Interview with Brian Greenway and Jerry Mercer of April Wine

For over three decades April Wine has remained one of Canada's longest lasting and hardest working bands. Formed in Halifax by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Myles Goodwyn, the band has toured Canada more time than any other group. During their 1999 Maritime tour, I caught up with guitarist Brian Greenway and drummer Jerry Mercer for this in-depth chat on the history of the band.

GB- Tell me Brian how you to become a member April Wine?

BG - Actually it goes back to high school with Steve Lang. I knew all the other fellows from all the other bands I was in, around 1976 and 77. When they came out with I think Forever For Now, I was working in a warehouse driving a forklift truck. I was all friends with them cause we used to hang around a bar on the west island in Point Clair called The Maples Inn and we used to go down there every night and jam. Over all the years the band always added people for the tours. They added a keyboard player or some background vocalists, some female vocalists and they wanted somebody that was maybe going to be part of the band that could play guitar, a little keyboards and do what I ended up doing. So in 77 Steve Lang says to me, "Hey Brian did Myles call you yet. I went, "No Why? and he said, "Oh, never mind." and so that night when I was driving home I thought this could be an exciting night, because I really wanted to get out of the warehouse and get at music again. Myles called me and said, "come on the road for the 78 tour and see how it works out and it worked out well and here we are in 2000 and it's still working out.

GB- Did you ever have any idea that the band would get as popular as it did?

BG - Well at that time we were fairly large in Canada. They had some success in the States and we were hoping when I joined with the First Glance album that we would get some push there. Finally all of a sudden a little station in Michigan started playing Roller and boom, off we went on our voyage and here we are countless years later thanks to that disc jockey in the United States. In this country we always had a great following and we're still doing well in Canada and we did well in Europe and other places too.

GB- Has the popularity of classic rock radio sustained the band?

BG- I think it has. Radio went through a lot of transitions. Some people say the creation of the cd saved radio because of all the albums coming back out again, might have influenced classic rock radio, or influenced radio period to go adapt a classic rock format. Back in 78 or 79 there was rock radio and TV. Video on television was just in its infancy. Basically back then there was FM and AM, now you have a lot of different stations. Now there's so many different types and genres of music you have too. To get back to your original question it's hard to say. Classic rock radio brought us back out and I think without Classic Rock radio I don't think April Wine would on the road perhaps today, along with everybody else we know. But because people our ages love the music but they can't say they control the market, because they really don't anymore. They still love what they love and their kids grew up with their parents listening to it. I got two little girls ages five and seven and I play my stuff and they love it, ("ya daddy play some crazy rock n' roll music") I play it in the car or at home and they go crazy over it but it filters down. It's good music, it's good time music. April Wine doesn't present a message other than "Hey lets have fun!" and what we found over all the years is that people that come to see us have a good time and we don't set out to do that. We just do what we do. But the people who heard and saw our music, they grew up with it and it represented a time in their life when they did this and they did that. It's a fawned memory and I think that's what keeps us alive is the fawned memories of our music within their lives, what they did listing to what we did back then.

GB - With the creation of Much More Music do you think you may make videos again sometime?

BG-Well as you can see we're really not all that photogenic. (laughs) If we get a hit record with the new album and who knows what will happen in this business. Ya it's very possible we could do videos again, but at this point no we don't see the reason why we should. Everybody knows what we look like.

GB- What is the status on the new album anyway?

BG-As we speak we're about four days away from finishing the vocals and a couple of bass tracks and we should hopefully start mixing around the beginning of February or even before that. We still want to have it out by around the begging of April. I know we have been saying that for a long time. Last year and the year before that. (laughs) We have on the Internet the April Wine discussion group and there is over 100 members from all over the world. I'm on it and we discuss when's the album coming out. We've taken our time and we've re-thought things. We just put a new board in which has really taken the time now. We keep on making the studio bigger and better. I can't tell you the title even though we have it and it won't be called "Deal With It", as you know we went through that. We're in negotiations for distribution and labels and it's looking real good. There is some songs on there that are going to take people by surprise, some really nice stuff. The title will be like nothing we've ever had before.

