In 1999, I recorded Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" and sent it out on a CD as my audio Christmas card. Each year, for the next nine, I'd add another song with the idea that at the end of 10 years I'd have a completed Christmas album. The 10 year point was 2008.
I have since recorded three new songs and will continue adding to the album sporadically – Greensleeves, Christmas Time Is Here (the great Vince Guaraldi tune from the Charlie Brown Christmas series), and now Silver Bells, so far.
Hope you like it - if you do please feel free to share the link!
And... HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!
I tried recording this in 2013, but hit technical difficulties with a new operating system at odds with my audio gear. Tried again in 2014 and found myself at odds with my arrangement/treatment. Tried again this year and scrapped two attempts. This is the third. My friend Neil said I always get it right the third time... well, three years and three attempts this year and HOPEFULLY he's right!
My friend and client Buddy Oiver's band Slick Hampton played this song at one of their holiday gigs and that prompted me to record my own version. I've always been a fan of Vince Guaraldi and loved doing this one.
Greensleeves has always been a favorite. I’d gotten into Les Pauls (guitars) - particularly Gibson’s Historic series, and had an aged, Mike Bloomfield model along with a Mesa Boogie 5/25 amp. I had to rock out with it. Sorta sounds like what Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and Neil Young would sound like if they did a mind meld. This was my first Christmas recording after the official project officially ended.
For many years, Liz and I would head to Cape Cod in the fall to have a bit of a retreat. I’d play guitar while she’d write. We’d go for long walks and have great dinners in Provincetown. It was during one of these retreats that I wrote and recorded this, the only original Christmas song of the bunch.
For my third year in the ten year Christmas Album project, I chose God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The first take I sent to buddy Beany, and he suggested it was a tad too dark. A tad was an understatement. It was a dark year and it was ending, but I guess I hadn't gotten the message. So, I set out to make it a bit more of a 'flavor of the season'. Still kinda dark, but I came up with the whole chromatic thing on the redux, which I quite like. When I redid it, just as I was putting the finishing touches on the mix, I got the news that George Harrison had died. I went back in and added the ending… God rest ye Merry Harrison…
The Little Drummer Boy seems to be a lot of people’s favorite Christmas song. I thought it might be fun to do a version that brought a tabla in for the drum. I think it came out quite nice.
My band, Margaret Explosion, was playing a gig at a club called Mirage around Christmas in 2004. Before the second set, I got up and did a single note solo rendition of this song. I thought it was probably a good idea to make it that year’s Christmas song. In hindsight, I should have backed it.
My grandmother gave me a harmonica for Christmas one year when I was little. The first song I learned to play was Jingle Bells. I thought about flying some harp in on this version, but ended up just sticking with my guitar. Good thing, as anyone who's heard me play harmonica will attest to.
This is the first song of the project. I was heavily into learning more about playing my guitar, and when you do that, you naturally head for jazz. I’d subscribed to Just Jazz Guitar magazine, and they had a solo arrangement of The Velvet Fog’s “The Christmas Song”. I butchered it a bit, and so added a second track. Funny aside - I recorded this with binaural mics - one on each shoulder - that picked up my breathing. I couldn’t hear the breathing on the recording, but it drove Liz crazy. I eventually EQ’d some of the top end away so it minimized it. Still, it would take nearly a decade for me to get hearing aids…
So, 2002 comes along and I am now firmly committed to a 10-year project... and this is only the third year. To start out, I just played a bunch of tracks of different tunes. This was the one that jumped out. No real back story here - just love the melody of this song. .
Back to Cape Cod, I recorded this while on retreat with Liz. I now had a viable portable recording rig on my laptop, so could do all the production there. Still, I gave it a proper mix/cleanup when I got back to my studio. Added a few background bits too. I downloaded an a capela version of Carol to get in the mood.
This was the second song in the project, and actually the first song where I realized I was going to do this for 10 years and end up with an album. Seemed like a lifetime away when I made the decision and felt like it took a month or two at the end of the project. Funny how life is… As an interesting aside for you recording folks, this was the only time I'd every used ProTools to record anything. It did a fine job, but one thing I SHOULD have done was use the metronome. The original edit was about five minutes and too self indulgent. When I cut out all the twiddly bits, I found that I'd sped up dramatically.
How could I not? This is THE Christmas song for the British Invasion generation. Among John Lennon's best. A beautiful song that was exceptionally fun to record. It starts with me fingerpicking my ukulele. AND this was the last official song in the project, making it bittersweet.