Jerome Godboo: The Phantom Menace Returns
By David DeRocco
Every musician has that moment – the transformative epiphany that inspires them to pick up an instrument and make music an integral part of their DNA. Jerome Godboo is no different.
“For me it started with the J. Geils Band,” says Godboo, former frontman of Toronto’s explosive 90s indie rockers The Phantoms and now a freelance vocalist and harmonica virtuoso. “Learning “Whammer Jammer” featuring their harmonica player Magic Dick. Then I realized he got that from James Cotton’s The Creeper. There’s a lot of elements in The Creeper that are exactly lifted to make “Whammer Jammer” such a great harmonica instrumental.”
For Godboo, that early exposure to quality rock fueled an intense interest in learning more about the roots from which it sprang. The journey of discovery lead Godboo to the music of a master bluesman who would shape his future as a musician.
“I started reading about James Cotton and how he used to follow around Sonny Boy Williamson as a kid. Sonny eventually took pity on the kid and taught him harmonica. So I kind of went backwards from 70s rock bands and just kind of followed the music back until I got to Sonny Boy. Even to this day I’m trying to get that emotional transparency that Sonny Boy has. He just sounds like he’s crying when he’s playing.”
Godboo’s come a long way since discovering his passion for the harmonica, which began in 1985 when he won a contest at the Ottawa Blues Festival by performing the Willie Dixon-penned Little Walter classic “Mellow Down Easy.” Forming The Phantoms and moving to Toronto shortly after, Godboo and his bandmates enjoyed mercurial success, releasing two albums with A&M before the band fizzled out in the mid-90s. Despite the short brush with rock stardom, Godboo says the experience was a positive learning experience for a young musician.
“I think the greatest accomplishment was that I didn’t ruin any friendships with anyone in the band,” said Godboo, who’s since shared the stage with such artists as Prince, The Tragically Hip, Alannah Myles, Dutch Mason, Jeff Healey and Pinetop Perkins. “The biggest thing is we remained friends and didn’t jerk each other around. Playing with some huge famous artists might stick out for some as a major accomplishment, but to me that’s a blip on the radar. It’s the people I hung out with that made it great.”
These days Godboo hangs around with a lot of blues players, like the Mighty Duck Blues Band he’ll be sitting in with May 27th at The Bar Upstairs. Thanks to his international reputation as a blazing harmonica player – Godboo earned the prestigious Lee Oskar Award as Best Harmonica Player at the 2014 International Blue Challenge in Memphis – he’s constantly being asked to bring his signature tool-belt loaded with harmonicas to perform with other artists. As someone who started his career as a singer, is Godboo more comfortable with a mic or harp when on stage?
“More blowing the harp. I feel like I go further. I just feel like I can go right to a feeling on the harmonica and really listen to the band and have a musical conversation with them. With my singing I’m still trying to get to that point. I kind of feel like I’m perceived as a harmonica player even though I’ve been a singer since the beginning. But recently I’ve been getting a lot of requests for singing. Classic Albums Live called me to do the Mick Jagger part. That made me feel good to know someone’s thinking of me as a singer again.”
One singer Godboo has developed a greater appreciation for is Prince, who Godboo was lucky enough to jam with in Toronto and see just how skilled the late superstar was with a guitar.
“He was really great, really inspiring. Since his death I’ve realized what a great guitarist he was. When he jammed with us he was really flowing. My biggest take away from it all was just how natural he was with energy. He would have these peak moments where he’d just lift his guitar over his head and play, but then he would just let it come down and be cool real fast. I remember thinking ‘that’s cool.’ It was so real the way he conducted his energy.”
Between gigs these days Godboo is channeling his own energies into constant learning and self-improvement as a musician. Whether it’s pouring over the music of artists as diverse as Diana Krall and Sting, or picking up and learning how to play the epic 30-reed harmonica invented by Brendan Power, Godboo remains a music student.
“I’m still finding things all the time,” said Godboo, who lists the harmonic run in The Rolling Stones “Miss You” as one of his favourite riffs. “A lot of friends of mine give away their CDS, they just don’t want them any more. I take them all and I listen to them. I listen and I study it. There’s still lots to learn.”
The Mighty Duck Blues Band with special guest Jerome Godboo
The Bar Upstairs
16 Melbourne Ave. St. Catharines ON
(located in the Ball Hockey Athletic Centre)
Every Saturday 2:30-6:30pm
905-684-7688 ext. 4