THE FULL STORY
Chad “Chadzilla” Johnson is a musical cornucopia. First and foremost, he is a Denver-based drummer for close to four decades. Born into a family of musicians in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he was reared in church by a piano-playing mother and a choir-directing father who had him singing in the cherub choir at three years old. Soon after, he found his way to Colorado and was allowed to realize his true musical purpose- drumming. He began breaking sticks and heads on his first drum set at age six. Drum and piano lessons began at seven years old and concert band started in fourth grade at Wheeling Elementary in Aurora. He recorded his first snare drum tracks for a Civil War documentary produced by a colleague of his private instructor. In sixth grade, he learned and performed Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” among many other jazz standards in his middle school stage band and recorded his first album of original music with now three-time Emmy award winning NBC sports broadcast engineer Tim Dunn, under the name “The Jedis.” Other recordings soon followed with his older brother Michael Johnson, current Berklee School of Music faculty member and an accomplished musician with a doctorate in Vocal Jazz Pedagogy.
At ten years old he starred in the lead role at Faith Presbyterian Church’s three-night production of the Gian Carlo Menotti Opera “Ahmal and the Night Visitors.” At Gateway High School, under the tutelage of the great Orlando Otis, Chad (who was then nicknamed “Woohan”) played with fellow musicians Geoff "Double G" Gallegos, Shamie Royston, Bobby Klein and many others in jazz band, the award winning jazz combo, marching band, symphonic band and pit orchestra. As captain of the drum line, he began mentoring younger drummers which would eventually lead to an established teaching career. In those high school years, he continued his professional music adventure drumming and singing in various local rock bands Strange Brew, The Cocarolas, The Executives, and the Children of Death, performing at many Denver area clubs, school functions and private parties.
After graduating from Gateway in 1989, he spent a year at the University of Northern Colorado under the tutelage of percussion professor Gray Barrier as the youngest drummer in Lab band six, percussion ensemble and wind ensemble. As a member of the marching band, he performed the halftime show at Mile High Stadium during a John Elway era Denver Broncos Monday Night Football game. He then travelled to Miami to experience the South Florida music scene with his brother who was studying for his Master’s degree of Music at the University of Miami. He returned to Denver in 1992 and enrolled in the music program at Metropolitan State College of Denver. He studied jazz with the great Ron Miles, wind ensemble with Walter Barr, drum lessons with Mark Foster, and sang in the elite sixteen voice a cappella group The Chamber Singers. He also began teaching percussion privately and working full time at Flesher Hinton Music’s Aurora store. There he met Tom Carleno and Josie Quick and began performing with their acoustic jazz band, Perpetual Motion, who soon after recorded the debut album “Ready, Willing and Able.” The trio performed extensively throughout the front range and later recorded the 1998 album “Surfing on Cloud Nine” with his pal and bass player Matt Deason.
At the same time, he was exploring his diversity. He was playing and recording “Hey, Sue Us” with Denver punk band The Garden Weasels. The raucous quartet played live on air in the 99.5 FM “Peak Lounge” and shredded the Bluebird Theater, the Ogden Theater and Herman’s Hideaway among many other venues in the area. He was also entrenched in the local musical theater community as a pit orchestra member at the DCPA, the Arvada Center, the Littleton Town Hall, the Shwayder Theater, the Carousel Dinner Theater and The Boulder Dinner Theater. His production credits include The Fiddler On The Roof, The Music Man, Carousel, Anything Goes, Godspell, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Baby, A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, The Taffetas, Cinderella and Pippin. He also sang in the choir and played drums at the First Baptist Church of Denver in Capital Hill, and volunteering in the homeless shelter at the church serving holiday meals and singing.
In 1996 Chad made the leap to a full time professional musician and teacher at Flesher Hinton Music and eventually at Calliope Music studio in Aurora. He also began playing, recording and touring with local bands Freak Boy #9, Tequila Mockingbird, Funkiphino, where he met his soon-to-be percussion compadre Ed Contreras, Louder Than Words with friend Jeff Wahl, Yoda’s Basement, Triad, Mojo Watson, Highway 36, Hotfoot, and Echo Bay. This was in addition to playing with various solo artists such as Lannie Garrett, Brenda Harp, Marcy Baruch, Mike Berg, Kim Quirk and 19 year old Liz Clark who he played the Paramount Theater in Denver with opening for Joe Walsh.
By 1999, he had become a hired member of the worship team at St. James Presbyterian Church in Littleton and along with Kip White, Karis Henley and Richard Armao created the band Beyond The Cave. Together they produced a self-titled album and toured the Rocky Mountain region. He also began accompanying Modern Dance classes with Hannah Kahn and at the Denver School of the Arts on percussion, piano and guitar. He would later play drums at the Colorado Community Church with Dave Lemieux and the Crossroads Church with Kerry Conner.
