As the offspring of two Grateful Dead members, Zion Rock Godchaux was never destined to be an accountant. According to one of the founders and now sole songwriter behind BoomBox, he began playing the drums at 2 years old and was performing with his mom, Donna Jean Godchaux, at seven. As you’d expect from being raised by two professional musicians in San Francisco, Godchaux was raised on rock 'n’ roll. As any BoomBox listener would quickly realize, the group was also heavily influenced by funk, jazz, reggae and, later on, house music. After his stint of playing rhythm guitar for his mom’s outfit, The Heart of Gold Band, Godchaux performed as a vocalist, song- writer and producer while touring San Francisco in the '90s.
While working on an album in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with his mom, they hired Russ Randolph to help engineer and record. Early on in the six months of recording, Godchaux and Randolph discovered they worked well together and shared a similar vision for the music they wanted to create. The two started out as many electronic musicians do: throwing rogue parties across the city for their friends. The only big difference was that in Muscle Shoals at the time, there was little to no electronic scene.
“We are the electronic scene in Muscle Shoals,” said Randolph. Hence the band's strong funk and soul influence on the genre.
Before the two ever played a show together, they had formulated a unique way to produce electronic music. BoomBox essentially invented a distinct style of electronic music that is now played around the world. What Godchaux calls “Dirty Disco Blues” incorporates soul, rock and funk with a distinct signature sound. When explaining the philosophy be- hind their methods, Godchaux said “the technology was going to allow us to just improv and flow without a net yet still be locked in with computers. ... We could incorporate all sorts of different kinds of music and samples and other people’s tracks and our tracks and how it would all kind of flow through the BoomBox filter. Then we would be able to take it as far as we wanted.”
Since their early days touring, the duo let the crowd determine the direction of shows. Instead of relying on a set list, they looked for what made people move that particular night and kept playing it. Randolph even said, “The most we ever do is talk about – this is actually on stage as we go play – the first song. What are we going to start with?” Their portfolio of songs are so tuned in that the duo chooses songs on the fly, leaving plenty of space for improvisation on a variety of instruments.
Although co-founder Randolph is no longer with the band, Godchaux has retained the style the two have created since 2004. Zion may primarily be a one-man-band now, but he kept the live performances going by touring with DJ Harry throughout 2017. As is common at BoomBox shows, you never know what guest artist to expect on the stage each night.
BoomBox will be playing at the Belly Up on Friday and Red Rocks Amphitheater on Saturday. Since Randolph’s departure from the band in 2016, BoomBox has only released three new singles yet apparently has plenty of tracks in progress. You’ll no doubt hear a few new songs that haven’t been released along with a slightly new mash of funk, soul and electronic since the original duo split.