GB- We're you surprised by the success of the bands comeback album Attitude a few years back and the fact it reached gold status?

BG-When it first came out it would have surprised me if it haven't because it would have said "well maybe there's not a place for us here. That it did go gold said ya there is room for us to continue doing this.

GB? Do you miss the long tours the band used to embark on?

BG- I just told the fellas I'd like to go out for the rest of the year and they said "you got to be kidding." I said, "we got to promote the record". What we want to do starting in the spring when the album comes out is to bring new stuff into the show and some old stuff. Basically what we've been doing for the past three or four years, we want to pretty much get rid of , with the exception of what we pretty much have to play. We want to bring all the new stuff in and perhaps bring in a fifth member again that will be keyboards and sampling, so we can do a lota things we can't do now. We're really serious on this and we're all looking forward to it.

GB- With the high cost of touring these days ever consider corporate sponsorship for a tour?

BG -It's always nice to have but right now we're not in negotiations with anybody and if it comes up we would be open to talking to people about it. Touring is expensive but it's gotta mean something and the sponsor we got would have to be meaningful to us and something we would support. In this day and age it's hard to support anything I guess, but money is money. (laughs) Right now we support ourselves and we're proud of it and we have a very hard working crew with Ken Shultz and Mike Philsinger. Two guys in the crew that wear about fifteen hats a piece and they do a real good job.

GB - How do you find the music industry has changed since your early days in the band?

BG- Well music has changed so much that it's really hard to put into a sentence. It's kind of like TV shows, if somebody get a big hit with something then other networks wants to have a show about the same thing. Music today is broken down into so many different areas. You got blues, Rn'B, hip-hop, swing, alternative. You got all this kind of stuff. Look what's on the charts these days. The charts are even broken down now. Billboard magazine has 15 or 20 different charts now. You used to have your top 100 for your albums and top 50 for singles. Now it's all broken down and then country made a big thing. I think whatever gets out there that's good maybe it will have a chance with a push from a record company. Good music is out there if it just has a push, either from radio or if not just from touring and you get enough people saying, "Ya I want to hear it", and call the radio station.

GB- What do you listen to these days Brian?

BG- Ahh I've become a computer geek (laughs) I'm not really into mp3s and I know it's very important and I try to ignore it, but I know it's going that way so I know now I must get into it. I listen to anything. What I really like and this might surprise people is I like country music. I like it because I like the playing on it. The players are really hot, the writing is real good and where I live in and area of the world it's country. I live rurally and in a very small town with 350 families. It's just the type of music where I am I guess. I grew up on it but also there's a lot of blues there. To me there is only two types of music, good and bad. So I listen to a lot of variety. I listen to a lot of kids music from my children so out of 150 Pokeman I probably know 90 of them. (laughs)

GB- Has you solo album Serious Business ever been released on CD?

BG- It was released on cd, actually on thee formats: vinyl, cassette and cd. It's funny because in the last year. I've been getting some very substantial royalties from France from my solo album, from a song called "It's all Right", I've been trying to find out if I had a hit there or I didn't. I've been asking and it's like, we don't know and I,m not about to go over there. Who do you start with? "Hey you buddy, you know that song It's all Right" , "Sorry monsieur je ne sais pas?" (laughs)

Jerry Mercer joins the chat

GB - Tell me Jerry about your musical background and how you first hooked up with Myles and the guys?

