Sometimes the phone lines can’t convey subtleties in emotion, even to the most experienced of interviewers and conversationalists. For Myles Goodwyn, founder of legendary Canadian rock band April Wine and a true original composer, vocalist and artist on the national music scene, there is no subtlety in the way his passion and excitement and sheer joy shines through when talking about his recent entry into the blues scene with two exceptional, and critically lauded albums in the past two years.
Sounding like a kid who just signed his first record deal and is hearing his songs on the radio for the first time, Goodwyn is thrilled that the music he has made on first Myles Goodwyn: Friends of the Blues and it’s follow up, Friends of the Blues 2, released earlier this fall, is not only personally satisfying and fulfilling, but is receiving rave reviews from journalists, bloggers, critics and the general blues loving public.
“I am not doing this for the money, believe me. I am doing it for the love of what I am doing and the passion I have for this. Boy oh boy that makes all the difference in the world, that makes you feel like a young man. I am literally the new guy, the new kid on the block in the blues community, and I am loving every second of it,” said Goodwyn from his home in Nova Scotia.
“And I have already started working on number three. I pulled together a brand new song yesterday that is just so good. I love this process. And I am always amazed that something I think is really good even came to me, but it did somehow.”
It is interesting to note that Goodwyn is not a passionate collector of music and doesn’t have an extensive catalogue of blues music from across the widespread diversity of eras or genres that has instilled and informed his passion for the genre. All it really took was a listen to the legendary eclectic and compelling stylings of blues master Taj Mahal, to really turn a young Goodwyn’s precocious interest in blues music, into a full blown obsession – one that he would occasionally indulge in his April Wine compositions, but which lay unsatisfied until the first Friends of the Blues record in 2018.
“When I did listen to faraway radio stations coming up from the States in my room at night as a kid, sometimes on a transistor radio, the music that I heard wasn’t really blues. The blues came to me much more in the 1960s when I was about to leave home. I left home in 1967 and of course there were a lot of big things happening in music in 1967, 1968 and 1969; you had Led Zeppelin and Elton John, the Beatles just packed it in, and the Rolling Stones still had their blues influences. It was at that time that I started really buying records. My record collection included Taj Mahal, and he was the first introduction to owning a piece of vinyl that was a real blues guy. Natural Blues was the album and I was smitten, and I still am – he is my number one guy. He is one of those guys who takes all kinds of chances. He is so damn good, and it doesn’t matter what he does – he is accepted because he is so damn brilliant,” he said.
“And then of course I got into things like Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin II was stealing bits and pieces from blues guys like Willie Dixon. So, all of a sudden, it’s coming at me from different directions in terms of influences, and I would buy a record here and a record there, but it was never a big blues collection. And I also never had a big rock collection. What I heard, I heard, but I don’t remember even being the guy who was always glued to a sound system, listening to music all the time. It wasn’t like that for me. I guess I always sort of had my own music running through my head.
“I played covers in high school, but I only played in a professional cover band for one year before forming April Wine, and that was in early 1969. So, yeah, I have always had music in my head. One of April Wine’s biggest hits, You Won’t Dance With Me, I wrote when I was playing in a high school band. I always have this original music in my head, and I have never really had a whole lot of interest in going deep into any artist. When I first heard Elton John, I went holy cow, and went out and bought a piano, not to imitate him, but because now I had another avenue for writing my own songs. I told myself if I could write songs on piano it would pay for itself, and I ended up with I Wouldn’t Want to Lose Your Love, Coming Right Down on Top of Me, Like A Love Like A Song, and a couple of other hits.”
A serious illness in 2007-2008 forced Goodwyn off the road, and also forced him to face his own mortality and reassess the priorities in life. After extricating himself from that near-death experience, he resolved to achieve more personal and creative balance in his life, and that life was too short to rack up a list of ‘what ifs.’
“I decided that I had some things I needed to do, that bucket list that you referred to. I had a couple of books to write [one his autobiography, the second a work of fiction called Tiger and Elvis], I wanted to do a blues album and I wanted to cut back on April Wine shows so I had room for other things in my life. I had been tethered to April Wine all of my adult life and I needed to get away from that to some extent. So, a lot of things came together in the last few years. One of the reasons it took a long time to do the blues albums was because I was extremely busy doing other things, like writing books and touring,” he said, adding that having a number of guests on his albums, including the likes of Amos Garrett, Jack De Keyzer, Shaun Verreault of Wide Mouth Mason, Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne and six-time Toronto Blues Society female vocalist of the year, Angel Forrest, means taking time to co-ordinate schedules.
“And you know the premise is Myles Goodwyn and Friends of the Blues, so you have to wait for their schedules to open up. All of these wonderful players are touring, and they have lives and all kinds of things, so it takes a while. And here’s the thing, I never felt I had to rush it once I began this journey because it is timeless.”
