Interview: Jerome Godboo

Jerome Godboo

Toronto singer and harmonica player Jerome Godboo is always improving himself, as a musician, a man and a communicator. An accomplished and exceptional bluesman, his bending harp skills have been sought by everyone from Ronnie Hawkins to the late Jeff Healey. The one-time Toronto legend of explosive 90s rock band the Phantoms, Jerome has released 14 albums in his 25-plus year career, 11 of which are solo, including the brand new Sanctuary City with drummer Gary Craig and Spin Doctors guitarist Eric Schenkman. Jerome has been a full-time musician since 1986, when he won an Ottawa Bluesfest contest that helped launched his career and triggered a move to Toronto. His trademark toolbelt with a harmonica in every key, stepped up his game even further on the instrument. Now one of the most in demand harpsman, we talked about the weather, his kids and what makes him write and record…


Mb: Hey Jerome. How are you?
Jerome: I’m good thanks.
Mb: How’s your day? Did you get snow in Toronto? We did.
Jerome: No, no snow. Let me step outside. It’s not bad, actually. It’s not even that cold. It’s kinda nice. But it changes a lot as I drive around Ontario. Like, the St Catherine’s area, is a whole other climate. They’ve even got plants that grow down there that won’t grow here!
Mb: Do you like winter?
Jerome: Ya, I’ve learnt to like it more. I used to be really inclined towards summer. I was born in the summer. And then one year, I was meditating, up there in Le Passe in the winter, and all of a sudden saw the beauty of it, and I realized it was just a complaint in my head. (laughs) I was like “Just dress warm, enjoy the winters!”
Mb: Do you do winter sports? Skiing, snowmobiling….
Jerome: No, not snowmobiling. A little bit of ice skating with my daughter, that’s about it.
Mb: And what about having kids? How’s that going for you?
Jerome: It’s amazing. I can’t believe how well it’s gone, actually. I picked a really good mom. I was just thinking, my son was born right at that time I was joining Ronnie Hawkins’ band and I started making in-roads into Peterborough, and he’s 18 now! He just got all these awards from high school. He got 3 awards. A bursary for Top Overall in English… and it’s amazing because we home schooled him his whole life, and then he went into school really late and just aced it! I guess he wasn’t bored with it, the whole school thing. It was more of a novel thing and his friends were all there, so he was like “Ok, I’m going to buckle down. let’s do this. This is fun for me”
Mb: And you have a young daughter too.
Jerome: Ya, my daughter is 7 and she got lucky and into Montessori, cause I couldn’t afford it on a musician’s wage, but her mom’s doing really well. She seems to be responding really well. She’s always happy when I pick her up from school.
Mb: It’s sounds like you believe education is important in life.
Jerome: Ya, I believe it’s important if it’s suited to the person’s interests. My son didn’t want to go to school until he was in grade 10. He didn’t even start reading until he was 10 years old. We took a huge risk and just let him be, but it all worked out. He’s got some off the charts intelligence. We just let him run around in nature and brought him with us everywhere. The one thing we really did is, we answered every question he ever asked. He figured out what he wanted to know. My daughter is completely the opposite. She’s been going to Montessori since she was 3 and she’s 7 now. Different kids, different paths.
Mb: And what about you? What inspires you to make music?
Jerome: Sometimes it’s a story, something that happened in my life. Sometimes, it’s something someone said to me. Sometimes it’s just musical, like a bass line. I remember I was walking around for weeks going “a rubaboo boop boop…” and then I just came up with the lyrics afterwards. Ya, most often, it’s a life event that makes me write something. Sometimes I’ll just hear a groove and I’ll go “I need that groove in my music.” So, I’ll write a simple song using that groove.
Mb: What do you write on?
Jerome: I’m writing on keyboard or just pure imagination. Sometimes I’ll figure it out on harmonica. Sometimes i’ll just have the melody and just record it with my voice, not even knowing what the notes are, and then I’ll sit down and figure it out later. I think of myself as a progressive traditionalist. I’m not really rewriting the book. I’m using Zydeco, blues, funk, rock and roll, but I throw my own story into it. It’s a really simple formula for me…. and my fans. A lot of times they’ll hear an original song that I just wrote and that they’ve never heard, and I’ll find it will go over right-away because of the familiarity of the groove. It’s a bit traditional, and I’ll modernize it in some way. Like, maybe play a harmonica that was just invented!
Mb: You’ve jammed with a lot of different people and styles. Tell me about jamming with Prince!
Jerome: Ya that was amazing. He came into Blues on Bellair and stayed the whole night, for all three sets. At first he was just sitting in the back. We all saw him. Then, I actually had my eyes closed and was doing a song, and he had grabbed my guitar player’s guitar. He played with us for the rest of the night. He just stayed up and jammed. We had a great jam. He even invited me into his band and said he wanted to take me to Europe, but it never materialized. Maybe he decided no harmonica. He had a nice way of handling his energy. He’d let it build up and do something like throw the guitar behind his head, and then always calm right back down.
Mb: So this month you’re jamming with the Rocket Revue here in Peterborough and it’s not your first time with the band.
Jerome: Oh no, we’ve played lots together. I met a lot of the guys in Ronnie Hawkins’ band. Like, Brent Bailey and Buzz Thompson, he was a Hawk, and Andy Pryde and then the rest of them I met through those other guys. Once you’re in the Hawks, you sort of meet everybody. (laughs) I did I few gigs at the Red Dog and then I met Greg Weichel and we became friends really quickly. We just liked each other and he said, “Come on and sing for us.” So I’m always singing more and more songs and we’re adding new material. We’re venturing into some Stevie Wonder and stuff that fits the horns. I’m learning lots of new songs and it’s great!

Jerome Godboo performs with the
Rocket Revue Saturday December 30
@ Market Hall