Johl Chato has released a five-song Christmas album titled Dreaming of a Green Christmas that features cannabis-themed parody songs of classic Christmas tunes. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Grand Forks artist plays pot riff on classic Christmas carols

‘Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer,’ ‘Let it Grow’ and ‘Green Christmas’ are on Johl Chato’s holiday album

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but do you know Chronic and Que-P and Doobie and Blitzy? Or perhaps even the most notorious of them all, Rudolph the red-eyed reindeer?

Grand Forks musician Johl Chato, known to friends as Jam, is hoping to introduce the alternative team of reindeer and his pot-based parody songs to new audiences this holiday season by releasing his holiday album, Dreaming of a Green Christmas.

Chato, who produces songs through the name Blaze of Grass, said that he’d been kicking around the idea for a Christmas parody album for more than a decade before he enlisted the help of a jazz singer from Victoria (who goes by the name High Grade on Chato’s project), a drummer from Vancouver and local music producer Sacha Pétulli to reimagine the classic sounds of malls and coffee shops at Christmas time.

“I’m hungry for a little bit of change and a little bit of evolution with our Christmas carols,” Chato said. “Like, who’s ready for breath fresh air here?”

“Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer,” “Let it Grow,” Little Trimmer Boy,” “Sativa is Coming Around” and “Green Christmas” (based off the classic “White Christmas” and not Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” to be clear) round out a jazzy album that, were it not for its lyrical content, could well be played alongside Michael Bublé at a mall.

Oddly enough, that’s how the idea first came to Chato.

Listening to radio playing at the store, he said, “It just happens off the cuff,” and the words begin to replace themselves. Though, Chato said, he tries to “match the spirit of the original” with every parody.

“’Rudolph the Red-Eyed Reindeer’, it sort of just fell into place,” Chato said. While his version keeps the melody and general premise, the reggae infusion at the first chorus sets Chato’s song apart from the Christmas canon.

Painting the character through a hashy haze, Chato said, is his version of the chants that carollers mimicked as children – the “like Monopoly!” line-ender in original version of the song he parodied, or even like the “Jingle bells, Batman smells,” version of the holiday classic.

The other four songs on his debut Christmas album released online, though sung with a wry smile, came from a more serious place.

“I decided that I needed to do an album to really substantiate my platform that I’m not a one hit wonder like, I really am a cannabis parody man.”

So, he thought through other Christmas songs and compared them to cannabis-based stories, language and humour and weeded out the ones that just wouldn’t fit the bill.

“When it comes down to it,” Chato explained, “you only have so many synonyms and adjectives for cannabis.” Some expressions just didn’t fit. Nevertheless, the lyricist said, “Sometimes I’ll give up on them, but sometimes I’ll just build and chip and chip and then it just comes out.”

Chato’s repertoire expands beyond December songs too – he’s also got a parody of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” (“Behind Green Highs”) and the theme song to the 1970s sitcom Happy Days (“Hashy Daze”).

For the “Weed Al” of Grand Forks, cannabis-related riffs on old classics is part of legalization and a second coming of social acceptance for pot, which was criminalized in Canada in 1923.

“I’m hoping that [cannabis] will sort of be an industry that will grow – no pun intended – to have these spin-off industries too,” Chato said.


@jensenedw
Jensen.edwards@grandforksgazette.ca

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