David Gogo gives Depeche Mode a bluesy makeover on Skeleton Key



By Steve Newton

David Gogo is a festive kinda guy. When he calls the Straight from his home in Nanaimo, he’s just returned from playing the Ottawa Blues Festival, where he got to see one of his guitar idols, Otis Rush, and shared the event’s acoustic stage with Vancouver keyboardist Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne. He’ll be following Wayne at the Burnaby Blues Festival on Saturday (July 27), on a bill that includes headliner Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, Eddie Cotton, Kelley Hunt, and turbaned lap-steel ace Sonny Rhodes, whom Gogo played with recently at the Island Music Fest in Courtenay. But first he has to join the likes of Joe Turner and Mighty Sam McClain at the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival in Washington.

Like I say, if there’s a music festival around, Gogo’s bound to be there.

When the 33-year-old blues-guitar wizard plays Deer Lake Park on Saturday, he may surprise some devotees of traditional blues by pulling off his unique rendition of British pop band Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”. “Ain’t that weird?” says Gogo of the 1990 hit’s inclusion on his new CD, Skeleton Key. “I just wanted to do somethin’ a little different, and that song always struck me as something you could really work with—to me it sounded essentially like a blues song. And it’s funny, ’cause it’s the first single, and we’re getting some really good play across the country with it, which is hilarious.”

The unlikely “Personal Jesus” takes its place among a batch of originals and some well-chosen covers, the type you’re more prone to expect from Gogo. He plays his ass off on the CD’s standout track, “Backstroke”, written by Albert Collins, whom Gogo touts in his current Cordova Bay bio as “the most powerful blues guitarist ever”.

“I’ve always liked doing other people’s songs,” he notes, “especially if you can do them somewhat differently, like we do with ‘Personal Jesus’ or [Stevie Wonder’s] ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’. And it’s great doing songs that people might not have heard before, like that Willie Dixon tune, ‘It Don’t Make Sense (That You Can’t Make Peace)’. I’ve always loved that kinda groove; it reminded me of an old Fleetwood Mac/Peter Green groove. Plus, lyrically it’s pretty relevant to what’s happening in the world today.

“You know, I didn’t like writing my own songs on the first couple of records I made,” he adds, “particularly because the record label I was with [Capitol/EMI] was tryin’ to get me to write in a style that wasn’t right for me. But now I’m starting to really get into it. In fact, I’ve got a little date pencilled into my Day-Timer for next week to get together with [Chilliwack singer-songwriter-guitarist] Bill Henderson, of all people, and see if we can come up with somethin’.”

Although Gogo has been making a name for himself ever since he formed his intense blues-rock band the Persuaders back in the ’80s—and was voted musician of the year at the 2000 West Coast Music Awards—he’s not the best-known performer to come out of Nanaimo. That title would have to go to acclaimed jazz singer-pianist Diana Krall, who attended the same junior and senior high schools as Gogo. They shared the same music teacher, Brian Stovall. “All the time through high school I was gigging in local bars,” relates Gogo, “but I still did the music programs because it was a lot of fun, and Brian was such a great teacher that the bands got to compete on a national level, so we got to go to stage-band finals and travel to places like Ottawa and Quebec City.”

Although Krall and Gogo ran in the same musical circles as teenagers, she was a few years older than him, and he never actually spoke to her until about seven years ago. “I always knew her as Diana the piano player,” he relates, “and then when I first heard her sing, it really knocked me out. She’s, like, an international superstar now, and it’s really helped the music scene around Nanaimo. I mean, there’s always been some great talent from here—guys like Pat Steward and Doug Elliott from the Odds, and Sue Medley from just up the Island—but now that Diana’s such a huge star people are beginning to realize, ‘Wow, there’s stuff goin’ on!’ I’ve had people I’ve known for years who all of a sudden say, ‘Geez, I checked out your Web site the other day, I had no idea what was goin’ on!’ Not that I’m any big whoop, you know, but we get records put out in Europe, and play over there—I’ve been over there 10 times now. So some good stuff happens.”

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