By William Smith
A band is as much a state of mind as it is a collection of musicians.
The Burlington/Fort Madison-based band Ghost of Judas, founded in 2015, has changed over the past few years. Drummer Jason Sink, the only remaining original band member, transformed a sparsely-booked heavy metal band into one of the most in-demand cover bands on the local circuit.
“We were a hard metal band, kind of. We were just a bunch of guys jamming around,” Sink said. “I wanted to take it a different direction and stop playing stuff that nobody wanted to hear. I like metal. But it just doesn’t pay.”
Sink recruited lead singer Curry Bernard, who shared his straightforward vision for the band — cover beloved songs that everyone can enjoy, and play at least one gig (usually several) every weekend.
“I got a hold of Curry one night when I was bouncing at the bar,” Sink said, noting that Bernard joined the band in 2017.
The duo hooked up with guitarist Dom Jones (formerly of Money Shot) and bassist Adam Kurtz, who parted ways with the band recently.
Though they all have day jobs, the band members treat the weekend jobs as seriously as their primary occupations — they just have a lot more fun.
“We put butts in seats, quite honestly,” Bernard said.
They quickly became one of the hardest working cover bands in southeast Iowa, going from roughly 20 shows a year to 76 shows last year, including back-to-back-to-back performances across three counties (and two states) in 28 hours.
Bernard and his fellow band members described the marathon with pride, not forgetting the exhaustion. The weekend began with a Friday night gig in Keithsburg, Ill. They finished up at 1 a.m. Saturday, took a few hours to break down and haul away the equipment, arriving back home around 4 a.m.
They were back up for a noon charity gig at Heartland Harley Davidson in Burlington and didn’t leave the stage until 6 p.m. Less than three hours later, they were playing another gig at Farney’s until closing time. They were too tired to haul away anything that night, and left the equipment for the next day.
“We just call it a damn good Saturday night,” Bernard said.
That work ethic hasn’t wavered, and their motivation has evolved. Ghost of Judas wants to be more than a cover band.
“It’s pretty embarrassing going to an original show and playing nothing but covers. You can’t go and open for original bands being a cover band,” Sink said.
The band sports roughly half-a-dozen original songs — some of which have already debuted on local radio.
They recorded at a studio in Cedar Falls, and plan on returning to cut an entire album.
While the rock songs prickle with a spiky edge, it’s far different from the band’s old sound of heavy metal covers. Bernard’s personal playlist is filled with hard metal, but he doesn’t sing that way.
“We saw a whole dynamic shift in the crowd,” Bernard said. “You go from hard-edged metal to my singing style, which is definitely different.”
The hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, and Ghost of Judas has developed a loyal following of fans who travel an hour or more just to see them.
Superfans like Angelina Martinez — the owner of ABC Photography in Oquawka, Ill. She and her husband Ryan Ingle cover the same radius the band does, and have become good friends with the band members.
“They do it because they love it,” Martinez said.
Love was the first step in the band’s upward trajectory, and their tenacity in grinding the local music scene has maintained that momentum.
They didn’t even take a break during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sink said the band lost out on a St. Patrick’s Day gig on the first day of the mandatory shutdown, but it was pretty much business as usual.
“To be honest, we only lost four gigs,” Sink said, “We just kept doing our thing.”
Ghost of Judas always makes their gigs. And they usually take a few new fans back with them.
“The only thing we can do is sound like us,” Bernard said.