Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is There Really a Santa Claus? Part 2

Now, back to our review of the various tracks on my latest holiday mix, Is There Really a Santa Claus?:

Track 6
Soul Christmas, by Count Sidney and His Dukes (1967)
Count Sidney
All but completely forgotten until recently, this song has lately been riding a new wave of attention following its appearance on the 2011 compilation Santa's Funk and Soul Christmas, from the German Tramp Records label. As a longtime fan of '70s R&B, I bought the CD right away, and I'm glad to have it. The sound quality on most tracks is only fair at best, but the songs are spirited and the performances kick ass. Moreover, the bulk of it will no doubt be new to most, as many of these tracks have been largely ignored for 30 years or more. The good folks at Tramp released a follow-up compilation in 2013 titled Santa's Funk and Soul Christmas, volume 2, which is also a great mix. 

Born in Lebeau, Louisiana, as Sidney Simien, Count Sidney, also known as Rockin' Sidney and Count Rockin' Sidney, first started performing at age 15 as an R&B singer. He also played guitar, keyboards and harmonica. By age 18, he had started to enjoy some modest success in the New Orleans area, scoring a couple of minor hits and beginning to build a growing fan base by playing frequent live shows. In 1965, Sidney and his band The Dukes signed with the Louisiana-based Goldband Records, for whom he subsequently made over 50 records during the next 15 years. "Soul Christmas" was recorded several years into this period, and in many ways it reflects the style he set while working for Goldband. Despite this hard work, Sidney's career never really took off like he'd hoped, and in the late 1970s he shifted his focus toward zydeco, a unique New Orleans musical style that mixes R&B, blues and various forms of indigenous music. This shift coincided with a renewed public interest in zydeco, and his subsequent releases fared better at the register. His biggest hit was a zydeco number called "My Toot Toot," which he wrote and recorded in 1984. Sidney died in 1998 at the age of 59.

Listen to the Instrumental Version of "Soul Christmas"

Track 5
All I Want for Christmas, by Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns (1962)

Huey "Piano" Smith
The name Huey Smith may not mean much to you at first, but I guarantee you're familiar with at least some of his music. Remember "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu"? It's been performed by dozens of artists including Aerosmith and The Grateful Dead, but it was written and first performed by Huey "Piano" Smith. The same with "Don't You Just Know It" and "High Blood Pressure."

Smith was born in New Orleans and was reportedly wrapped up in music from the very start. He wrote his first song at age 8, wrote and played music throughout his youth, and signed his first record contract with Savoy Records immediately after turning 18. For several years, he toured and played piano for artists such as Little Richard and Ray Price, and in 1957 at the age of 23, he formed Huey "Piano" Smith and His Clowns and signed a long-term contract with Ace Records. For the next several years, the band released a string of hit singles. "Rockin' Pneumonia" was one of the first, and it was followed by "Don't You Just Know," "High Blood Pressure" and  "We Like Birdland."

In 1962, Smith and his band released a holiday album called "Twas the Night Before Christmas," which includes "Soul Christmas" and nine other great holiday tunes. (A subsequent re-released version adds eight bonus tracks.) I used another track from the album on my "Happy New Year" compilation from 2008. The tune I used, appropriately enough, was "Happy New Year."

Smith continues to record and perform and has worked steadily through his adult life. He has enjoyed several "comebacks" over the years, but never attained the same popularity he had in the first decade of his professional life.

Track 4
Come Christmas, by Basil Marceaux (2011)
One of the things that makes our country great is that our elected officials can come from any walk of life. A number of entertainers have successfully leveraged their popularity to win election to high office here. For example, Ronald Reagan was an actor before entering politics. Sony Bono was a singer and television star before he served as Mayor of Palm Springs, California and was elected to Congress. It seems slightly tougher, however, for politicians to score hit records. The late great Boston City Councilor Albert L. "Dapper" O'Neil, who was a personal friend of mine, tried to hit the pop charts 30 or so years ago with his song "The Irish Belly Dancer," but even in Boston he wasn't able to score as big as he might have liked. The latest politician to attempt a career in music is Basil Marceaux, a perennial candidate in Tennessee who describes himself as an inventor, entrepreneur, importer-exporter and historian. He also served in the Marines. In 2010, he waged what might charitably be called an iconoclastic campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor of Tennessee. The following video offers a summary of his platform and a glimpse at his style of campaigning:

Marceaux raised more than a few eyebrows during the 2010 campaign for his unusual positions on key issues. For example, he pledged to outlaw gold-fringed flags and police traffic stops, and proposed that everyone in Tennessee be required to carry a gun. He also promised that everyone who voted for him would be immunized for life against criminal prosecution in the state courts. These novel ideas, together with his unvarnished speaking style, led to increasing media coverage of his insurgent campaign in its final days, when even national media heavyweights like Stephen Colbert began beating the drum for Marceaux:

To see Colbert's additional plugs for Marceaux, see THIS and THIS.

Watch Basil Marceaux on the "Red State Update" Show

Watch Glenn Beck's Interview of Basil Marceaux

Unfortunately for supporters like Colbert — and Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Louis C.K. and the folks at Saturday Night Live — Marceaux came in fifth in the Republican primary, winning only 3,508 votes, or less than 0.5 percent. But from the ashes of this defeat, Marceaux managed to sow the seeds for a new career in music. In late 2011, he released an upbeat (if slightly off-key) holiday song on iTunes called "Come Christmas." Written by Joshua Payne and Jenny Clewer, I knew I'd have to add this to one of my mixes the moment I heard it:

What's Marceaux been up to lately? Well, he hasn't given up on either music or politics. He ran again for Governor of Tennessee in 2014, and more than tripled his vote total from the previous election. Unfortunately, Marceaux finished the race in last place, well behind Mark "Coonrippy" Brown, another offbeat Republican whose principal purpose for running was to regain possession of his pet raccoon, who he claims was improperly confiscated by state authorities on health and safety grounds. You can see Brown's unforgettable announcement of candidacy HERE. (Just what's going on in Tennessee these days, anyway?)

Marceaux has also released several new music videos, although none of this last batch is Christmas-related. In fact, the new videos make "Come Christmas" look like a multi-million dollar Hollywood production by contrast. Sadly, they don't show Marceaux in his best light. Come to think of it, they look as though they'd been filmed after an all-day open bar event.

Watch Marceaux's "politial ballard movie," titled "no no what do you say"

Watch Marceaux's "second politic ballard," titled "You Are A Dead letter"

Stick to the holiday music, Basil. It makes a lot more sense and shows your talents off in a much better light.

Coming up soon, Tracks 7-9 of this year's mix, including a beautiful version of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" by the Front Range Christian School Advanced Band.

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