David Gogo preps for the Big 3-O with acoustic and electric discs

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 28, 1999

When the Georgia Straight phoned David Gogo two years ago to chat about his then-new live album, Dine Under the Stars, he answered the call with “Davey Wayne Gogo here,” a slight swipe at Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the Stevie Ray Vaughan–inspired upstart of the day.

This time around, the Nanaimo blues-rocker’s got another bee in his bonnet, which comes to light when I ask him if he’s pondered following the likes of guitarists turned big-band frontmen Colin James and Brian Setzer into the swing craze. Is there any likelihood of finding a CD titled David Gogo and the Little Big Swing Orchestra in the record racks?

“You don’t have to worry about that,” he says with a chuckle. “When I’m walking around town that’s my own little joke, actually, telling people that swing’s in: ‘It’s really in, ya know!’ But doesn’t it make ya wanna puke? Everywhere you go now it’s swing this and swing that. Yeah, swing on this.”

If Gogo sounds a tad jaded about the music scene, it’s because he’s had a glimpse of its dark underbelly. At 25, after years of turning heads as wunderkind guitarist for the Persuaders, he garnered a worldwide release on EMI Music, which was so pleased about signing him that it manufactured limited-edition double-disc promo versions of his debut CD, complete with special packaging that resembled a set of guitar strings.

But when the time came to record his second album, Gogo’s burgeoning major-label career became stifled by corporate intrusion at EMI, which, in its infinite wisdom, wanted him to sound more like the Four Horsemen. After much legal wrangling, Gogo detached himself from the huge label and returned to his blues roots with Dine Under the Stars, an indie tribute to the likes of Magic Sam, Albert Collins, and Howlin’ Wolf that he recorded “live without overdubs” at Nanaimo’s Queens Hotel.

That album was recently released in Europe on the blues label Dixie Frog, and the response has been such that Gogo has just left for a tour of Holland, France, and Belgium, with prospects of returning overseas for dates in Germany and Italy this summer. And on the domestic front, he’s got two new full-length records set for release this year on the Victoria-based Ragged Pup Records: an acoustic one, Bare Bones, scheduled for late February, and an as-yet-untitled electric disc due in April.

Produced by Barney Bentall guitarist Colin Nairne at the Boneyard, Bare Bones has Gogo performing both alone and in the company of standup bassist John Forrest and harmonica players Keith Bennett and Gerry Barnum. The 10-track disc includes world-class versions of Johnny Winter’s slide-guitar opus “Dallas” and “In My Time of Dying”, which Led Zep fans may recall from the 1975 Physical Graffiti album. Gogo has infused a bit of the blues classic “John the Revelator” into the haunting mix as well.

“I did some acoustic gigs a while back,” he says, “and I didn’t have a full set of material, so I said, ‘Well, let’s just try this groove,’ and then it was like blues osmosis—you get into a groove and then you start going into something else. I do that with the band now, actually. We’ll set up kind of a Howlin’ Wolf groove and just go in and out, maybe into John Lee Hooker, wherever you want to go at the time.”

Although “Dallas” and “Dying” are obvious standouts on Bare Bones, Gogo claims that he’s most happy with “Halfway to Memphis”, the original track that opens the CD. The down-home tune came to him in his sleep one morning around 5 a.m.

“I’ve had that experience before where you have a song come to you and you think, ‘Oh, I’ll remember it in the morning’—yeah, right—but then I thought, ‘No, this one sounds really good.’ So I made myself get up and put on a pot of coffee, and basically it was written by, like, 8:30 in the morning. I actually phoned up John Forrest and played it to him over the phone, and he said it was really good, just as is. I knew I wanted harmonica on there, but when we went in to do the record none of us played, so Colin phoned up Keith Bennett—who I still haven’t met, which is weird—and he came in later and played what I thought was excellent harmonica on there.”

The upcoming electric release, coproduced by Nairne and Barney Bentall at Mushroom Studios, features Gogo with keyboardist Rick Hopkins, bassist Dennis Marcenko, and local drum greats Pat Steward (Bryan Adams, the Odds) and Matt Frenette (Loverboy, Kim Mitchell, Tom Cochrane).

“It ended up being that the songs these guys played on were just right for them,” enthuses Gogo. “Like, Pat played on one of the ballads, ‘Run Aground’, and if you want to get a guy who can play on a ballad, well, he plays on that Bryan Adams hit, right? And then when Matty came in, the songs he played on were just perfect for him, too. In fact, there’s one called ‘For You’ where we originally set up a tape loop—almost a hip-hoppy kinda sound—and when Matt started to drum along with it, Colin and Barney just took the tape loop right off. Matt had just nailed this beat! It turns out that his kids have been listening to some of this hip-hop music and stuff, and he’s been practising these beats at home. So you gotta like that, when you get a veteran guy like that who’s still learning.”

Gogo says there was no real pressure to try to release the new albums on a major label, especially since he’d taken out a loan and paid for the recordings himself. But he did put out the feelers anyway.

“I phoned and talked to some people,” he explains, “but once I started talking to people at the big labels again, it just reminded me of when I was with EMI and I really didn’t like it. It started happening again, where you call Toronto and it’s like, ‘Sorry, he’s on another line, can he call you back?’ And I just thought, you know…fuck!

“I’d been doing some acoustic shows where people had told me about Ragged Pup, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll just get the acoustic album released on a smaller local label and then sit on this big record.’ But the more I talked with Doug Baxter [head of Ragged Pup Records and Cordova Bay Artist Management], and what they’re up to, I thought, ‘Why not do a little label?’ It’s closer to home, plus now it’s gonna work out where it’s my record company and management company, which makes sense.”

As if the natural beauty and relaxing vibes of Vancouver Island weren’t enough, Gogo has an extra-special reason for wanting to stay close to home. His girlfriend is pregnant with a baby daughter due in March—right about the time Gogo hits the big three-o.

“That’s why I decided to get all this stuff happening this year,” he relates. “It’s kinda like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna be hittin’ 30. Are you gonna do this, pal, or not?’ But I’m glad I hit this crossroads at 29 rather than 39, so there’s still lotsa time to do it. But it’s time to do it, I think.”

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