Led by the Toronto-born Johnny Douglas, Zombie Garden Club has had many successes when it comes to song placement. Numerous songs from this latest self-titled disc have found homes with Showtime’s Shameless, as well as other popular TV shows such as NecessaryRoughness, Blue Mountain State, The Young And The Restless, Smallville, 90210 and Jane By Design. Douglas has been around the music business and has had songs recorded by the likes of Gregg Allman and Jeff Healy. Douglas has also shared the stage with legends such as B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Roy Orbison and Steve Cropper.
But when it comes to creative design, Douglas always comes back to his solo projects to quench creative longings. The latest release was put out by New Jersey label Bongo Boy Records and is a disc filled with big guitars, imagery and lyrical depth. Plugged in, turned up, lots of fast cars peppered with late nights, two-lane blacktop over the edge of the world and into a breathless sky. Label head Monique Grime sent me the disc, and I wanted to give some opinions on this brand new piece of American rock and roll.
The disc cranks out of the speakers with “Call It Love.” Thick backbeats mix with solid bass and rhythm guitars before Johnny Douglas joins the fray on vocals. Backing vocals chime in to create a veritable smorgasbord of pop-laced rock sound. Guitar breaks are basic, tough Chuck Berry licks at their very finest. Douglas has a no-bones style in the vein of Keith Richards or Earl Slick, and it works quite well.
“Judgment Blues” is up next. Possessing all the power of Muddy Waters, Douglas pumps soul and grit into the body of the overall piece. Guitars are tube-fueled gritty and paint a very succinct blues driven picture. Sometime over the summer, “Judgment Blues” was selected as song of the day on Unassigned Hype Radio. Drums and bass are a total lock here, holding down the primal balance of this traditionally reincarnated tune.
Up next are the 1960s sounds of “One Step, Two Steps, Three Steps Gone.” If you dig the musical direction of bands like Paul Revere And The Raiders or The Yardbirds, you’re going to love this song. Featuring the genuine sounds of a Farfisa organ, “One Step, Two Steps, Three Steps Gone” also features more great, traditionally metered guitar work. Douglas has a fantastic vocal style and is toned for days.
“Fuzzface” is up next. With rhythmic overtones that scream “the Possum Kingdom” by the Toadies, “Fuzzface” roars with rock and roll grace. Guitars are edgy and filled with raw, feedbacked power. Choruses are addictive and memorable for days. Douglas is a fine songwriter, and his compositional style brings me back to the days of bands such as The Godfathers and Nirvana.
“Boom” is an interesting piece of music and motors down the lanes of The New York Dolls. Douglas and bandmates switch between big, bold choruses and minimalist verse work. The middle-eight features more organ goodness and a nice piece of vocal work. Douglas is a man in control of his songwriting style like very few are known to be.
“Evil Baby” winds out of the speakers with big, greasy swaths of guitar, bass and drum work in the traditional feel of bands such as The Yardbirds and The Standells. Douglas sings with a great, original psychedelic feel on this one. Guitars squelch and squeal in the middle-eight like Jan Savage from The Seeds.
“Hey Little School Girl” comes from the traditional vein of The Rolling Stones. Organs and four-on-the-floor bass and drums lay the path for lethal, Keith Richards-styled guitar hooks as Douglas lays down the law when it comes to what goes on behind the bleachers. The middle-eight Wurlitzer solo brings me back to the days of true garage rock sounds from bands such as The Kingsmen.
“Gloryland” is another garage band classic. If you dig the sounds of bands such as The Trashmen and Count Five, you’re gonna love “Gloryland.” Featuring giant selections of raw, ripping guitar riffs, “Gloryland” is a guitar fan’s choice of track. Douglas pulls no punches when it comes to his sound. Utilizing classic guitars and old tube amps, he cuts a very interesting group of riffs and chords throughout.
“Ache Of Love” shimmers into the player with tons of tremolo and grungy tone. Cut from the same cloth as bands such as George Thorogood and Black Oak Arkansas, Douglas lays brilliant lyrical theme over the top of the frenetic bass and drum magic.
“Diamond Daze” switches direction and heads into a bluesy, R&B theme. Bass and drum work is jazzy and free, accentuated by simplistic piano chords. Douglas sings in the vein of Mick Hucknall of Simply Red here, and it works quite well. I like the finger snaps and percussive additions as well. The piano work on the bridge is lively and melodic. Very different from the rest of the disc, “Diamond Daze” still retains an air of continuity with the rest of the rock and roll feel of the project.
Moving around the disc, I came upon “Karma.” Dripping with Kinks vibe, “Karma” features more tremolo-drenched guitar work by Douglas. Addressing the age-old subject of reaction to action, Douglas utilizes big harmonies and basic, animalistic drum beats to get his point across. If you’re into bands such as The Sonics, you’re going to enjoy “Karma.”
The last cut on the CD is called “Mercy Man.” Featuring melodic guitar work and beats that are reminiscent of The Strawberry Alarm Clock, “Mercy Man” also features more substantial lead work. At one point, the song is throbbing like a heartbeat as Douglas and friends head back to the barn. His middle-eight lead work is from the familiar vein of Chris Britton of The Troggs.
Zombie Garden Club’s full-length album has been submitted and accepted for the 58th Grammy consideration this year, together with the movie Rock N Raw by The Doughboys (Bongo Boy Records). The full-length documentary is now available On Demand. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/thedoughboys
Also during the summer, the Zombie Garden Club music video “Burn” and “Ache Of Love” were both in heavy rotation on national TV, including on channel 77 down the Jersey Shore with Cablevision. Bongo Boy TV broadcast every Tuesday and Friday night 8:30 p.m., the TV show series that features only indie music video from around the world. It’s like watching MTV when it was cool. Bongo Boy TV is now on 40 TV channels with 10 major cable companies like NBCUniversal Comcast, Time Warner and others.
Self-produced by Douglas, this disc has everything for the fan of psychedelic garage rock of the past presented in modern form. Johnny Douglas is a formidable songwriter with the chops to back it up, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for him in the near future.
Douglas just came off the road supporting the disc but as dates become available, they will let us know. For more information on Zombie Garden Club, head over to zombiegardenclub.com or go to the Bongo Boy Records site at bongoboyrecords.com.
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