Not being married to any one particular style of blues, be it Delta, Chicago, New Orleans, or any era pf blues music means Goodwyn has had the freedom to explore all facets of the form, as evidenced by the dynamism of material, vocal performances, sonic impact and arrangements on Friends of the Blues 2.
“It was always about the songs, and it was always the songs that got me, it wasn’t about the playing or the formula. There’s a wonderful group of players out there now, and there always has been, but the vehicles for them to play on are not much of a vehicle at all in many cases. In terms of being a good song it might be a one out of 10, but they are a 12 out of 10 players. I am not the kind of guy who will put up with a bad song just to hear the flow. Not very often will I go there. You get somebody like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and songs like The Red Rooster and some of those great classic songs, like B.B. King’s The Thrill is Gone and my personal favourite Taj Mahal and She Caught the Katy, all of those songs spoke to me, because I am a song man first and foremost. Honestly, I would rather not just be a guy on stage, I would rather be prolific as a songwriting, just churning them out and having lots of people doing them,” he explained.
“When I sat down to write the first Friends of the Blues album, it was all about the songs. And once I had it where I considered it to be a good song then I would go to great players I know and asked them to play on it. I was also more nervous about my voice on the first record. But on the new album, for the first three or four songs, I am using a slightly different voice on each, but you can still tell it’s my voice, I can’t hide that. When I write a song, it dictates how I am going to sing it, and that dictates the key. But I am not a young man anymore, I am 71 years old. I don’t have to find an identity that I am going to ride and sing like that and carry on in that format for decades. I am not into that. I am into whatever comes out as long as it’s blues or bluesy. If I like the song a whole lot, then I am okay with whatever vocal performance gets the job done.
“And I won’t stop something just because it’s a bit different. From the first album I had people saying, ‘look what this Goodwyn guys is doing, it’s a little out of the box, it’s a little different and we should be embracing that.’ Encouraging people are saying it’s okay and that’s nice. I think what I am doing it not all that different and I think there are a lot of American blues guys that are far more radical than me.”
One potential challenge that Goodwyn seems to be overcoming quite well is resistance to his blues music endeavour from the broader blues music community, including purist artists, journalists and fans. But after the critical acclaim for Friends of the Blues 1, and some significant accolades, Goodwyn is convinced that he has been accepted, for the most part, and it’s just a matter of continuing to build his reputation and repertoire in the genre.
“It’s difficult to come from one gene to another. And I am not saying that I am not being accepted by the blues community, because I certainly am. They nominated my first album for a Juno, and I won the East Coast Music Award [for Blues Recording of the year in 2019], and the album also made the Top 40 in the States for over a year and was played all over. So, they have accepted that. But that’s just one aspect of it. I would like the blues band to do a lot more gigs, which I think is the only way to keep the band alive. And it has been tough to get gigs for the last couple of years, because I think the blues community has to get used to the fact that this is not just a studio band, this is a performing band,” he explained, adding that at his rehearsal space just outside Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, he is creating a performance space in order to broadcast live performances of his band, to show of their talents and the music, online.
“I think it actually has been a pretty smooth transition and there’s a good reason for it, but I had to learn what that reason was. What it really came down to, and I have read so many reviews and so many articles talking about the new album, was that the community was probably expecting me to do a bunch of cover songs; my version of classics and things like that. Or maybe they thought I would try writing my own and they would suck. But the thing is what all the reviewers and commentators agreed on with he first record and what they are still agreeing on with this new project is that it’s the real deal. And that’s because for the first album I had 13 songs and 12 of them I wrote myself. For this new record, I have 14 songs, and I wrote 13 of them. So, people are saying, ‘folks, this is not some rock guy playing around. Forget everything you may have heard or what you might be thinking or might have suspected and just listen and hear what’s actually going on on these records.
“I made the jump pretty seamlessly just by putting time and effort and quality into what I was doing, because I do have a legitimate passion for it. This, for me, is something I am very passionate about and I have been for some time. I am taking my best writing skills and my best production and my best singing and finding my best blues voice to do something that is very real. And because I am so passionate, I will not accept just anything. I am the main critic of what I do, and it’s reflected in the music and the reviews it’s getting from the blues community saying its solid stuff.”
Goodwyn’s touring band was gleaned from the cream of the crop of Maritimes-based musicians, and features Bruce Dixon, Ross Billard, JR Smith, and Warren Robert. As mentioned earlier in the interview, he is hoping that now that there are two collections of original songs under their belt, the Friends of the Blues band will be booked more often moving forward, taking care to balance those dates in between April Wine shows and shows by his acoustic trio, Just Between You and Me.
For more information on Myles Goodwyn: Friends of the Blues 2, and his various other projects and charitable endeavours, visit https://mylesgoodwyn.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for nearly three decades. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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