Canada has lost a member of rock royalty as Myles Goodwyn, frontman of April Wine, died on Sunday 3 December, aged 75. His death was confirmed in a statement from his publicist.
For generations of fans, Goodwyn was one of the defining voices of Canadian rock, helping April Wine sell over 10 million albums in a prolific career that was rewarded with their induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2010 and Canada’s Walk Of Fame in 2023.
That they didn’t huge globally will remain one of music’s mysteries. They had the tunes. Fast Train, taken from their eponymous 1971 debut studio album, was quite the introduction, a minor hit showcasing an ear for melody, composition, with propulsive acoustic guitars sharing airtime with electric (a la Led Zeppelin, Heart and others) and a production nous that would stand them in good stead over 20-plus studio albums.
At the heart of it all – the writing, production and performing – was Goodwyn, typically with a Gibson Les Paul in hand.
By a weird quirk of fate, his most famous electric guitar was one missing, presumed destroyed in a truck crash, and absent for 46 years of his career, only for him to be reunited with it in what was described as “a Christmas miracle”. He had bought the Melody Maker in Cape Breton, and used it on the first two April Wine albums. He was told that it suffered a a broken neck in a truck crash.
On Christmas Eve 2018, he received a message on Facebook. Someone knew where it was and organized a reunion. There was no mistaking it as Goodwyn’s. He had swapped out the single-coil pickups and his name was on the truss rod cover.
“This was my life. This was my baby,” Goodwyn said, relaying the story to CBS News. “My baby disappeared. She was 10 when she was taken from me and she was 56 when she was returned. She missed a lifetime with me.”
That Melody Maker missed out on some action. April Wine was formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1969, with the brothers Ritchie and David, plus their cousin Jimmy Henman, joining Goodwyn on drums, vocals/guitars and vocals/bass guitar respectively. The band would undergo numerous line-up changes over the years. Goodwyn remained its constant.
Radio was a kingmaker when April Wine were making their bones. The success of Fast Train gave them the momentum to go again in 1972 with On Record, the band’s sound – and audience – expanding when they covered Hot Chocolate’s You Could Have Been a Lady.
Goodwyn’s songwriting fundamentals were strong but they would take some risks, too. They could deploy some tricksy engineering techniques in their sound, such as slowing his vocals down for Slow Poke, from 1975’s Stand Back. What could have been a straight-up slow-burning rocker with a blues riff and a wah pedal lead guitar ended up all woozy and psychedelic.
By now, April Wine were cooking with gas. Stand Back was their first album to go platinum in Canada. It is an album fit to burst with hooks. Oowatanite, with its locomotive bell and then-bassist Jim Glench on lead vocals was as persistent and urgent.
Tonite is a Wonderful Time to Fall in Love is as classic as FM rock gets, and more than fit for export to other territories, and yet that global superstardom always seemed out of reach for the band.
Could it have been different if Hollywood had picked up some of these tracks for scores? Tonite… could have worked on Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused.
Still, April Wine had no bother shifting tickets, packing out arenas, and living a life less ordinary. By 1977, who else could say that they enjoyed top billing at a Rolling Stones show? That’s how it went down on March 4 and 5 at the El Mocambo, in Toronto, when the Stones’ show at the tiny club venue was billed as an April Wine headlining show, the Stones listed as ‘the Cockroaches’ in support.
The roles were reversed on the night, but both bands got live albums and a cool story out of it.
Some of those stories you can read about in Goodwyn’s best-selling memoir, Just Between You and Me, published in 2016. His gift for storytelling in song would see Goodwyn turn his hand to fiction with his debut novel, Elvis and Tiger, in 2018.
Besides April Wine, Goodwyn released a solo album in 1988, then was joined by the likes of Garret Mason, David Wilcox, Amos Garret, Bill Stevenson, Rick Derringer and more for 2018’s Myles Goodwyn and Friends of the Blues, with a follow-up album released the following year.