April Wine was the first band I saw in concert. Fronted by song-writing front man Myles Goodwyn, they opened up for Styx on Nov. 30, 1979, at Lloyd Noble Center, in Norman, Okla. I mentioned that to Goodwyn recently. “That’s a long time ago, Brad,” he replied. It was. Now, much more so.
Goodwyn died on Sunday in Halifax, at age 75. He had diabetes. Saying the lifestyle was no longer healthy for him any more, the I Like to Rock star had retired from the road this summer.
The Montreal-based April Wine thrived in the 1970s, a decade in which radio-friendly guitar riffs, high-voiced singers and bell-bottomed arena rock had its day. Goodwyn was a poster-ready representative of the musical fashion, all baby-faced, curled hair and Les Paul guitar – a Canadian Peter Frampton.
His tenor throat handled anthemic rockers (Roller) and slow-dance staples for the middle-school set (Just Between You and Me). The group also had a knack for successful cover songs: Hot Chocolate’s You Could’ve Been a Lady, Elton John’s Bad Side of the Moon and Lorence Hud’s Sign of the Gypsy Queen all charted.
If there is a hit from the era you remember but can’t place the artist’s name, there is a good chance it is an April Wine recording.
I wasn’t the only one whose formative rock experiences involved the band. “April Wine was my Entertainment 101 for my career,” country music superstar Garth Brooks wrote in an endorsement of Goodwyn’s 2016 memoir, Just Between You and Me.
In a Rolling Stone interview, Brooks spoke of seeing them perform with Styx in his youth. “April Wine, they had this big song with fire in it, and they had this huge red fire-engine thing flashing, and it just painted the whole coliseum red.” (Brooks was born and raised in Tulsa, Okla., and may have seen the same double bill I did, but in that city the night before.)
After the news of Goodwyn’s death, Canadian fans of a certain demographic took to X (formerly Twitter) to share their history. “April Wine was the first rock concert I went to in my hometown, Castlegar, B.C., late 1970s,” posted Vancouver’s Val Cormier. Same with musician/producer Jim Bryson, who saw them at the Ottawa Civic Centre in the summer of 1984: “My mom worked with the bass player’s brother and he got us after-show passes.”
Some of the fans were fuzzy on dates. From Aleah MacNeil: “My first experiences with concerts were as a 16–17-year-old in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1975/76 with April Wine as the headliner.”
Others had better recall. Bob Makichuk’s first ever show was April Wine and Heart at Edmonton’s Kinsmen Field House in 1976. Calgary’s Michael Ireton saw April Wine with Mashmakhan at Lady Beaverbrook Rink, Fredericton, July, 1972. “Myles was born in Woodstock N.B.,” he wrote, “and made us all believe that rock stars could come from places like New Brunswick.”
That’s important. Not only were April Wine fans coming of age in the seventies, but rock ‘n’ roll in Canada was growing up as well. Canadian content was newly regulated on radio; drinking ages were dropping. Homegrown bands had bar-band circuits to play – they had a chance to make it, and songs of the era reflected the change.
I wrote about this in a 2022 obituary of Hamilton rocker Jerry Doucette, whose Mama Let Him Play was emblematic of a youthful, rock-as-career liberation taking hold: “Mama won’t you let him, let him play some rock ‘n’ roll …”
Other songs of that kind include BTO’s Takin’ Care of Business and Triumph’s What’s Another Day of Rock N’ Roll. April Wine’s contribution to the aspirational era was Goodwyn’s bluesy call to arms, I Like to Rock.
“Journey to the stars,” he sang, “rock ‘n’ roll guitars …”
The song was off April Wine’s eighth studio album Harder … Faster. Whatever the album title referenced – sex? curling? – it certainly reflected the band’s relentless pace, standard for the time: They released 11 studio albums in 15 years for Montreal’s Aquarius Records, and doggedly toured in the United States and coast to coast in Canada before breaking up in the mid-1980s.
Goodwyn was plagued by alcoholism at the time. He released a solo album in 1988, before reuniting the band in 1992. April Wine never regained the international stature it once held. Its 1978 ballad Rock n’ Roll Is a Vicious Game was cautionary tale and a statement of fact.
In late 2018, Goodwyn posted a feel-good story on Facebook about a 1962 Melody Maker guitar stolen from him in 1972 that had made its way back into his hands. “Returned in perfect working order, in the same overall condition as when I saw her last all those decades ago,” he wrote.
Before-and-after photographs reveal that the instrument was indeed well-preserved. One thing was missing: a decal emblem once on the body of the guitar. It was a star – must have fallen off along the way.