Ottawa musician Geoff Johnson was a brilliant, self-taught guitarist who by no means hogged the highlight, as a substitute directing his expertise in direction of supporting different musicians creating their craft.
The longtime host of the Saturday-afternoon open stage at Irene’s Pub died this week after struggling issues from pneumonia. He was 57.
“I remember the first time I saw him play the Joe Satriani and Jeff Beck stuff, it blew me away because he was so technically perfect,” mentioned Scott Amey, a buddy and former bandmate. “It’s not something a lot of people play because it’s so daunting, and Geoff did it flawlessly and so easily. He was incredible that way.”
Johnson was also called a type, light and delicate soul who nurtured rookie musicians, by no means overwhelming them along with his personal monstrous expertise.
“He could be on stage and somebody would get up and have a song that nobody ever heard,” mentioned Barb Van Doorn, his associate of 20 years. “In the first verse, he would play the main chords. In the second verse, he’d be adding harmonics to it, and by the third verse, he’d be ad libbing. He could make it sound rock ‘n’ roll, he could make it sound 50s or blues or whatever. He always chose the right type of sound.”
Johnson was born in Quebec City, the second in a household of 4 kids born to oldsters who had immigrated from Jamaica. Johnson and his three sisters had been raised in Deux-Montagnes, Que. by their mom, Viola, who died earlier this yr. She was a college principal.
Johnson took piano classes for a number of years, beginning when he was six, though he didn’t adore it. When his older sister’s husband purchased him a guitar, across the age of 10, he took to it instantly. He picked up tuba in highschool, and will play bass and drums, too.
“He had a really excellent ear,” recalled his sister, Gail Johnson. “He was obsessive. When we were teenagers, he would play his electric guitar ‘til all hours of the night. He was driven, and so engulfed in it.”
In his teenagers, Johnson was described by mates as a “young Jimi Hendrix,” and needed nothing greater than to drop out of highschool to go on the highway along with his band. His sisters satisfied him to complete highschool first. He did one yr at CEGEP, earlier than taking a break to tour Northern Quebec.
After a stint in Toronto the place he was a bicycle courier and performed in bands, Johnson moved to Ottawa within the 1980s to attend Carleton University. He graduated with a BA in philosophy and authorized research. In latest years, he labored as a internet designer.
Johnson’s sisters, spouse and former girlfriend mentioned he had a robust sense of social justice and believed in equality between women and men, traits that had been possible instilled by the truth that he was the one boy in a household of robust girls. He had no kids of his personal however was near the youngsters of his sisters and associate.
His girlfriend throughout college, Helen Berry, mentioned Johnson was an essential determine in her son’s childhood. Johnson and her son, Aaron, now in his 30s, had been each raised by a single mom, and each loved athletic pursuits.
“It sounds a little cheesy but Geoff was very kind,” Berry mentioned. “He wasn’t macho. He showed (my son) that you can be a man and be emotional, you can cry. There was no toxic masculinity, as they say today. It was a pivotal time, and they did lots of physical stuff together. They had their own special bond.”
Johnson’s early musical influences tended in direction of laborious rock, the likes of Rush and Max Webster, however he additionally developed an curiosity in singer-songwriter fare whereas internet hosting the open stage at Irene’s. He was all the time writing music, and in 2015, launched a CD of his personal songs, entitled Some Friends. He additionally gigged often along with his rock band, Gojo’s Mojo, which gave him a likelihood to showcase his jaw-dropping electrical guitar work.
“He was an introvert,” mentioned his sister, Gail, “but put him on stage and he came alive. He became the music, the show. He was so extroverted, he drew the audience to him.”
Although he was an athletic non-smoker who beloved mountain biking and snowboarding, Johnson had suffered from extreme bronchial asthma since he was a youngster. Pneumonia was a recurring drawback.
Even when he was dealing with challenges, whether or not health- or employment-related, Amey mentioned Johnson had the power to stay constructive. He additionally had a nice sense of humour.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Geoff lose his cool,” Amey mentioned. “He would always be the nice guy who would step in and say, ‘We can work this out,’ no matter what it was. He was such a positive person.”
(A celebration of Geoff Johnson’s life will likely be held at Hulse, Playfair and McGarry funeral residence, 315 McLeod St., from 2-5 p.m. on Aug. 25. To hear a few of his music, go to gjmusic.ca.)