoos myself and it marked my transition from poet to songwriter. It was inspired by a decadent, dangerous night involving Magic Tramps/Andy Warhol star, Eric Emerson.
My friend, Ernie, was a tattooist in Chelsea (Manhattan, NYC). He told me Eric was coming in for a tattoo and I agreed to be Ernie's assistant for the night-in order to meet the Famous, Eric.
Eric arrived with his girlfriend to get this tattoo. The second they arrived, Eric's girlfriend washed down a handful of pills with a bottle of jack black. Soon she was rendered dead to the world.
Ernie tattooed Eric from shoulder to elbow with the tarot card, "The Ace of Swords." Hours later, after Ernie finished, Eric put a shiny dagger to Ernie's neck and demanded he tattoo "ERIC" in giant red letters across the butt of Eric's drugged out, unconscious girlfriend.
I had a short thing with Eric, but about two weeks later. It was reported he had been killed in a bicycle accident, but in a book later published by one of Warhol's SuperStars, it was revealed that Eric had ODed.
"Tattoo Vampire" was written at the Café Figaro in the West Village on a brown paper bag. It was originally recorded by The Blue Oyster Cult in 1976 and is considered a rock classic. I re-recorded it in 1998 with The Brain Surgeons to reclaim my vision for this song. I think this is an ass-kicking rocker.
Break The Chains
This song tells my own story-how I sang myself out of the living room and into real life. I did it through dreams, imagination, strong desire, and imitation. I'd fire up the stereo, strap on the old air guitar, and get loud and super wild until the other tenants in my building started screaming, "Shut Up," through the air vents.
To me, "Break The Chains," is a spacious story song about making your dreams real. I think it is a solid rock tune with an uplifting theme.
Get Out Of Town
John Anthony, the producer on this song, was a gas to work with, as was his engineer, Earl the Pearl. "Get Out Of Town," is the eternal dream of every aspiring rock band-to get on the road, out on your own, new places to crank up the amps, always new adventures and new faces in faraway places-- like troubadours in the olden days , who traveled from town to village singing the news and getting the ear of the king. "Get Out Of Town," is an ATTI-TUDE song.
"Survival" is my urban apocalypse tune, born out of living too many years in the wrong place with the wrong person. I paired the paranoid nightmare lyrics with a cool funky beat, and a pre-rap rap - more of a New Wave thing than Punk. For some reason, I was gearing up for the end of the world. Still, "Survival" is the funkiest tune I've ever written. Jack Rigg wrote the cool music to go perfectly with those hot Wheels' lyrics.
Carry My Own Weight
This was a promotional flexi-disc The Helen Wheels Band dedicated to the spirit of our 1984 Olympics. It is a celebration of strength, fitness, competition, and independence. The whole Band was deep into health and positiveness. Between 1983 and 1989, I competed five seasons in amateur bodybuilding. My drummer, Albert Bouchard (currently with The Brain Surgeons and the Executive Producer of this CD, Archetype) ran in marathons. Guitarist, Tommy Morrongiello (currently Bob Dylan's guitar roadie) was a sprinter as well. Bassist, Joe Vasta was a Harley-Davidson rider.
Too many bands glorified crap like heroin, and their fans often died off like flies. WE wanted to have a positive influence on kids. I still believe this and my current band, The Skeleton Crew, are also adamant on the subject.
"Carry My Own Weight" was recorded at The Ranch in New York City-a top notch recording studio-- and was produced by the great team of Bouchard and Morrongiello. I think this is a straight ahead, infectious rocker done in my raw husky voice....I was smoking Kools at the time...but I long ago gave up tobacco.
Guitarist, Jack Rigg, proved to be one of my most versatile and interesting musical collaborators. He joined my band fresh from Detroit. Jack had a lot of influences, and he brought them all to his composing. I was more of a 4-4 type personality, just the pumping rhythm beating the hell out of me. Jack and I worked together from 1979 until about 1983...though he took eight months off and went on the road with Pat Benatar. I took him back because he was one of the best guitarist's I had ever worked with. Currently, Jack has a fabulous solo CD out on CellSum Records titled, The Jack Rigg Sessions! "Tumblin' Down recorded my only foray into rock with a reggae influence, a soaring chunky invention.
Room To Rage
I still consider this one a pumping, angry, whip-lashing anthem... I mean with lyrics like:"Throw the curtains wide and clear the stage. Everybody you step aside and gimme room. I need room to rage," you can tell I was more than a touch angry at the time. I would perform this number with my tonsil-shredding screams blaring out against the rockin' hot guitars of Steve Arnold (a great guitarist from Ohio) and Roger "Moxie" Aaronson, who co-wrote this song with me. Moxie looked like a body-builder pirate. He had a major stage presence. We were on the cover of "Search and Destroy" magazine back in 1978 or 1979. Moxie was my first song writing partner after The Blue Oyster Cult's Bouchard Brothers.
This was my first single, and the tune has withstood the test of time. It's still fun for me to sing. It came out in 1978 on Go-Go Records out of Philadelphia. Sadly, my original Helen Wheels Band had broken up by this time.
Brotherhood of Outlaws
I had a few outlaw lovers that inspired many a song in my early years. I always gravitated to Harley-Davidson riders. I even had my own 1939 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead with a sidecar. I eventually sold it to start my publishing company. I define an outlaw as an individual who stands outside the norm and follows their own rules. My creative and beloved writing mentor, Laurine Ark, even fits this description., spiritually anyway.