JM- It's a long story because it goes back about 47 years. I was singing in a amateur show. Just as a stand up singer. I did about three or four songs. There we're singers and buskers and magicians, jugglers. The band that was backing the show left the show to turn professional. In those days you couldn't play an amateur show and not be a professional, so they joined the union and left. I just decided since I knew all the music and all the artists in the show that I could play drums for the show. I bought a fifty dollar set of drums, a snare and bass drum and cymbals and I used to sit on a seat with a couple of telephone books and I just started playing behind the show. Myself and a piano and guitar player and we backed the show and I guess I must have done ok as they didn't fire me. (laughs) I just played anything, anywhere, anytime, with anybody as much as possible. I was eighteen years old and I was playing with guys that were well over fifty then, playing old time forties music. I played Latin, every kind of music there was as much as possible. all through the sixties.
We played R'n'B and then the group I had been with went though a transformation into rock n' roll and we formed Mash McCann. At that point in 1970 April Wine came up to Montreal and Mash McCann took April Wine and a whole bunch of other bands on the road on a summer survival tour here in the Maritimes. We had about eight groups. We were touring in about five or six cars and a truck with all our equipment. We had a great time and that's where I met Myles and the boys. Afterwards I was playing with Allan Mackowayne and Roy Buchanan. I recorded and traveled in the States with him and when I got back from Europe, I was down in the states just playing in some bar bands. On one of my calls home I found out Myles and Jimmy had been trying to reach me about hooking up with the band and myself and Gerry Moffett. I came back home and we had a brief period of practice and the very first gig we played together without any stage experience together at all was opening or T-Rex and Three Dog Night at Toronto's CNE Stadium.
We were like a little storm, we came on stage and played everything too fast. It took us a couple of years to get Toronto back again. It took us a few months together but we finally learned to really develop a new feel. Myself and Gary were busy learning the Henman Brother's parts. Richie and David's parts. We were copying everything and playing that so by the time we go into Electric Jewels and the live album we were developing our own personalities. The were starting to come into the music and that meant that the on stage show was beginning to jell too, because we were now doing songs that we recorded and that whole thing started to come together like that.

GB- Did the band ever consider moving south of that border at any time?

JM- At one point there was some buzz about maybe we should go to California but I'm glad we didn't do that, because in the final analysis once you break out on a international market, which we did in 77, it doesn't matter where you live. It,s just get it together and hit the road. When your on the road your on the road. It doesn't matter where you come from. We traveled all over the states and Canada and all over Europe and it just didn't matter at that point. We're real happy we stayed at home because I think Los Angeles is nuts. I've been down there a number of times and it's a crazy place.

GB- I understand you have had some health problems lately, how has that effected the band?

JM - During my fifties, I really didn't get myself checked out medically. I never really bothered. I just took my health for granted. My body has always responded and done what I wanted it to do, except now it's grown some sixty pounds too much. (laughs) I was getting some weird symptoms so I went for a checkup about 1997 and it was discovered I had prostate cancer. I tried different treatments and I finally wrapped that up in May of 1998. I finished the last of my radiation treatments and other kinds of medicine I had to take and I'm not too bad now. So far each time I've been checked out it's been clean. There are some side effects that are still with me from those treatments and I don't know things will get totally back to normal but, hey I can live with it. I'm feeling good. I can deal with these things. I just thank God everyday for being able to earn my living doing what I love to do because that's a real privilege. So many people go to work everyday and don't like what they do and for me its just a joy to be able to play. I'd rather ware out than rust out. I think my love for it is what people feel and respond to because that's what it is for an artist. I worked for IBM for then years, so I know what it's like go in and work everyday and punch a card. I know what the corporate scene is like. I came to a crossroads where I had to make a choice. Are you going to stick with this or are you gonna do what you really want to do. At that time I really didn't have a family or anything. I just said this is it and let go of the security blanket and all the perks you get working for a good company like IBM and jumped off the bridge to on mans land, cause that's what music is like. It's like that at the point I joined April Wine, we were all living togther in a little farm house over on the south shore of the Island of Montreal. We were drawing about seventy five bucks per week and all traveling in a station wagon loaded to the roof so I've been to both ends of the scale. We traveled in lear jets and limos. We've done it all from the beginnings to the end. Now we're in a different faze of our career and I'm just very thankful there are still enough fans out there who love us and support us.

Brian giving Myles an onstage guitar lesson at Rockfest 99, Moncton, NB

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Few of my photos from recent show in Fredericton,NB
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