Born in Hawkesbury, ON on Oct. 1, 1951, Brian Greenway’s first real band was a Toronto foursome called Cheeque, with Steve Lang, releasing one single, “Good Old Country Air” b/w “Something More” – when Pierre Senecal invited him to join Mashmakhan in ’73.
“I was in the touring version of the band after their second record along with Steve Lang, actually just after Jerry Mercer left. When that band broke up I went around and joined a band called ‘forklift driver,’” he quipped. A year later he was in The Dudes. And it was that eclectic mix of sounds in those bands, coupled with his own influences, that he said made him the guitarist he is today, and gave him something unique to bring to the April Wine table.
“I was a Beatles baby, then I got into British Chicago-style blues around 1966. Then all I wanted to hear was heavy, fuzzy guitars. A lot of what was going on didn’t make sense to me. It seemed like everyone was just ripping off licks off everyone else. I was the honest Canadian kid trying to make it in the business,” he joked.
By this point, April Wine was already one of the biggest bands in Canada, having scored on the charts with nearly a dozen hits. “They were looking for a fifth member that could play keyboards and play guitar, as well. My name came up, I knew Steve from the Mashmakhan days and I knew them from when Mashmakhan and April Wine toured together in the Maritimes,” he said.
His ties to the band actually ran deeper than that. Along with Jerry Mercer the band’s drummer, April Wine recorded two Dudes songs for their second live album just prior to Greenway joining, “Juvenile Delinquent” and “Teenage Love” – and original April Wine guitarist David Henman was with Greenway in The Dudes.
“Two days after I’m first told I got the job, I get the official phone call, telling me I was in for the summer tour. So I figured I’d give it a go. Thirty years later, I guess it was a good move.” From the end of that initial tour with the band, they went straight into the studios to finish up FIRST GLANCE, the first record that featured Greenway, and home to the hits “Rock and Roll Is A Vicious Game” and “Roller.”
A year later, the band’s breakthrough album was recorded, HARDER… FASTER, and the singles “I Like To Rock,” “Ladies Man” and the cover of Ian Hunter’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” – the first April Wine song to feature Greenway on vocals. “Steve Lang was the bass player at the time, and he always wanted to do that song. So we agreed, and luckily Nick Blagona, our producer, had been the engineer on the original King Crimson recording, and he knew how it was recorded. So we did it in about 14 different pieces. When I went to sing it, Nick said he wanted to hear ‘teeth.’ I’ve got no idea to this day what he meant, but I gave him balls,” Greenway laughed.
Today, he admits HARDER… FASTER is still his personal favourite April Wine album. “I had a lot of fun doing that one. It was the summer of 1979. It was just a perfect, fun time recording and being in the studio. We were a band. Plus we had a table hockey tournament going on, which actually overtook the recording. We video taped it, kept stats and everything. It was a lot of fun until we started fighting during the playoffs.”
1981’s NATURE OF THE BEAST, which featured the monster ballad “Just Between You and Me” and the all-out assault of the rockers “All Over Town,” “Sign Of The Gypsy Queen,” “Big City Girls,” “Future Tense,” “Wanna Rock” and “Crash and Burn,” was next – the first time the band recorded outside of Canada. Greenway laughed, and said that calling the experience of recording in an English mansion ‘unique’ was an understatement. “You had to have this whole vibe going on back then. We’re there living in this big, cold stone castle. I didn’t have a car, I had no idea where we were. It might be fun today, but I hated it at the time. And everything was so bloody expensive. We were there for three very long months. Even in the nightclubs, I’d be watching these comedians, with no idea what they’d just said. Everyone’s laughing away, and I’m sitting there laughing politely.”
The hits kept coming for the band in the ’80s and well into the 90s, with radio staples like the cover of Starship’s “Rock Myself To Sleep,” “If You See Kay” and a remake of the Powder Blues Band‘s “Doin’ It Right.” In the process, he also found time to put out his only solo album, 1988’s SERIOUS BUSINESS. “That came about while I was in the Bahamas after doing “Rock Myself To Sleep” every night. I was with some session players from Montreal, and when April Wine wasn’t in the studio at nights, we’d go in there with one of the engineers and just spin tape. We demo’d some of the tracks and I signed with Bud Prager, Foreigner’s manager at the time. He became my manager and made a dollar off me while we worked on this record for about three years,” he said.
The album featured 10 original tracks and the likes of Aldo Nova, Andy Newmark and many other session players. “I got three years of salary out of it, so it was a great deal. Plus the photo on the front cover was taken 10 years before it was released. They tried to sell me as one of those pretty rock boys,” he joked. On again, off again tours during a couple of years after its release featured Wine-buddy Jerry Mercer as well as Paul Harwood, ex of Mahogany Rush on bass.
In ’96, Austrian group Bedrokk released their second album, UNDERTOW, which featured Greenway doing guitar work on their cover of his song, “I Can’t Hold Back.”
Looking back on his incredible ride, he’s still humbled by it all. He said it’s incredible to think he could have so much fun doing something he loves, and still have crowds get into the shows. Part of what keeps it fun after four decades is the fact he’s always listening to new music, even if it’s something he forgot he had. “As I get older I find I’m enjoying stuff more that I used to hate. I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting senile,” he joked.
“I’m going back and listening to these old records I didn’t even realize I had. I’m listening to them and I find I appreciate them more than I would have a few years ago,” he said. “What keeps it fun for me is the love of doing it, the fact I’m STILL doing it. I’m still having fun because I’m not out there trying to prove anything. There never was a destination for me as far as where I wanted to be today. I just wanted to keep on doing it. People can expect the same thing from us today they always could – a bunch of broken down old farts having some fun, and maybe with a few surprises.”