By David DeRocco
Tough times? Hard knocks? When you get too low, it’s best to let it rock. Or, you could always simply, walk on.
For Greg Godovitz, the decision to walk away from the band that bears his name has been a long time coming. It’s not that there has been too much carousing lately; no, that was more of a problem much earlier in the history of GODDO, the long-serving, hard-rocking power trio he founded in 1975 that racked up a string of near-hits including “Tough Times,” “Cock On,” “Oh Carole (Kiss My Whip)” and “Walk On.” Instead, Godovitz finds himself in a place of calm acceptance, with no feeling of regrets. In fact, in a wide-ranging conversation with GoBeWeekly – part of the lead up to what is being billed as the final GODDO performance November 10th at Niagara Falls Seneca Queen Theatre – the former pretty bad boy of Canadian rock seems pretty good about the whole situation, and entirely hopeful for the next phase of his musical career.
GOBE: Let’s start with the definitive question: is this show in Niagara Falls Nov 10th really the last time we’ll get to see Goddo live?
GREG: Yea, I’m thinking that. We really owe it to the people of Toronto to have a show here, but we can’t get a date that’s workable. So it looks like – never say never – but it looks like Niagara Falls is going to be the last one.
GOBE: Existentially, how does putting the band that bears your name to rest make you feel. As a fan it’s bittersweet.
GREG: You know, I want to do something different. I’ve written over 300 songs, and all we play is 40 of them. I want to do something different. I want keyboards, I want other guys that can sing. I’ve written all these pop songs over the years which happens to be my favourite kind of music. But I just want to do something different musically.
GOBE: As fans we get really selfish with the artists we love. We want to keep you in these narrow boxes and we forget that, at the heart, you’re an artist and a creative person. That must be somewhat stifling to have to stay within that box for such a long time.
GREG: The other thing is that, when I was in FLUDD before putting Goddo together, we were just about to go into our fourth drummer, third keyboard player. I just went, if I’m going to go into a rehearsal hall and learn these songs again, I’d sooner put my own band together and do my own music. And that’s why I left. It’s the same thing now. Gino’s (Scarpelli) not coming back, him and I are finished. Of course, I’ve got him taking me apart on social media. Nobody knows the truth except me, and I’m not about to wash the dirty laundry in public. So I have to bear the brunt of being the bad guy. And now Doug (Inglis) doesn’t want to play anymore, he’s 67 like I am. We don’t all grow older the same way. Doug has said to Gino’s kid, ‘I can’t keep up with Greg.’ I look in the mirror, I see what’s there, but inside me I still feel like I’m 12.
GOBE: Well you’ve always had that high-energy, cocky command of the stage. Where did you get that bravado and that energy. Is it just the DNA?
GREG: Yes. My dad checked out at 94. My mom is about to check out at 96. I’ve got an energetic DNA.
GOBE: Sounds like you’ve got a 30 year window still to keep performing.
GREG: (laughing). I hope not. I really don’t want to go that far. But there are other things I want to do. I played a gig at my old high school recently for the 60th anniversary. Marty Morin, Goddo’s original drummer, played drums, and this fellow named Gord McKinnon. The last time we played at the high school we played “Hey Jude” at the 1969 Christmas assembly and then I walked down to the office and quit. I said I can’t follow that and then I left. But we’re putting a new band together with a guy named Girard Popma of the Sin City Boys. I’ve wanted to work with him for ages, he’s got tons of energy. The energy has just kind of left Goddo. Having said that, there are (Goddo) songs I can’t get away from, and I’m happy about that.
GOBE: And in your mind, which Goddo songs are those.
GREG: Well for example, if you went to see Paul McCartney and he didn’t do one Beatles song, regardless of how good his solo stuff and Wings stuff is, you’d feel ripped off. And I understand that, so with my new band, we’ve already rehearsed “Under My Hat” and “Sweet Thing” and they sound like new songs. There’s an energy there that has not been there in so long. Then I wanted to do some of the other 300 songs I’ve wrote.
GOBE: Well you’ve kind of answered my next question. When you’re young and passionate you pick up an instrument and pour your life into it. But when it becomes your living to play music, is playing still a labour of love or just labour. In other words, do you still enjoy sitting around playing new music, and the answer for you is an obvious yes.
GREG: Yes. I did a solo show two weeks ago. They have a program called Dinner And A Song. And they get guys like me to come in, they only sell 60 tickets in this really beautiful, great sounding room in a pub, where everybody just sits and listens. You play for two hours, and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever done in my 50 year career. The people loved it, and I loved it. First of all, I didn’t have to rely on anyone else except me, and I’m reliable. In my book I wrote a line “the only problem with being in a band is you have to work with other musicians.” It’s tongue in cheek, but you have to coordinate your schedules, somebody can’t make it because of a funeral, and I’m tired of it. This coming year I’m going to get on board for doing house concerts, these soft seaters. I know Carl Dixon (Coney Hatch) does it, Brian Greenway (April Wine) does it. I talked to David Gogo about the three of us going out.
GOBE: Terri Clark recently did an intimate soft seat tour too, just her and her guitar, singing solo and telling stories about her life and the songs. It was brilliant.
GREG: I had a riot. When I did this solo show, it was half ad-lib comedy, then the songs and the stories. The promoter said ‘I’ve seen a lot of people trying to do what you just did, but you make it look real easy because you’re funny.’ Humour was always in my songwriting. Only I could write a song called “I’m A Rock Star” or “Pretty Bad Boy.” I do it so tongue in cheek that I can get away with it, because people know I’m only kidding anyway.
GOBE: Speaking of those great songs, if you were to define your career with one of these Goddo titles, which would it be: “Sweet Thing,” “Tough Times,” “Rock Star,” “Pretty Bad Boy” or “Such A Fool.”
