Ritchie Henman of April Wine: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Ritchie Henman of April Wine Interview

Feature Photo: courtesy of Ritchie Henman

Ritchie Henman of April Wine

Interview by Andrew Daly

I recently sat down with veteran drummer and founding member of April Wine, Ritchie Henman. As a member of April Wine from 1969 through 1973, Henman played a significant hand in shaping the Canadian hero’s early sound.

Through now-classic records, April Wine (1971), On Record (1972), and Electric Jewels (1973), April Wine established itself as a player amongst a buzzing ’70s rock scene. Moreover, they showed the world that Canada, too, could rock.

But by 1973, Ritchie Henman, along with his brother David and cousin Jimmy—who were also founding members—decided that a combination of musical differences and shoddy live performances meant that it was time to move on. And while history showed that April Wine’s most commercially successful years came in the following decade, Henman has no regrets about leaving the band he helped build.

In the years since Henman has kept busy through a myriad of musical projects. And most recently, he’s become an author, penning a hell of a rock and roll auto-biography titled High Adventure: Tales Of Canadian Rock & Roll Survival, which you can learn more about here.

With his book now finished and his eyes fixed on what the future may hold, Ritchie Henman dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the formation of April Wine, the recording of the band’s early records, his reasons for leaving, and what prompted him to write his book.

What first sparked your interest in the drums?

I started out as a guitar player, but the first time I saw a band live, it was the drums that caught my eye; they had a gold sparkle finish, while many guitars were brown [Laughs]. Then I heard “Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures and “Let There Be Drums” by Sandy Nelson, and I was hooked.

Can you recount your first professional gig?

Professional usually indicates playing for pay, so that would be the first time we played at the teen dance at the local church basement in ’62. In another context of the word, it would be when I played on CBC television in ’65 at age 16 and had to get my Social Security Number.

How did you become involved with April Wine?

My brother David [Henman] and cousin Jim [Henman] conceived the project over drinks at a tavern in Dartmouth in ’69 because they were tired of playing cover songs. David coined the name at that time. They began writing songs, and I liked what I heard, so we called Myles Goodwin and told him we would be playing all original music, and we wanted to leave Nova Scotia to try for a shot at a recording career. He joined at once.

Was being in a band with your brother difficult as it had been for many other bands?

My brother David and I always worked well musically. Our differences in anything were exclusive of music right up until the late seventies when he took to the stripped-down punk approach while I went the opposite way. Prior to that, we agreed on everything we did musically.

What was the initial vision for the band soundwise?

If there was such a thing as a vision, it was all about the two guitar harmony work that David and Myles played so well. As far as songs, we were all over the map with three songwriters, each with his own distinct style. This would eventually be referred to as having no direction, and we considered that to be the direction.

Can you recount April Wine’s first gig?

The first Wine gig was at the High School in Spryfield, just outside Halifax. We played around Halifax very few times before hitting the road for Montreal. Back in late ’69 and early ’70, original music was of no interest to the local youth. Heading to Montreal was the right thing to do at the right time.

What moved the needle toward signing with Aquarius/Big Tree? Was there major label interest?

In 1970 all labels were open to new bands with original material because the new government-mandated Canadian Content law had been born. But a smaller outfit like Aquarius allowed for a more intimate relationship with the label. As well the label was co-owned by manager Terry Flood and Talent Agency DKD, a win-win arrangement for a new band.

What are your memories of the recording of April Wine’s self-titled debut, which featured “Fast Lane?”

In a nutshell, we had few illusions regarding the recording process. We were well-read on that subject. We minimized the temptation to experiment in the studio and stuck to our live performances of the chosen material. “Fast Train” was always going to be our first single because we knew a hit when we heard one.

So, that one got special attention all along. However, having the luxury of total artistic control led to a very eclectic mix of songs, to put it mildly. Myles refers to that album as a bit of a nightmare and a mess. I look at it as the product of a band with perhaps more ambitious leanings than talent may have allowed for, but a worthwhile debut nonetheless.

How did April Wine progress for its second record, On Record?