In 2000, he joined the teaching staff at Swallow Hill Music as the (then) only drum set instructor based on Ed “Spageddy” Contreras’ recommendation. They soon formed the world music and percussion duo Istari which would go on to perform their original production “Drumming Around the World” at nearly every library and elementary school on the front range. Since that time, they have played at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, the Taste of Colorado and many other city festivals and private functions. He then composed and produced their debut album in 2008.
Chad was reborn Chadzilla early in the 21st century recording the album “Esqueletos” with Alternative Tentacles artist Tarantella. The band was comprised of musical compadres John Rumley, Kelly O’Dea, Danny “Pants” Grandbois, Kal Cahoone and the producer known as the Godfather of the world-renowned Denver Sound, “Big Bad” Bob Febrache. They shared the stage with Devotchka, Daniel Ash, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Munley and Lee Lewis Harlots, Cowboy Mouth and Calexico. Chadzilla also played locally and toured nationally with Vail based band Little Hercules. They shared the stage with Col. Bruce Hampton and the Codetalkers, Papa Grows Funk and Eric Lindell. He also began performing and recording with Brazilian guitar player Dado Sa and bass player Jim Ruberto every Friday night in Denver and Saturday in Breckenridge for almost two years. Through that relationship he met Boulder based guitar player Peter Stelling and joined, recorded and performed with the rocky mountain Behemoth. That collaborative musical relationship led him to two very significant musicians in his career, CR Gruver and Tori Pater.
From the word “Go,” Chadzilla, Tori and CR were a musical force to be reckoned with in the Denver music scene as the band Polytoxic. In 2004, they began playing three house gigs a week together at various clubs in Denver. The word on this organ, guitar, drum trio was spreading, prompting the live recording “First Steps” in 2005. They began touring the country and winning their first of two consecutive Westword Music Awards for best Jam Band.
In December 2004, Polytoxic began a “Record of the Month” club, learning and performing such classics as the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station,” U2’s “Joshua Tree,” “Zenyatta Mondata” by the Police, Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” “Exile on Main Street” by the Rolling Stones, “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns-n-Roses, “Fiyo on the Bayou” by the Neville Brothers, Phish’s “Hoist” and twice in the same year they collected over forty local musicians to perform “The Last Waltz” by The Band, which they are still performing twice a year around Thanksgiving. In 2006, they played a legendary set of music in New Orleans during the first Mardi Gras celebration following hurricane Katrina. They also recreated the infamous Spinal Tap at Denver’s Gothic Theater. Yes they had it all - Stonehenge, the pods, the spandex, the three basses, and were they were even booed off the stage opening for themselves as the Folksmen. Late summer 2006 as CR was aiming to relocate to NOLA, they played the first of dozens of their “Last Show Ever” which still continue to this day. Polytoxic have shared the stage with Leo Nocentelli of the Meters, Bobby Vega, DJ Logic, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Outformation, the Village People, Dark Star Orchestra, Umphrey’s McGee, and The Big Wu among many others.
In 2007, Chadzilla joined the band Double Parked with fellow musicians Mike “Spanky” McCluer, Adam Stern, Paul “Dr. Poz” Cohen and Leftover Salmon’s keyboard player Bill McKay. He produced their debut EP which featured his song “The Beatdown” in his Monster Island studio. Together they played many regional shows, the Fibark Fest in Salida, and opened for numerous bands including the New Mastersounds at the Gothic Theater. He would go on to produce two albums for guitar player Adam Stern as well as Bill McKay’s debut solo album.
He also then teamed up with fellow rawker Joe Gamble and created the band Roktapus, a project for which he composed and sang most of the material. They eventually teamed up with Blue Oyster Cult founding member Joe Bouchard opening as Roktapus and backing him in a tribute show for three shows in Colorado. They performed all the BOC hits, and Chadzilla enjoyed his shining moment playing a drum solo during the song “Godzilla” at the Oriental Theater while Joe chanted “Chadzilla!”
Also in 2007, he created the House of Rock ensemble program at Swallow Hill for adults and teens that continues weekly today. In 2009, he began week-long House of Rock summer camps for teens, and as of 2015 they had five camps for beginners, intermediate, and advanced players as well as a songwriting/recording camp which has produced albums of original music annually. In 2013, the advanced camp learned and performed the B side of “Abbey Road,” 2014 featured Led Zeppelin “IV,” and in 2015 they played “10” by Pearl Jam. They have since performed the Wolfmother album, Radiohead’s “Ok Computer” and Jane’s Addiction “Ritual de lo Habitual”. They formed the band “Ain’t No Disco” and played the Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense” movie soundtrack at the Oriental Theater, the Pearl Street Blues and Brews street festival and part of Swallow Hill’s One Epic Night in 2017.
