David Gogo has been preaching the blues with his guitar even since he was a teen. The Vancouver Island native has opened for Buddy Guy, ZZ Top, B.B. King, Fabulous Thunderbirds, and George Thorogood and shared stages with six-string legends like Bo Diddley and Albert Collins. A four-time JUNO nominee and two-time Maple Blues Guitarist of the Year, Gogo took earned 2012 Western Canadian Music Award for Blues Recording with his last studio effort. He’s contributed to television and movie soundtracks, and recently co-wrote a tune for Buddy Guy’s latest disc.
But the Canadian decided to try something different before undertaking his latest album, Come On Down. Rather than merely channel the blues vicariously, Gogo and his wife ventured through the American south to experience the same sights and sounds that inspired Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson so long ago. They attended church with the Reverend Al Green, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer responsible for “Let’s Stay Together” and other R&B hits. They dined on local cuisine while trekking through Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama and made all the requisite museum stops. But they also visited the historic STAX and Sun Studios—home to some of the greatest true blues ever recorded.
Having poured bourbon at Johnson’s grave, Gogo returned to Canada to work on lucky album #13.
The profundity of Gogo’s Delta excursion is apparent on nearly every new track. Divided equally between originals and covers, Come On Down is an inspired collection whereon the guitarist testifies with the conviction of someone who’s stepped in Mississippi mud, sampled the crawdads collard greens, and been walkin’ in Memphis.
The guitarist tears through Ian McLagan’s (Faces, Rolling Stones) 1971 prodigal son anthem “Bad ‘n’ Ruin” with his ferocious slide channeled opposite some whisky-soaked piano and organ (courtesy Rick Hopkins) and served alongside his aching, in-character vocal refrain (“I’m sooo tired”), effectively announcing his creative rebirth for the five new Gogo cuts to follow.
Title track “Come On Down” invites audiences to “remove their rose-colored glasses” and make the same pilgrimage as Gogo—spiritually, anyway—by stirrin’ up some ghosts down where the “red dust is a risin’.” The singer eases in with an acoustic guitar, but then unleashes chunky electric riffs and chords marinated in reverb and delay. The swampy “Call Your Name” benefits from a three-chord hook and lush organ glissando, with Gogo’s narrator pining for his absentee girl:
“I turn around and see the pillow where my sweet baby used to lay,” he croons. “It takes a minute to remember that you left and gone away.”
The easygoing, uplifting “Worth It”—written with Gogo’s Hornsby Island Blues Camp friend Melisa Devost)—has the picker rolling some fluid, Clapton-like notes off the guitar neck as Amber Handley, Shelley Beeston, and Tina Jones contribute a round of gospel-tinged oohs and lahhs. Conversely, the feisty “Natchez Dog” employs a descending riff and honky-tonk piano for a twelve-bar structured stomp replete with harmonica (Shawn Hall) flourishes and a tasty steel-string guitar solo. “Kings” snaps to life with snare drum and a gritty guitars, a la ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, with Gogo’s leads panned left and his rhythm nudged stereo right.
“My daddy don’t me don’t rely on no one else,” comes some sage advice from Gogo’s world-weary laborer. “Everything he had he made it for himself.”
Slipping into the smoky voodoo vibe of Buddy Buie’s (Roy Orbison) “So Into You,” Gogo and his backup players toy with a few abrupt stop-starts before David delivers another crackling solo populated by dramatic, sustained notes. Off-kilter drums and rumbling bass power the femme fatale warning “Blue Eyed Daisy” toward its white-hot, feedback-laden guitar solo.
The piano and organ return for boozy Ashford and Simpson chestnut “Let’s Go Get Stoned” lending a quasi-religious feel to the practice of capping a work week with a fifth of gin. On the Robert Palmer (yes, the “Doctor, Doctor” “Addicted to Love” Guy) backtrack “Looking for Clues” Gogo’s singer ponders why his lady has to “make a fuss” when he’s just trying to smooth things out. A kitschy-cool keyboard solo is liberally sprinkled across a steady rhythm but abdicates to Gogo’s watery wah-wah guitar.
Come On Down culminates with a pair of Fleetwood Mac numbers hailing from opposite ends of that band’s musical palette. Originally recorded on the 1972 album Bare Trees, Christine McVie’s “Spare Me a Little of Your Love” bounces over muscular bass and metronomic cymbal work (possibly brush strokes) whose tempo incorporates densely-layered handclaps on the outro. Lindsey Buckingham’s “World Turning” is a wailing, slide-guitar hurricane that bucks and buzzes against the status quo portrayed in the Mac guitarist’s angst-ridden lyric. The rhythm section restrains itself for a minute while Gogo grinds out the bayou boogie, and sudden key change (with harmonica solo) keeps things lively near the end.
One of these days, American listeners will get hip to what the U.K. already knows: David Gogo is a slide-wieldin’, string-bendin’, soul-singin’ blues fiend. Fans of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Derek Trucks, Gary Moore, Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes, and any of the above-mentioned artists would do well to heed his invite and come on down for a listen.