April Wine in Scene Magazine, Halifax 1970. Photographer unknown.

Great Moments In Canadian Music (Track 13): How April Wine Turned A Rejection Letter Into Their Big Break

Jim Henman can remember the exact day he first met Myles Goodwyn in 1963. Henman’s family had just moved to Halifax from rural Clam Harbour in eastern Nova Scotia. 

“This skinny little kid came running through the woods saying, ‘I hear somebody here plays guitar,'” recalls Henman. “To meet somebody when you’re 16 years old and have the same interests –– we found out we had much more in common musically than we ever dreamed of. That was when we first started to get together.”

They learned all their favourites from the hit parade. “The Beatles, Beach Boys, and the Everly Brothers,” says Myles. “And of course we played in a high school band together, which was when I wrote ‘You Won’t Dance With Me.’ We were doing it for pocket money, to meet girls, that kind of stuff. We weren’t doing it for a living.”

Still, it did evolve into a pretty popular band that lasted for three years, called Woody’s Termites. “We played every Saturday night at the Bedford Fire Hall,” says Henman. “I think we bought them two new fire trucks, we made them that much money. And we made 15 bucks a night, a lot of money back then. That’s where Myles and I both started writing songs, in that particular group.”

A young Jim Henman and Myles Goodwin. Credit mylesgoodwin.com

After the Termites came to an end, the pair went their separate ways, Goodwyn in a group called East Gate Sanctuary, and Henman in a band called Prism (“Not the famous one,” he notes). It also included his two cousins, David and Ritchie Henman, but it also fizzled out. 

“We disbanded in the summer of ’69 and decided to go to university,” says Jim. “I don’t know why, it was just one of those decisions, so we all went to St. Mary’s University. I decided very quickly that this wasn’t for me. I approached David and asked, are you interested in forming another group? We’ll do our own music, because I was into songwriting by then, and we’ll see if we can make it. We had that kind of dream then – see if we can make it, do something, being little naive 20-year-olds, we dreamt big. David had the name picked, April Wine. It stuck. He said, ‘As long as you can get your buddy Myles to join us.’ Myles showed up with a bag of clothes and his Gibson Melody Maker, and we started rehearsing.”

The difference with this group was that the four were going to stop playing Top 40 covers and feature their own songs. But that meant they’d have to get out of Halifax, and out of the Maritimes altogether. Most of the gigs available were at dances, where they wanted the usual hits. The best they could do was a few university shows, a couple of high schools, and the odd church hall. “We didn’t play around here very much,” says Goodwyn. “We were together for a very short time, only around six months before we left the Maritimes.”

That was always the plan anyway, they were really just trying to find out how to leave, and where to go. The closest big city to the Maritimes was Montreal, and a musician they met told them about Aquarius Records, a new label that had started there. It seemed as good a shot as any.

“The plan was we would attempt to go to Montreal,” says Henman. “We decided to do a demo, and a friend had a reel-to-reel, and just recorded the band on some numbers. We sent a letter to Aquarius Records, Donald K. Donald and Terry Flood, that bunch. We got a very polite letter back from them, saying ‘If you’re ever up this way drop in and see us.’ That was not meant to be a positive letter. Not the way we took it. But we decided we were taking off. My uncle fronted us enough to get a van, we had all our own gear and sound system, and we took off on April 1, 1970. Drove all night.”

Back cover of April Wine’s debut self-titled album.

In a stunning combination of bravado and naivete, the group then showed up at Aquarius Records, much to the label’s surprise. “And when we arrived, there was no work whatsoever, but they were interested in our music,” says Goodwyn. 

“They were shocked to see these four kids from Nova Scotia show up at their office,” says Henman. “I think out of compassion they found us a place to live. They put us up in a ski shack in St. Sauveur. Their plan was, let’s get them a couple of gigs, see how people respond to them live. They gave us a chance, they were really kind. Eventually, they saw some potential, and gave us a recording contract.”

“We just grabbed at that,” adds Goodwyn. “We probably would have continued on to Toronto except that it kind of panned out in Montreal. It was a great and vibrant city then. This was Aquarius Records, Terry Flood, who also managed us, and he was in partnership with Donald Tarlton of Donald K. Donald, and he was the booking agent. They had their hands in all of our pockets. It served us well for the most part. The underside wasn’t glorious and perfect, but overall we served each other well, certainly.”

