Ten questions with April Wine's Brian Greenway
Special to the Journal by Joe Martelle
MONTREAL - If Rock & Roll music was a currency, there is a good chance that Brian Greenway and his band mates might find themselves gracing the back of the Canadian twenty-dollar bill.
As a guitarist, vocalist and singer-songwriter for a band that has been iconic in the music scene for over four decades, Greenway and April Wine have been entertaining music fans around the globe and continue to be a popular draw, especially apt at filling venues from coast-to-coast on their native Canadian turf.
Greenway's influence has been a constant to that success since he joined the band in 1977.
The Journal was able to speak with Greenway from his hometown of Montreal regarding the band's upcoming South Grenville tour date. They perform at the 1000 Island Regatta in Brockville on June 29.
PJ- You're in Brockville in a couple of weeks, you were in Spencerville performing at the Fair not so long ago; do you have any impressions of Eastern Ontario you can share with us.
BG-Well, I was born in Eastern Ontario. My early home was in the Hawkesbury, which is not quite as far west as Brockville and Spencerville but is still similar. My Mom lives in Kingston, so I get up there a fair amount. It's a nice part of the world. I have some friends in Brockville. It's a nice sized town. I'm not a big-city person.
PJ- So if we could talk about your visit in June, April Wine has been an icon in Canadian music for a long time. Why? What is it about April Wine that has made them so successful in Canada?
BG-Boy I wish I knew (laughing). I'd bottle it and sell it. I think it's because our songs don't really date themselves. The name doesn't date itself. For a lot of people, we were their first concert. They have a special memory or nostalgia. As they get older, they want to revisit that.
PJ- How about as you get older? What changes do you see in the music industry in 2018 that you didn't see in 1978?
BG-I don't know if it's my age, like it was with my parents with my music, or I just don't get the new music. It's very different. It's not what I would sit down and play on a guitar and I don't even know a lot of people who can sit down and just play that kind of music, period. It's something they have to listen to and be a part of. It's so electronic.
PJ- So how does that challenge a new band that's trying to break into the music industry?
BG-Well if you are into that type of genre, you go for it. You know how to do it with a beat box and computer. I've been a judge and mentor in events in Montreal and been going to some of the sessions that they have. I see a lot of these bands that are very, very into their own music and they're following the type of the genre that they grew up in. Whether it's the 80s or the 90s or today's music. I was happy to see a lot of that involves guitars rather than just a singer with keyboards and a vocal effect on the voice to keep it in tune.
PJ- So what if we go the other way. What advantages do you feel that your band had in its youth that the bands of today are missing?
BG-Well the only thing we were copying was the 50s and the Beatles and those bands from the 60s. A lot of the rock bands were inventing stuff...it was all brand new, guitar sounds, that style of writing and the amplification the instruments. Everything of the business itself was being created as we were going along. It was brand new. Now it's just trying to reinvent itself a lot and it's just not happening. And unfortunately, the electronic age comes into it again. With the Internet and with free downloads, people are giving away music...where we used to put it on cassette and that was it. A million people didn't get it at the same time, to download it everywhere...and artists weren't making money anymore from records.
PJ- So if a kid in high school with a hot hands on the guitar comes up to Brian Greenway today and asks "What's the secret? What do I need to do to succeed?" What do you tell them?
BG-Practice, practice, practice, practice. I still do it. I practice as much as I can every day of every week. Practice every day. It's something you have to learn. When just when you think you know enough, that's when for sure we hardly know anything. You're going to go see somebody who is going to blow you away. And you are going to say that if I want to compete I've got to get better. Practice your music and know the business. And for God's sake, have a backup. You know just in case. Very few people can win the lottery and be a star or even go all the way. So have something you can fall back on just in case it doesn't work out for you. And know as you get older, you do drop off. So, plan for the future.
PJ- So what was young Brian Greenway's back up plan?
BG-Nothing (laughing robustly this time). Absolutely nothing. Other than going out and getting temporary jobs. I just wanted to do this so badly that I just stuck at it. And gosh, I got lucky at it.
PJ- So what about your music today? If you and I were to meet in front of the campfire and I handed you my old beat-up acoustic guitar and said play anything you want. Would you play?
BG-I'd play my favorite songs. I'd play some April Wine songs that I like. Any song is good if you can play it on an acoustic guitar and it sounds great. I play a lot of the old stuff. I play Beatles' stuff. I'd play some sing-a-long stuff that we could have a good time singing together.
PJ- So what were you listening to before I called.
BG-Absolutely nothing (more laughter). Actually I had the radio off. Before that, I was listening to Matchbox 20.
PJ- Anything else you'd like to convey to the people that are going to come hear you rock the waterfront in Brockville?
BG-Come on down. We are going to have a good time and rock the house!