"Brotherhood of Outlaws" was a song to celebrate the biker lifestyle, the freedom, the wild ways, the independent life, the rebel heart. This song was a call for outlaws of all varieties to band together. "Others who fight with a pen for a knife, the message is as deep as the blood in your life, if together we'd band, united we stand, I swear a new age would burst on this land."
I recorded this with the band I had during the "Post Modern Living" era: Manny Caiti played bass (now he's a lawyer in Texas); Ed Steinberg played drums (Ed was also a really good cook), and Jack Rigg (who along with his new CD is going to Albert Einstein Medical School, studying to be a physician.)
Originally this song was one of five songs on a demo tape. I rejected it at the time, but Archetype's Executive Producer, Albert Bouchard, resurrected it, taking great pains to restore it to CD condition. It's a weird, slow-motion tune with another personal paranoia theme. My guitarist Sgt. Rock (born Frank Hutchinson and into body building) bends guitar notes every which way. Albert Bouchard was my drummer and, as always, was great to work with. Mr. Lee played rhythm guitar and sang like an angel. Mike Leslie, from Montana, held down the bottom on bass guitar. This was a big sound production produced by John Anthony and engineered by Earl the Pearl.
This tune written with guitarist, Jack Rigg, soon to be Dr. Rigg, melded a real tough lyric with a rhythmic, yet spacious, soundtrack- a very unusual combination, jazzy, excellent. I enjoy singing these tough girl, !*#@*&!-you-very-much lyrics in my most sweet voice. This combined with Jack's seamless. hypnotic music created a song that proclaims, "watch your ass," coated in sugar crystals.
"Loud Crowd" first appeared on my EP Post Modern Living, recorded at Secret Sound in New York City, the same place The Ramones' first LP was recorded. Fabulous production by Blue Oyster Cult's Joe Bouchard and mixing by Corky Stasiak.
This was the B side of my 1978 Go-Go Records' single, "Room to Rage." It's a smooth, melodic number about the uncertainty of life, and a rare mellow side of the early Wheels.
My first band played Philadelphia in 1978 at an atmospheric dive known as The Hot Club. This was at the time when the British style of fans "gobbing" on their favorite artists was still popular. We Yanks found this practice totally repulsive and abhorrent. A guy sitting at a second row table, dressed in a full Cub Scout uniform complete with merit badges, spit a huge goober at me that landed on my cheek. Mid-song, I screamed, leapt off stage, flew over the first row and landed fist smack on the cub scout, overturning his table, drink, and chair, and then managed to make it back on stage for my cue at the end of the solo.
My punch-out made all Philly's newspapers. Good promo. The Hot Club had such a narrow stage that my hand had to set up all tucked-in behind each other like bowling pins. The club, decorated in early-Hitler black and red decor with bamboo burned down about a week later.
Snake imagery slithered into many of my lyrics. I've kept reptiles for over thirty years. In 1977 (the year of the snake in the Chinese calendar), I had one snake that stopped eating for eight months. As a last resort, I had a magical, healing tattoo done on the back of my right calf by artist, Ruth Marten, while I prayed. At the same time, across town at the pet store, my ailing ball python ate three mice of it's own volition. Damn good tattoo. I re-named the serpent, Ruth. Eight years later, with hopes of breeding, I had Ruth sexed, and lo and behold, HE needed a new name...so now I call him Ruthless. Ruthless resides in my office, beating the odds still, living fifteen years now past his life expectancy.
This song is a most unusual pagan ditty in a rare 7/4 time signature that I wrote with my drummer Ed Steinberg.
Helen of Troy
This track is from my very first demo recorded at The Record Plant in New York City. I think it is a catchy melodic tune with a boss Steve Arnold guitar solo.
It's about the Ukranian boys who were like a fixture in my neighborhood in the East Village. They would hang out on my stoop, drinking alcohol. I'd be strutting out after midnight, sheathed in black leather. I'd walk out of the tenement and down the street, and these teenage boys would look at me like I was Helen of Troy- like I was somebody because I had somewhere to go. I still think about them sometimes and hope they're doing okay. They were like a permanent group boy-toy.
To this day, "Helen of Troy," remains my father's favorite song that I have written to date.
This is a bouncy dance tune, very catchy, I think. Cheery music tempered by sad lyrics.
Here's the story: Before I went into music, I worked as a leather costume designer. This is how I met Katharine. She came to New York City from Paris. She came to me for repairs on some mighty fine skins. Big money items.
Katharine peaked my curiosity and so I inquired as to her line of work. She told me she was a topless dancer. She got through it by being a heroin junkie. She was a lovely young woman on a hapless path. Beautiful, intelligent Katharine touched my heart. At her suggestion, I tried dancing for one week, paid my rent, and then threw my silver stiletto heels down the airshaft. I learned the hard way why Katharine had to anesthesize herself with heroin. All this free-floating loneliness and desolation gets focused on the dancer.
I also wonder what ever happened to Katharine, but maybe it's better that I don't know.
This melodic rock ballad builds to a powerful choral climax. It's a song about liberation from bad relationships. Been there, done that. This song came to me while I was at The Falls. There I was, perched on the final edge of a disastrous relationship. A deep winter blizzard is blowing all around me, and I'm standing in the middle of that little walking bridge that spans across to Canada. The bridge is all iced over.
Suspended over the power and majesty of Niagara Falls, I made a life-changing decision. In that frozen snowscape, as my tears poured out, some froze on my face, others cascaded into the maelstrom boiling below the great falls.