Music Express Publisher Keith Sharp reflects on a 46-year relationship with April Wine lead vocalist/chief songwriter Myles Goodwyn who died Sunday December 3rd from cancer.
I first connected with Myles Goodwyn in late 1976. Alberta Music Express Magazine (as it was titled then) had just launched in Calgary in October of that year and one of my initial contributing writers, Sue Markowzky (who was working at the time for the regional branch of RCA Records) was advising me on potential subjects for future interviews. Sue had lived in Montreal, had worked at the famous Mustache Club, and suggested that I chat with Myles who’s band was current promoting their fifth album, `The Whole World’s Going Crazy’. She claimed she knew Myles personally and to prove her point, she got him on the phone and handed me the receiver.
The Parti Quebecois had just come to power in Quebec that night and Myles was concerned what effect that would have on Anglophone bands like April Wine in the process. I congratulated him on the band’s on-going success, informed him of Alberta Music Express’s mandate to promote Canadian music to Western Canada and suggested that Sue (a budding music writer) interview him for a future feature – which she did so marking April Wine’s debut in our publication.
It’s a part of Canadian music folklore how original band members; Goodwyn (vocals/guitar), brothers Ritchie (drummer) and David Henman (guitar) and cousin Jim Henman (bass/vocals) in 1970 had submitted a demo tape to Aquarius Records’ Terry Flood and Donald Tarleton. They rejected that demo but sent a polite blow-off letter back saying if he band was ever in Montreal they should look them up.
Taking that letter as a former invitation, April Wine packed up their gear and headed North, arriving at the steps of Aquarius Records, much to the bemusement of Flood and Tarleton. But as the new CRTC ruling had just been implemented saying radio had to play at least 35% Canadian content, Aquarius realized they needed local content so they agreed to fund a small budget for the band’s album debut. Bill Hill was drafted in to produce that initial release in the Fall of 1971 but he reported back that Goodwyn’s “Fast Train” song was the album’s best track and that he, and not Jim Henman, should be the band’s lead vocalist.
With help from that CRTC ruling, “Fast Train” enjoyed enough radio airplay to justify a second album ‘On Record’ (produced by noted producer, Ralph Murphy, in 1972) but Jim Henman, not liking the band’s power-pop direction, left after that first album to be replaced by Jim Clench.
‘On Record’ proved to be a strong follow up on the strength of two covers; Elton John’s “Bad side Of The Moon” and Hot Chocolate’s “You Could Have Been A Lady’ but April Wine looked to have folded after both Ritchie and David Henman followed their cousin out of the door. Goodwyn had other ideas though and he reformed the band, hiring Jerry Mercer (drums), Gary Moffet (guitars) and Steve Lang (replacing Clench on bassist) and April Wine’s new lineup would launch a legacy that resulted in 16 studio albums in total and three live albums racking up total sales of over 10 million records.
Through that entire period, I interviewed Goodwyn on countless occasions and got to know him quite well. Goodwyn was noted to be a ‘benevolent dictator’, April Wine was HIS band, he wrote the majority of their hits (“Tonight Is A Wondeful Time To Fall In Love”, “Oowatanite”, “Just Between You And Me” to name just a few). And It didn’t hurt their international profile when on March 4-5 1977, April Wine performed at Toronto’s El Mocambo, supporting a mystery band called The Cockroaches who turned out to be The Rolling Stones. They released their own live album from that two-night stand which also marked the debut of Brian Greenway as a third guitarist.
My first exposure to April Wine came in the summer of 1980 when Alberta Music Express had evolved into Music Express and relocated to Toronto earlier that year. I caught them at the CNE with Loverboy opening, and I was impressed by how two Canadian bands could professionally execute such a major concert.
Myles could be a cantankerous character to deal with and we found that out in 1982. I commissioned my then editor Greg Quill to run a lengthy article on April Wine’s emerging legacy to run in two parts, the first detailing their early days with The Hemans and the second part spotlighting the band’s emergence as an international-caliber act with April Wine to be featured on the cover.
Myles agreed to the proposal but when he read Greg’s first article, he objected to some of the comments made by Ritchie Henman and refused to participate in the second part of the interview. So approaching our deadline we did not have a part two to finish the feature. Some last-minute re-negotiation with Myles allowed Greg to finish the story on time, but only if Myles got to read and approve the second story and that only he was pictured on the cover. So the story finally ran with Myles sitting alone on a throne which pretty well described his dominant position in the band.
On a personal note, I met my wife Karen directly through my constant contact with the band. Karen Morrison, who lived in Sydney Nova Scotia, was an avid Music Express reader and also a huge fan of April Wine. It became a common occurrence to receive letters from her, especially when we had featured a piece on the band, either praising the story or criticizing us if she felt a particular album review was a little harsh. So when she mentioned she was coming to Toronto and wanted to take a tour of our publication, I recognized the name and agreed to such a meeting. And the rest is history!
