By James Sandham
Nothing seems to go quite as well with July beers as April Wine. Whether you’re on the deck of a cottage, the balcony of your apartment or just hanging out at your local patio, Nova Scotia’s big-haired hard-rockers are always a reliable seasonal complement to summer debauchery. And more than 40 years after their inception – with Roy “Nip” Nichol replacing Blair Mackay at the drums – the quartet is still going strong with upcoming tour dates in Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia to name but a few.
It’s hard to believe it all began more than four decades ago – in 1969, to be precise – when brothers David and Ritchie Henman got together with their cousin Jim Henman and Myles Goodwyn to form a band. While Goodwyn remains the only original member of the group, April Wine has released 16 studio albums, nine live albums, numerous compilations and a boxed set, and has performed thousands of live concerts as their lineup has changed over the decades. But it all began for the original foursome when they moved to Montreal in 1970. They were making their self-titled debut album at the time, and its song “Fast Train” ended up receiving a lot of airplay. This enabled the group to release a second album, On Record, in 1972. Its single, a cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Could Have Been a Lady,” was a phenomenal hit, reaching No. 5 on the Canadian charts and peaking at No. 32 in the United States, where it stayed for 11 weeks.
Despite these early successes, the Henman brothers left the band during the recording of April Wine’s third album, Electric Jewels. Drummer Jerry Mercer and guitarist Gary Moffet would eventually replace them, and together with Goodwyn and Jim Clench (who had replaced Jim Henman in ’71) they completed Electric Jewels, embarking on a pyrotechnics-filled tour shortly thereafter to promote the album. It wasn’t until their fourth release, however, that things really started to take off: 1975’s Stand Back went double platinum in Canada and its song “Oowatanite” became one of the most popular songs the band has ever recorded.
The band’s fifth album, The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazy, was an ever bigger success, going platinum on advanced sales alone, and by 1977, the year of the band’s sixth release, April Wine would be doing a charity event at Toronto’s El Mocambo with none other than The Rolling Stones. While the Stones were “secretly” billed as “The Cockroaches,” word got out pretty quick and huge crowds awaited the performance. Needless to say, the show was a huge success. As a result, April Wine got its first chance at touring the U.S., first opening for The Rolling Stones, then for various popular headliners, including Styx and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Rush. They’d round off the decade with two more albums: First Glance in 1978 and Harder… Faster in 1979, both of which produced Billboard hits.
That was nothing, however, compared to what the ’80s would bring. April Wine’s The Nature of the Beast LP was released in January 1981 and included the smash hits “Just Between You and Me” and “Sign of the Gypsy Queen.” The album would go multi-platinum in Canada and sell well over a million copies in the U.S. too. This was the peak of the band’s commercial success. They embarked on an exhausting support tour to promote the album, playing to their largest crowds ever and filling arenas everywhere they went. Then, in 1982, they released Power Play, their 10th studio album, and embarked on their largest tour yet, including the huge stage and lighting show that fans had come to expect.
While fans flocked to the tour and the album had decent sales, Power Play wasn’t met with the same critical acclaim that April Wine’s previous two albums had generated, and the band saw it as a letdown. Goodwyn moved from Canada to the Bahamas with his family while recording the followup, and a rift opened in the band. By 1984 they were announcing their farewell tour.
As we all know though, that certainly wasn’t the end of the line for April Wine. The “farewell tour” was so successful that it spawned April Wine’s fifth live album, 1985’s One for the Road. And Walking Through Fire, their 12th studio album, came out just a year later in 1986. There was a bit of a lull in the band’s career after that point, but by 1988 Goodwyn had returned to Canada and by 1992 the band was touring again.
Attitude, their 13th studio album, came out in 1993 and was certified gold in Canada. Frigate followed in 1994, as well as Back to the Mansion in 2001 and Roughly Speaking in 2006. In 2010, April Wine was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. And this summer, they will still probably be playing somewhere near where you live.
April Wine – “Sign of the Gypsy Queen”