Certainly. April Wine became the number one act on the label’s roster, and the band soon hit the road to help Donald K. Donald establish the country’s first true national touring circuit for Canadian bands. April Wine would play virtually every city and town with an arena big enough to hold a couple of thousand kids. 

“I thought they were wonderful. I really liked those old forums,” says Goodwyn. “Maybe the acoustics weren’t perfect but they had a charm. We were playing small places, anywhere, on the strength of the first album, with ‘Fast Train’ and the second, with ‘Could Have Been A Lady.’ People were being bussed in from everywhere around to see the shows, it was a new frontier at that point.”

While Goodwyn looks back on that time with fondness, it was a different story for Henman, who didn’t fare well in the gritty rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. As the band was preparing to record its second album in late ’71, Henman decided to bail.

“I had some issues with stuff back then, booze, pot, I liked pills too,” says Henman. “I got caught up in that more than I should have, I lost control somewhat, and I was very depressed, almost in despair. I had experienced enough of the lifestyle, and I felt, this is really hard. I didn’t even talk to anybody. In those days the idea of mental health, it’s not something a man would ever say. I just drank it and doped it and medicated it. I just said, ‘Guys, I’m going to have to leave the band.’ Myles said, ‘Okay.’ He knew I was unhappy. I came back to Halifax and within a year had decided to go into medical technology, which served me very well. I could still maintain my writing.”

Jim Henman on stage with April Wine, circa 1970. Courtesy of Jim Henman.

Henman lived quietly in the Maritimes, just dabbling in music while working in his hospital job. But his friendship with Goodwyn never changed, and Henman watched as his childhood friend took the band to worldwide fame and fortune. “We always stayed friends, even when he was living in the Bahamas, we would talk every couple of months, and see each other when he was in town. Sometimes I’d go stay at his place. We didn’t do anything musically though. I knew he was going to move back here sometime, or I figured he would.”

Maritimers are funny that way. Goodwyn could afford to live wherever he wanted, and did. But when the music industry changed, and Goodwyn’s career evolved, he found a way to head back home. “I still had family and friends here, I always knew I’d come back. It was an easy decision,” he says. “I said to April Wine back around 2017 I needed to do fewer shows because I had no time for anything else. Just before I moved here (to Halifax), I wrote a memoir, and now a second book. After I came down here, I recorded a second blues album.”

And then he got another idea. He’d seen his friend Jim playing acoustic shows, mostly in house concerts, something Henman got interested in after his retirement, around the Maritimes and in the West. “About five years ago, he called me and said he was interested in moving this way, and doing an acoustic thing, and wanted to know if I was interested?” says Henman. “He had his book out, Just Between You and Me, and we called the show that, and it became a very personal experience for the audience, to have a performer share all his stories about where his songs came from.”

Soon the pair added a third voice and player, Bruce Dixon, another Maritimer. “It’s been a lot of fun with Jim, and with Bruce too, they’re great guys, and I’ve known Bruce since the ’70s when I met him in different groups,” says Goodwyn. We sing really well together, our voices match perfectly. I’m in the middle, Jim’s in the low register and Bruce sings the high parts. We’re just really good friends and our wives and partners are friends too, so off-stage and on-stage we’re three pals. We don’t do it for the money, we do it because we just enjoy it, and people enjoy the show.”

It’s added a whole different element to Goodwyn’s career, which still features shows with April Wine, his blues band and albums, solo releases, and that other book that’s coming out. It also has led to something Henman has always wanted to do, write songs with Goodwyn. Henman co-wrote the single Goodwyn released in September of 2021, “Some Of These Children, They Never Grew Up,” written in the aftermath of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools, which has hit the playlists of dozens of Canadian radio stations. And in November came another first for both of them as they collaborated on the first Christmas song either had written, called “Ring The Bells, It’s Christmas Time.”

Moving back home seems to have spurred Goodwyn on to a new creative height. 2022 will see him release a new solo album called Long Pants, with new compositions and some old ones too, and even one that goes back 40 years to the birth of his daughter. There’s another blues album ready to go as well, and he’s been working on songs for a brand-new April Wine album, which he hopes will come out next fall. That’s three albums for the year, plus shows with all his different groups, and a new book.

“Well, we’re not getting any younger,” he says. True, but he and Henman are sure making the most of their time and nearly 60-year friendship now.