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John Gogo tells Island stories in song

What: John Gogo (with the Blue Sky Miners) Where: Butchart Gardens When: Monday, Aug. 17, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets: No extra charge with admission to gardens. Admission is $31.50 adults, $15.
John Gogo comes from a well-known Nanaimo musical family. His cousin is blues guitarist David Gogo, while his sister is Toronto-based singer Marie Gogo. Brother Paul Gogo plays keyboards for Trooper.

What: John Gogo (with the Blue Sky Miners)

Where: Butchart Gardens

When: Monday, Aug. 17, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Tickets: No extra charge with admission to gardens. Admission is $31.50 adults, $15.75 youth and $3 children


John Gogo’s cousin owns Brother XII’s table.

Well, it probably belonged to Brother XII.

Gogo, a former Victoria singer-songwriter living in Port Hardy, includes a song about the notorious Cedar-area cult leader on his new album, Coal & Wood (Revisited). The tune is titled The Infamous Devil of DeCourcy (Brother XII Song).

Brother XII, who died in the 1930s, was a self-proclaimed mystic who founded a settlement with his followers on DeCourcy and Valdez islands. Eventually, Brother XII and his mistress, Madame Zee, turned their disciples into slaves. Then he absconded with the money culled from the easily gulled.

Gogo’s cousin, blues guitarist David Gogo, purchased a large fir table originally salvaged from one of Brother XII’s Gulf Island buildings.

“I’ve seen the table at his house. He claims it was Brother XII’s. … It does look pretty cool and pretty old,” John Gogo said.

The Infamous Devil of DeCourcy (Brother XII Song) is one of 11 cuts on Coal & Wood (Revisited). The song takes a critical look at the Brother XII cult, noting: “One night [Brother XII and Madame Zee] disappeared/All the gold did too as everybody feared.”

Gogo, a history buff, recorded other songs inspired by Vancouver Island lore. There’s Three Letters Home (Ginger Goodwin Song) about the early-20th-century labour advocate shot and killed by police in Cumberland. Sointula Song (Starting Tomorrow) is about the Malcolm Island settlement established in 1901 by Finnish settlers who envisioned a utopian community.

Meanwhile Back in Nanaimo (Samuel Robins/Dunsmuir Song) chronicles the famous Dunsmuir coal mining family who built Craigdarroch Castle and offered workers “poor pay and deadly conditions.”

These folk/roots songs are well-crafted, benefiting from clever musical arrangements and Gogo’s relaxed vocal style. And if anyone has the right to offer a musical history of Vancouver Island, it’s John Gogo.

The Gogos are a well-known Nanaimo musical family. Aside from David Gogo, who achieved national prominence, it includes John’s sister Marie Gogo, a Toronto-based singer, and Paul Gogo, who plays keyboards for the rock band Trooper.

The Gogos have a long ancestry in Nanaimo as miners and loggers. The album’s cover photo shows John in the vintage pickup his grandfather used to deliver coal and wood in the 1940s.

Another of John’s ancestors was a coal miner who broke his back when a cage in a Nanaimo mine came loose and crushed him. “He recovered quite well,” Gogo said. “At first they said he’d never ride a horse again. And he did.”

The song Sam Wardle is about is about his great-grandfather, who died a century ago in a mine in South Wellington, near Nanaimo. He and others tapped into an abandoned, flooded mine and were drowned. “I can’t really think about coal mining without getting claustrophobic,” Gogo said.

With the song Chokerman’s Lament, Gogo recalls his own experiences as a logging chokerman. A job considered low on the totem pole, it requires putting metal cables around felled logs. Gogo did this for two years in his early twenties.

“It’s a real dangerous job, lots of chokermen get killed,” said the songwriter, who had his share of close calls.

Gogo detested being a chokerman and dreaded Sunday nights when, after a weekend, he’d return to logging. However, he added: “I wouldn’t change a thing — it made me the man I am today.”

He also paid his dues as a musician. As a young man, Gogo, now 55, formed a progressive-rock band, Graphics, with a couple of brothers, including Paul Gogo. Influenced by Genesis, Graphics was a popular draw in Nanaimo. However, when it signed up with the Feldman Agency, the band found itself playing small towns in the interior of British Columbia.

“It was kind of gross actually,” said Gogo, who much prefers his current folk/roots path. “We were just taking bottom-of-the-barrel gigs.”


Note: John Gogo’s tour with the Blue Sky Miners will include: Hornby Island (Joe King Park) tonight, Port Alberni (Char’s Landing) Aug. 14, Protection Island (Dinghy Dock Pub, Beacon House) Aug. 15, 16, Queens Hotel (Nanaimo) on Aug. 19 and Victoria (Upstairs Cabaret) on Aug. 20.