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Teardrops On My Guitar

Helix guitarist Mark Chichkan recalls how he got "The Guitar"
Author: Devan Mighton
Photographer: Maximus Reid
1 year ago
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Mark Chichkan and his brother Michael were called from their classrooms. In the midst of their parent’s divorce, it was a rare event for their father to come by the school and take them for lunch.

When he pulled up in his car and picked them up, they knew this would be a day to never forget.

Not long before, Mike Chichkan had taken the boys to their cousins’ house in Dearborn for a little jam session in their uncle’s garage. With Michael wailing away on his cousin’s Ludwig drum set and Mark making a Gibson Les Paul sing through a Fender Princeton amp, Mike looked on with pride and a touch of premonition.

“My dad and my uncle, I remember them walking through the garage door, they both have a beer in their hand, and my dad has this look on his face and he’s just beaming—so proud—he’s laughing and he’s pointing at my uncle and he’s sayin, ‘I told you, I told you,'” recalls Helix guitarist Mark Chichkan. “We finished playing and I could hear them going at each other just outside the garage door, and I was laughing to my brother, ‘Who are they laughing at?'”

After picking them up from school, their father took them straight to the music store, turned to the boys and said, “I told you guys you needed some new gear, well, today’s the day. Go ahead and grab whatever you want.”

As Michael gravitated toward a Pearl drum set on that afternoon, Mark found the instrument that would change his life—a 1978 Tobacco Sunburst Les Paul guitar.

“It’s the one I have till this day,” explains Mark. “I learned everything I know on that guitar. Everyday, when I look at that guitar, I think of my dad.”

Barely a decade later, Mark is a professional guitarist, recording and touring with some of the biggest acts of the early 90’s Canadian rock scene.

“I was in a band called Mindstorm and it was the first road band that I was ever in,” explains Mark. “I was playing pretty steady all around town… so I had plenty of opportunity to play prior to going on the road.”

After picking up his first job at General Motors at 18 years old, he answered an ad for an audition in Kitchener that his mother had found. Managed by Helix manager Bill Seip, that band, Mindstorm, hired Chichkan who toured with them and also played on their second album, 1991’s Back to Reality.

When Mindset imploded, Seip offered to manage a band built around Mark, resulting in Even Steven, which was later renamed Ruben Kane. After a year of touring, the two sat down to review their relationship, but Mark says when he learned the contract Seip wanted him to sign would cost him his publishing rights, he balked. In return, Seip sued Mark for $2,500 in “owing fees”—something Mark denies owing until this day. However, on the advice of Legal Aid, he and another band member paid away the lawsuit.

“The silver lining of it all is that I never hated [Seip], even after all of that,” states Chichkan. “I still liked the guy a lot. He taught me a lot in this industry and I have a hard time hating anyone, in truth.”

Seip offered Mark a chance to join Helix, a well-known national act, who Mark joined in 1993.

“I’ve always considered myself a pro and when I set my mind to something, as far as music goes, I learn it properly and the way it’s supposed to be,” explains Mark. “I knew I had my end down, I wasn’t scared about my parts because I knew I was capable enough—it was just nerve-racking being in a gold and platinum-selling band.”

Mark says that Helix was his dream gig. He went on tour with the band, made lifelong friendships with the other members, played on a couple albums, and even brought a couple songs to the band.

Unfortunately, in 1999, between relationship problems and professional obligations in his hometown of Windsor, Mark stepped away from Helix.

“My life as a musician is here in my hometown,” says Mark. “What I’ve done here, all my life, made my living as a musician. These people depend on me and when you book a gig, they depend on you to show up and do your job.”

Instead of relying on the inconsistency of fill-ins, Mark focussed on his musical obligations at home. However, his friendships in Helix were never forgotten and almost 25 years later, lead singer Brian Vollmer reached out to him during the pandemic and offered a chance to return.

“It couldn’t have been a more perfect timing,” explains Mark. “I regretted leaving Helix at the time and I get this opportunity, again, to be back in Helix. When Brian called me, I thought, ‘Holy shit, how lucky is this!’ I said, ‘Yes, of course I want to play again.’ I felt like a junkie and I was jonesing to play live music again and to be playing in a national act like Helix again, I just jumped at it.”

In 2022, he played his first gig back with the band, opening for Honeymoon Suite in Edmonton at a private show.

He says, in 2022 and 2023, the band has been all about fly-in touring. Coming in the day before on a plane—rehearse, soundcheck, show, go home the next day—sharing the stage with the likes of Kim Mitchell, Tom Cochrane, Nazareth, Foghat, Sweet, Harlequin, and even Toronto, Prism, and Loverboy.

He says that at 55 years old, he is truly living. “This is an ongoing Cinderella story. There’s just so many good things happening with the band next year—it’s just unbelievable.”

In April of this year, his father, Mike, passed away at 87 years old, leaving a loving legacy on his son—his love of music and that Les Paul guitar.

“I’ve learned so much on that guitar,” says Mark. “It has brought me through so many trials and tribulations in my personal life and I still have it, it’s my main guitar till this day.”

His father knew that Mark had something special in him. Back on that day, in Dearborn, Mike had bet Mark’s Uncle Nick, that those kids in the garage that sounded so good on that gear were his sons, not his brother’s.

“They couldn’t see us, just heard us,” explains Mark. “So, when they opened the door and seen us, my dad was just beaming.”

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