In 2008, Chadzilla was asked by school director Michael Schenkelberg to put a band together to play 80’s tunes at the Red Rocks Amphitheater for the Film on the Rocks showing of “The Breakfast Club.” So along with Tori Pater, guitar slinger Adam Kilgus, bassist Jonathon Barkin and a keyboard player, they would form Chadzilla and the Asteroids, playing for a sell-out crowd. They have since played the Bud Light Street Beat Series in Vail, the Highland Street Fest, the Taste of Colorado, opened two shows for Purple Reign at the Gothic Theater, and many private parties. The band has continued since then with many players including Mike Cappo, Stefan Ferraro, Jeff Wahl, Tyson Bennett, Eric Moon, Adam Bodine, Jonny Barber, Christie Chambers, Emma Henry and Tanya Shylock.
After being a fan of the band since the mid 90’s, Chadzilla joined Slim Cessna’s Auto Club in 2009. He toured the states and Europe with the band and recorded drums and vocals for their album “Unentitled.” He also played on the album “Petr and the Wulf” and joined as a member of Munly and the Lupercalians, who played their CD release show with the Legendary Pink Dots at the Gothic Theater.
Through a number of local musicians with whom he had worked over the years, Chadzilla was introduced to singer Kate Eaton and together they formed the Wilderness service at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver. He is now co-music director for the weekly service and is also blessed to perform weekly for the Nishma service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lakewood. As Kate created the organization Mishkhah to bring a new style of worship service, Chadzilla joined her on tours to Austin, Buffalo NY, Cincinnati OH, Pittsburg PA, Honolulu HI and in 2012 played the Trinity Cathedral in Havana Cuba. In 2015 he produced, arranged and performed on her album “King Of Love.” Kate and Chadzilla have hired an all-star group of musicians throughout the years including Jesse Manno, Ryan McCarthy, Beth Quist, Bob Rebholz, Dan Geisler, James Hoskins, Mike Fitz-Maurice, Lia Davis, Kailin Yong, Charles Mertens and Brian Mullins.
In recent years, he has performed and toured with Eddie Turner and the Trouble Twins, EEF, the Chance Trio featuring bassist Kim Stone, the Dank All Stars, Broken Tongues, Jumpin’ Jazz Kidz, Eddie Roberts of the New Mastersounds, True Blue Band, Sympathy For The Devil (Rolling Stones Tribute), Faceman, Black Roof Country (Cream tribute), Scott Lane and Jonathon Meadows of The Congress, Robby Peoples, Kim Dawson, the Ben Marshall Band and most recently The Williams Brothers and Dave Tamkin.
His recording studio, once known as Monster Island, evolved into what is now a professional recording space, 25 BPM Studio. His recent recording credits include producing two albums for Adam Stern and the High Country Gentleman; Dyrty Byrds' “Zeitgeist” in 2011 as well as their 2016 release “Failure Is Feedback;” Little Car’s EP “Splinters”; “Celestine” by Little Star, Lost Walks debut album “Wolf, Woman, Man”; “.ORC” with fellow rawker Jonny Barber, many albums by guitar virtuoso Jeff Wahl including “The Standards Album” and “Jeff’s Wahl”; Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion’s “Turtle Dreams”; Synthesis and the Swindle’s debut album “Dr Planet Saves the Moon”; Brice Maiurro and Chadzilla “Everything is on Fire”; Dado Sa Boutique Bossa Jazz Group” recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil and various other artists’ projects. He also composed, arranged, produced, performed and mixed his solo albums “View From the Backseat” in 2010, “Anonymonkey” in 2019 and his newest release “In My Skin” in 2020 along with various singles “Words”, “The Soft Side” and “ My Wheels”. In June, 2019 he played the entire “Anonymonkey” album front to back at the Mercury Cafe. In July 2020 he performed hits from all three albums at the Mercury Cafe as part of a CD release show for “In My Skin”. He continues to produce local talent at 25 BPM Studio currently.
He is still teaching private zoom lessons and ensembles at Swallow Hill, the Washington Park Goddard School and at his 25 BPM Studio in Denver. He continues to mentor and produce musicians of all ages and performs regularly with many local acts. Check the calendar because the man is in motion…constantly.
Whew, what a large cornucopia that is!