GREG: (laughing) Oh, well all of them put together. We didn’t achieve international success. We had pockets of success with people who know who we are. But when I went to high school, I said to friends ‘I’m going to be a rock star.’ And however people write that off to being arrogant or whatever, we did what we set out to do. We’re not as big as Springsteen, but you don’t have to be Springsteen to be a rock star. It’s a way of life. You never work. You entertain people. They actually pay you to entertain them.
GOBE: It’s funny you mention Springsteen, because I have a picture of you from Courtcliffe Park, taken from the HTZ-FM 5th birthday bash, shot from behind, your cap on backwards, looking like a pint-sized Springsteen Born in the USA album cover. I’d seen the band play 30 times before then including that legendary CNE stadium show with Aerosmith, Nugent and The Ramones. But I think Courtcliffe was my favourite show
GREG: Yeah, we got an encore in front of 50,000 people at that CNE show. I’ve got so many great memories. I’ve actually just donated my entire archive, which was big, like 25 boxes, full of everything going back to day one, to the University of Toronto. They’ve catalogued everything. I actually walked in there one day and there was this girl with white gloves on, she was working on my stuff, and I went and grabbed a poster. And she went, ‘be careful with that it’s delicate.’ And I went, ‘yea, it also happens to be mine, I appreciate you looking after that like you are.’ Now they’ve given me a book where it looks like they’ve archived and catalogued all my stuff. It will be there for future generations to go in and look at.
GOBE: In my years working rock radio here in Niagara, where you had a large loyal following, it always surprised me that Goddo was never really part of the playlist in any significant way. You got some token airplay, but never the kind of spins other Canadian heritage rock artists got. It just seemed to be a microcosm of how the industry treated your band. When you look back now through a more balanced lens of hindsight, why do you think Goddo got the kind of bums rush they’re still giving to artists like Danko Jones, who can barely get airplay in Canada but is huge elsewhere.
GREG: There’s a great analogy, because Danko is another guy who’s not afraid to tell people the truth. Let’s put it this way. When I write “Sign On The Line,” and I send the original lyrics to the president of our record company calling him a jive-ass, which I did essentially, you’re going to get fired. The whole “Pretty Bad Boy” thing that grew up around that, that wasn’t an effective thing. That was just the way I was. There were a lot of things I feel weren’t right about the business in general, and the people running the business, and about the way the fans were treated and the artists were treated. I was not afraid to speak my mind about it. I’m still like that. If I see something I don’t like I’m going to say something.
GOBE: Regardless of the roller coaster you certainly have had a great ride. And even though you got recognition as a great live performer, the fact is you wrote catchy rock songs. You can put on a Goddo record today and it still sounds relevant, it still rocks. You have to have a sense of pride about those great songs you’ve written.
GREG: Totally. I take pride in all of it. Like the song says, ‘regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.’ I agree with that. There’s stuff I’m embarrassed about these days, stuff I wish I could have done, stuff I wish I wouldn’t have done. What if what if what if, that gets you nowhere. To me, I’ve never been a guy that dwells in the past. I’m proud of what we did. Now it’s time to move on. For instance, I have a new book coming out this year. There’s a record company in England that’s putting out the first three Goddo albums with booklets in England and Europe. I’ve got another album of music I’m going to record, an acoustic album just to stretch it out a bit. I’m putting a new band together. I’m writing the soundtrack to a new feature length movie. I’ve got a lot of stuff to start doing next year. I’m not finished by any stretch.
GOBE: Sounds like you’re going to be a busy man. As an elder, as a musical sage, what is the primary lesson you would give to a young disciple coming to you for advice if they were trying to get into today’s crazy Canadian rock scene.
GREG: Boy. Have a back-up plan. When we started there was like six record companies. There was no internet. You had to pay your dues. It’s hard for me to offer that advice because it’s so different today. I wouldn’t want to be starting out today.
GOBE: I’m sure you’re probably happy that the iPhone was not ever-present to chronicle everything you were doing back then in pictures and video.
GREG: I’m so tired of lousy pictures. Everyone means well, but come on. Have a look at the picture you have of us with our flies down on stage and erase them. Just put up the good ones. I’ve got thousands of crap photographs.
GOBE: Well if it helps, I like to go on Rush fan sites and say Goddo is the best three-piece Canadian band ever, just to see Rush fans lose their minds.
GREG: (Laughing) Well, we did have a better singer. I love that band but I can’t get past the vocals.
GOBE: So for this show, if this is the swansong for Goddo, are you planning on playing a marathon, a Springsteen-like set. Will there be special guests? Or are you just planning to deliver a patented kick ass Goddo show.
GREG: We’ll have two guys from new band, including Marty Morin, our original drummer, who’s also a great singer. Talk about a guy with energy, he’s just like me. We’ll have Gord McKinnon, keyboard player. He’s a professor of music so that tells you how good he is. My next band is going to be killer. Some people will hate it, some will hate me. But I’m entitled at this juncture of my life. I did everything I set out to do and now it’s time to do something I want to do. I want to make me happy doing different kinds of music.
GOBE: You won’t want to get caught up in the machinery of the record industry, so how will fans find your new music.
GREG: I’ve got a large base of supporters on Facebook. We’ll get a new website up. You create the music so people can hear it. The funny thing is, the best album I’ve ever made is the one no one’s heard. It’s called Amuse Me. I did it with Paul Dean four years ago in Calgary. He said to me these are the best songs you’ve ever written, you’ve got to record these. So we went in and I cherry-picked all the top Calgary sessions players. It’s a great album. I’ve put it on and every track is stellar.
GOBE: Can we get that at the gig.
GREG: Yes, and my book. I want people to know that this is not a negative thing. People grow up, they grow old, they die. It’s life man.