The day my dad brought home an old Stella guitar ended any notion of me ever becoming a priest. That Stella, along with my love for songs on the radio and the desire for glamour and fame, made me excited for my future. My songwriting began when a pretty girl became the object of my affection and inspired me to write my first song at the age of twelve.
My family decided to move from our foggy fishing village of Clam Harbour to Waverley, N.S., in 1963. It was in this village that I met another guitar player, Myles Goodwyn, and we began our 55-year friendship. We were both young guitar players at the time, and none of our other friends played. Around this time, I joined the school band for the variety show and got Myles on board, too. Myles, three other high-school friends and I started a Top 40 band called Woodies Termites. It became a large part of my “musical education.”
Unfortunately, the band members dispersed after graduating from high school and I decided to enrol at St. Mary’s University. During my second year, I had changed my mind about going to school, but needed a plan to justify my leaving. I convinced two of my cousins, Ritchie and David Henman, and my friend Myles to start something new. It was a band destined for success—we called ourselves April Wine and our first gigs were at local high schools. We went on to tour Ontario through to the Maritimes and released two singles from our first album within the first two years. April Wine is still performing 50 years later under Myles’ leadership.
After two years of living a musician’s life, I knew I needed a change, and at 25 years old I went back to school to study medical technology. Upon graduation, I got married, had two children and moved to the suburbs. Despite having put my musical career on hold, my evenings at home consisted of writing and recording songs in my little basement studio after the kids went off to bed.
During my mid-30s, a caring friend of mine convinced me to quit drinking. I went through a drastic personal change and spiritual awakening at this point of my life, and my first marriage fell victim to it. The only consolation I found was to call my kids every day to tell them I loved them.
It seemed like I turned my head around and “swoosh,” I only had ten years before my retirement. I wanted to be prepared. My idea of “readiness” was co-writing songs, working on CD projects, musicals, and booking more house concerts and songwriter circles. The key to retirement was there.
A big part of my life, it seems, involves my relationships with others. One friend, Peter Henry, suggested we co-write a song about his experience as a father. It was called “Down’s Really Up” and was to be used as a fundraiser for the Special Olympics. Another friendship materialized out of the blue when I met a doctor at the airport in Montreal who invited me to visit her home country. Due to that spontaneous conversation, the unique experience of Uruguay became mine for the next seven months.
There was also the time an old friend suggested working on Moose Factory Island, near James Bay. I stayed there for seven months, was embraced by the local Indigenous community and was welcomed to their sweat lodges and feasts. I also had daily lunch by the river with my Cree friend, Arthur Gunner. This was another eye-opening time in my life.
These experiences and others have shaped me into the person I am today. When I left Moose Factory, I decided it was time to move back to my small cottage in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic Ocean. I eagerly returned to my hermit-like lifestyle. Morning spiritual readings, journalling, praying and meditating while overlooking the ocean became my daily routine. Of course, I always found extra time after lunch to work on some unfinished songs.
My very brief, but meaningful, two years with April Wine allowed me to be inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame—home of the Juno Awards—in 2010. These events encouraged me to complete another five projects since 2012.
The project that speaks the most to me about relationships is the CD called “Edge of Heaven.” My nine siblings and I wrote and recorded this in support of MADD Canada after a disastrous auto accident almost took a sister from us.
My wife Suzanne and I decided to visit Cuba this past winter. In the midst of the trip, the Florida school shooting occurred and left us both very emotional and in disbelief. With the support of Suzanne, I immediately began composing a song in response to the tragic event. “Some of These Children” was released to CBC in June. It also led to a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Halifax, with 50 per cent of all funds from iTunes sales and radio play being donated to their cause. A friend of mine, Tim Mohan, was kind enough to produce a powerful video interpretation to go along with the song (www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9j5I3zOtc8).
It has been quite a journey for this 71-year-old grandfather. I am still performing for songwriter circles, festivals, house concerts and playing acoustically with Myles Goodwyn, who has been the driving force behind the sustained success of April Wine. During my vacation in Cuba, I picked up painting as a hobby and, in some ways, it reminds me of songwriting. It brings me back to when I was 12 years old.