For our second album, artistic control was dialed back in the interest of creating a more commercially viable product, and we could not argue as we had had our shot at doing things entirely our way on the first record. So producer Ralph Murphy was charged with finding hit singles to supplement our own less commercial material.

Can you remember the writing and recording of “You Could Have Been a Lady?”

Ralph brought us “Could Have Been a Lady” and “Bad Side Of The Moon.” We weren’t crazy about either, but we saw the commercial potential and agreed to record them if we could use our own arrangements, and that is how they were performed and recorded. And the change to Jim Clench on bass led to a less eclectic song list.

Jim Henman’s writing was a bit more folk-oriented, and while we loved that style, something had to be sacrificed in the interest of band direction. Of course, this came about as a result of Jim Henman deciding to go back to med school and not as a result of trying to redirect ourselves intentionally.

What led to you and your brother leaving April Wine in 1973?

By mid ’73, the band was turning in an inordinate number of mediocre live performances, often at major live shows. I have an intense aversion to any group or individual not performing in accordance with its known ability, so I was the first to consider moving on.

The breaking point for me was the show in Winnipeg at the end of our first cross-country tour in ’73. It was being filmed by the CBC for a television special and was a sell-out gig. The band was so uninspired on stage that night that the audience simply walked out throughout the performance, and the last song of the set didn’t even receive a smattering of applause.

After that, we finished the third album, played some important gigs around Toronto, then took the show off the road for two months (our first vacation in almost four years) and spent the summer re-evaluating our musical aspirations. The final break-up occurred at a scheduled meeting in early September, during which we each announced our intention to quit the band.

This was too funny to stay serious, so we spent a wonderful couple of hours drinking beer and recalling the best times, and talking about what we might each do next. Probably the most amicable break-up in the history of rock bands.

Can you recall your contributions to the Electric Jewels record?

As I said, that album was finished when David and I moved on, so it sat for a few months until Myles and Jim Clench decided to continue using the name, which David and I readily agreed to. So, they went back in the studio to record a couple of songs to replace the ones David had written and which we would release on Aquarius under the name “Silver.” The new version of April Wine also re-recorded the second part of the title track so that song quite appropriately features both old a new versions of the band.

Considering April Wine’s success in the years after, do you have any regrets about leaving?

I have absolutely no regrets, and things couldn’t have worked out better. The fact that Myles kept using the name, building the brand, as they say these days, allowed former members to receive both respect and a willingness to be heard throughout our subsequent careers.

Once out of April Wine, what was your next move? 

David and I started another trio, Silver, but before we really developed as a band, I got involved with the California band The Wackers. This led to our next recording band, Dudes, and that story really has to be read to be believed…. it’s in my book!

Have you kept in touch with your old bandmates, and would you consider playing with them again?

We have all remained friends over the years, but there is little or no interest in reunions. Once we have finished with something, there seems little point in returning to it for us.

What led you to write your book? What were some of the challenges that came along with it?

I wrote the book when the passage of time brought about the realization that my adventures in bands were frequently very much out of the ordinary. When it was all happening, I simply believed the same things must surely happen to other bands, but I eventually learned this was not the case. The book is not a Ritchie Henman autobiography per see, but of course, it has to be somewhat autobiographical in order to tell the tale.

Has anything unexpected come about as a result of writing your book? 

The first unexpected event was finding a publisher who wanted to print it in the space of just two months. As a bonus, I lucked into a publisher with the same ideals as mine regarding presentation…. a thorough and detailed editing process to eliminate typos and any other speed bumps that might interfere with a smooth ride for the reader. Working with the incredible people at Pottersfield Press is the equivalent of working with the most professional musicians, producers, and engineers in my recording experience.

Has this book given you closure? What’s next?

I’m not sure what closure is for me. Maybe I’ll recognize it when I retire completely to my to lawn, lilacs, and patio. Two years ago, I did not know that I would become an author. I have a solo album recorded, but what does a seventy-something do with an album? I also have a children’s story for an animated feature, but I doubt the Disney execs would check it out just because I have a new book and an old recording career. Que sera!

Ritchie Henman of April Wine: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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