But unfortunately, a move to Capitol Records proved to be the start of April Wine’s downfall. They travelled to London England to record their 1981 album at The Manor Studios in Shropshire, ‘The Nature Of The Beast’ but the title was too similar to Number Of The Beast, a 1982 hit album by British heavy metal super group, Iron Maiden, and the album jacket image was a live shot of the three April Wine guitarists (which was a similar lineup to Iron Maiden).
So Capitol in England decided to market April Wine as a Heavy Metal band which they decidedly were not! And when the fans who attended a series of festival dates around Europe in support of `their 1982 album, `Power Play’, and saw them perform the album’s first single, the melodic “Just Between You And Me”, they showed their displeasure by throwing empty beer cans at the group and a planned headline concert at London’s famed Hammersmith Odeon was canceled.
“I don’t know what Capitol was thinking, they had us opening for Motorhead, what was that all about!,” fumed Myles in a subsequent interview with me. “That album was totally miss-marketed.”
At the same time, a vein of discourse was running through the other band members. Unhappy with Myles writing all of their hit songs (and earning virtually all of the resulting financial royalties), certain other band members felt they should be supplying future material and there was even a rumour that bassist Steve Lang wanted to contribute lead vocals.
Myles blew his stack, moved to the Bahamas and told the band they could write material for the next album and he would return only when they had enough material to proceed. He told me he waiting about six months, returned to Montreal “and I found out they hadn’t written a bloody thing” he fumed.
So I took charge again, wrote the songs for ‘Animal Grace’ which suffered a bit of a backlash from the Power Play failure in England and did not do as well in North America as previous albums”. In that same interview, Myles dropped an incendiary bomb when asked if the three-guitar album cover for`The Nature Of The Beast` gave British fans a wrong impression of the band?
“Do I need three guitar players? The answer is no and if I could play drums I would not need a drummer,” Myles responded. When I asked him if he really wanted me to say that in the story, he insisted that the quote be included.
So the story ran and about a week later, Aquarius Records president Terry Flood phoned me up and said, “You know that story of yours has totally finished the band.” I responded by asking him if he wanted to hear that quote on tape and he said “No, I am sure he said it.”
So things fell apart from that point on. The band recorded on last live album “One More for The Road” as they set off on a final tour, but the attendances were not there, opening act, Corey Hart, pulled out after their Kingston Ontario date, Myles refused to go on stage at Kingswood in Toronto unless the band signed over the rights to their name to him and when they walked off stage in Vancouver, road manager Keith Brown knew that was it.
April Wine owed Capitol one more record so Myles, Brian Greenway and drummer Jerry Mercer got back together with a couple of session players and cobbled a final effort, the 1985 “Walking With Fire” but it was an April Wine record in name only and both Goodwyn and Greenway went on to record solo albums.
Neither fared very well so Goodwyn, Greenway, returning drummer Mercer, bassist Jim Clench and new guitarist Steve Segal were financed by Flood and former Spoons’ drummer Derek Ross to release a comeback album in 1993. `Attitude’ The domestic response was encouraging. The band pulled almost 2,000 people to their album launch at the Superstars club venue in Mississauga, they opened for Def Leppard at that summer’s CNE and the album achieved gold status sales (over 50,000 units).
But by that time, the Grunge movement was dominant and two more releases ‘Frigate’ and “Back To The Mansion’ did not register with their fan base. Still, April Wine continued to appeal to a nostalgia music movement and continued to play the occasional Exhibition date, State Fair dates in the States and the odd themed boat cruise until Goodwyn announce his final April Wine date December 22nd 2022 in Truro Nova Scotia, naming Marc Parent as his successor.
Goodwyn had moved on to record two blues-themed albums; “Myles Godwyn and Friends Of The Blues Volumes One and Two’ (2018 and 2020) with an all-star support cast featuring David Wilcox, Rick Derringer, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne and Jack de Keiser –to name a few, but his mixture of original material and blues classics received a lukewarm response from Canada’s Blues community, even though his 2018 effort was nominated for a Juno Award and his second album won an East Coast Music Award.
Award-wise, April Wine was inducted into Canada’s Music Hall Of Fame at the 2010 Juno Awards in St John’s Newfoundland, inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall Of Fame in 2009 and earlier this year, April Wine received Canada Walk Of Fame honours and finally, Goodwyn was inducted into the Songwriters’s Hall Of Fame later this year.
Health-wise, Goodwyn battled diabetes, previous alcohol abuse and, as he detailed in his autobiography, ‘Just Between You And Me’, almost died from internal bleeding in 2008.
He and Dan Hill were planning on executing an acoustic concert series together, a date earlier this year at Markham’s Flato Theare had been well received, and Hill told me recently that Goodwyn was still in good voice and “singing like a 19-year-old”.
So it came as a shock to people when he succumbed to cancer on Sunday December 3rd in Halifax.