ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 27, 1997
Just two years ago Nanaimo blues-rocker David Gogo seemed to have the music world by the tail. Only 25 years old, he was inked to a worldwide recording deal by EMI Music, which was so pleased about signing Gogo that it manufactured limited-edition double-disc promo versions of his debut CD, with special packaging that resembled a set of guitar strings to help get his instrumental virtuosity across to the press.
But EMI’s faith in Gogo’s becoming the next Stevie Ray Vaughan was contradicted by the label’s corporate-style manner of sticking its nose in Gogo’s artistic business and trying to shape him into something he didn’t want to be.
“When I first got signed we decided that I wasn’t gonna make a strict blues record,” he says, on the phone from his father’s ranch near Nanaimo, “so what kind of record was I gonna make? At that time the Arc Angels’ record had just come out, and I said, ‘Well, this is kinda cool, there’s good songs and good guitar-playing, but it’s still getting radio play,’ and they said, ‘Well, what about the Four Horsemen?’ They wanted me to sound like the Four Horsemen! What’s up with that?
“I like the first record,” he adds, “but half of it’s not really me, and for the [proposed] second record they wanted me to go even heavier. And I just thought, ‘Listen, you guys pushed me heavy for the first record, and I just don’t want to go heavier.’ So we were kind of at loggerheads, and finally they just said, ‘If you’re not gonna budge, then you’re on your own.’ Which was actually really, really good—at least, I can see that now.”
While he was going through the legal wranglings involved in getting himself signed off the EMI label, Gogo wanted to “clean the slate”, to start over where he should have begun in the first place—with a straightforward blues record, and his new Dine Under the Stars CD is as bluesy as they get.
Recorded live on an “average night” at his fave hometown watering hole, the Queen’s Hotel, the music is anything but average; it’s some of the most passionate and intense blues-rock ever recorded in Canada. Gogo breathes dangerous new fire into standards such as Howlin’ Wolf’s “Tell Me” and Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man”, during which he plays some searing slide guitar with a beer bottle. He also rips the place up with the CD’s sole original tune, the emotive “Sad & Beautiful”. (“That’s one of the ones that the record company didn’t like,” announces Gogo after that five-minute blues blast, and before making a farting noise in EMI’s general direction.)
Although part of the acclaim Gogo garnered early in his career came as a result of the young stringbender’s uncanny ability to reproduce the fierce style of his friend and mentor Vaughan, over the past five years his six-string skills have skyrocketed to the point where such guitar aficionados as the Georgia Straight’s own Alexander Varty have been left gaping at his live prowess. (Varty claims he’s seen Gogo pull off a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that was more impressive than any of Hendrix’s many live versions of the tune.)
Gogo’s scintillating style incorporates impressions that he’s picked up from the likes of Albert Collins, Son House, Magic Sam, and B. B. King, all of whom he pays tribute to on Dine Under the Stars. Although Gogo cites Collins as his favourite among the blues legends he covers on the CD—he often shared the stage with the late “Master of the Telecaster” during his frequent tour stops in Vancouver and Victoria—he also has an affinity for the less well known Sam Maghett. He was turned on to Magic Sam at the age of 15 by Vancouver Island acoustic blues player Ken Hamm.
“I loved Magic Sam,” stresses Gogo. “His music was so exciting that as teenagers we used to do tons of his songs, just because we could totally relate to the energy. And they were good songs. So when I was kinda parting ways with EMI, I went back to my old record collection and rediscovered what inspired me in the first place.”
Gogo performs two Magic Sam numbers on Dine Under the Stars, but he explains that his biggest hero and main source of inspiration isn’t a bluesman at all, but a player of another sort: former Montreal Canadiens forward Guy Lafleur. Lafleur gets a thanks in the new disc’s credits, right alongside Gogo’s family; Gogo scribbles “#10” after his signature in honour of the explosive NHL Hall of Famer. There’s even a Habs logo proudly emblazoned on the body of his favourite Stratocaster guitar, which will no doubt be in evidence when Gogo and his band—keyboardist Rick Hopkins, bassist Dennis Marcenko, and drummer Damian Graham—play the Town Pump on Saturday (March 1).
That’ll be after Gogo watches Hockey Night in Canada, of course.
In the crowd that night could be local pop-rocker Barney Bentall and his guitarist Colin Nairne, who are set to produce Gogo’s third album later this year. “A guy like Barney’s just gonna add a good melodic sense,” says Gogo, “and Nairne is really good at getting good sounds.”
Gogo didn’t hire any familiar names to twiddle the knobs for Dine Under the Stars. In fact, credit for the production duties goes to none other than Big Daddy Beelzebub himself: “Produced by Satan”, read the liner notes, along with “Recorded live without overdubs (no shit!)”.
“The guy who was engineering wanted a producer’s credit,” explains Gogo, “and I said, ‘Producer’s credit? Fuck, all you did was press Play and Record!’ And then that night I was watching that great video that John Hammond did on the search for Robert Johnson, and I was just thinkin’ about the whole blues/Satan thing. I just thought, ‘Well, there you go!’ ”
Anyone who’s observed Gogo’s casual mastery of the blues guitar might wonder if he himself engaged in some soul-dealing at the crossroads in exchange for superior talent. So how did he get so good so fast, anyway? Practise like hell?
“It’s weird,” he says, “and the Guy Lafleur thing actually comes in on this. When I was a little kid I always wanted a guitar—since I first saw Elvis on TV, actually—and when I got one it just came naturally. Then later, when I was eight or nine years old, and I was really excited by Guy Lafleur, I jumped on the ice expecting to be able to skate and play like him. And I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t, because guitar I could play!”
Although he’s easily one of the brightest stars in the Nanaimo music scene, Gogo says that there’s an abundance of talented players who have emerged from the town. He points to saxophonist Kirsten Nash, guitarist Tim Porter, Vaqueros bassist Dave Kilner, Odds members Pat Steward and Doug Elliott, and jazz pianist Diana Krall (“I was just talking to her dad down at the coffee shop the other day”) as just a few of the Nanaimo artists who have left town for greener pastures.
“It’s always been an excellent, excellent music scene,” he asserts, “and right now there’s some shit-hot bands over here. Before, most people always moved to Vancouver, but I think a lot of them are staying in Nanaimo because it’s growing as a town. We’re starting to get the facilities to be able to keep them, which is good.”