Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My Latest Holiday Mix, "Deck the Halls," Is Available Now

I'm pleased to report that my latest holiday mix is now complete and ready for you to enjoy. Titled "Deck Those Halls," it contains 42 songs and other audio clips and runs for around 78 minutes. This is the 11th consecutive year that I've put together a CD-length mix for Christmas, and the 15th regular holiday mix I've created. Like most of my previous mixes, "Deck the Halls" includes a little something for everyone, and at least several tracks that will likely turn out to be for nobody at all! The oldest track in the mix was recorded in 1958, and the most recent is from 2014. Among the songs, there's rock, soul, swing, traditional, electronica, and nonsense. We've got greetings from a range of notable folk, a few short comedy bits and a recording of a rather amazing Christmas Eve call from an unbelievably obsequious vice president to his president's Texas ranch. I can absolutely guarantee there will be at least one track on this one that you haven't heard before.

As usual, I'm planning to post a little background on each of the tracks that make up this year's mix. I expect to have significantly less time for posting this month than in previous years, so there may be a little less tinsel on the tree this season. But I really enjoy sharing whatever information I can about the tracks I select, so I'll do my best. I typically post about two or three tracks at a time working my way from the front to the back. The tracks in each day's post are presented in reverse order so that the final list, if assembled chronologically as daily posting clusters, would yield a list in true reverse order. Please don't ask me to explain why that's important or what it means because if I ever knew at all, I certainly don't today. Ho, ho, ho and away we go . . .  

Track 3
Christmas Is Starting Now, by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (2009)
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Not having had any little ones running around the house in recent years, it's not always easy to keep up with many of life's most important issues, like boy bands, video games and Disney movies. I've heard this song a bunch of times before and quickly realized how well it would work to kick-off one of my holiday mixes, but it took me awhile to figure out whose song it was and when it was first released. You see, when I first looked up the title, it seemed to have been recorded by the band Phineas and Ferb. It took me awhile to figure out that Phineas and Ferb wasn't so much a band as a Disney cartoon series, and that the song itself was written and recorded by the popular swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which must have licensed the song to Disney. (I'm still not confident I've got this right.) So far as I can tell, the song first appeared in a special holiday episode of the series titled "Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation," which aired in 2009. Here's a short clip:

I've never been too keen on swing, which is probably why I know so little about Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, although I know more now than I did a month ago. I know the band was formed in 1989 in Ventura, California. I know the primary founder of the band is a guy named Scotty Morris. I know the band's name comes from the language blues legend Albert Collins used when signing a poster for Morris around the time the band was formed. I know they played the Super Bowl half-time show. And, finally, I know they've recorded three Christmas albums:  What'chu Want for Christmas (1997), Everything You Want for Christmas (2004), and It Feels Like Christmas Time (2013). From everything I've heard, they're chock full of fun holiday tunes. That's all I need to know!

Track 2
It's Christmas Time, by Wayne Champion (1967)
I discovered this song and another one by the same artist back in 2008 on a now defunct holiday music blog called The Twelve Months of Christmas. Written by a Kansas City resident known as The Tone King, the blog was created "to bring you Christmas music all year long that is not often (if ever) heard on the radio." By that measure, there's little doubt that Wayne Champion qualified for coverage. Back when Champion's two holiday songs were posted on that wonderful blog, The Tone King couldn't find so much as a whisper about the man or his music on the internet or elsewhere. We're just fortunate he was able to find and post the two songs:  "It's Christmas Time," the second track on this year's mix, and "Merry Yuletide Day," which I featured on my 2009 mix, "I Just Can't Wait 'til Christmas!"  According to The Tone King, the songs were from a double-sided 45 RPM he found the previous summer at a yard sale, but other than Champion's name and the titles of the two songs there was nothing else to report.

I'm proud to confirm that over the past year I did some digging of my own and I have news. It seems Mr. Champion, an Illinois native, graduated from Evanston High School and and studied music before enlisting in the army. While serving in Germany, after World War II, he played in a jazz combo, and after returning to this country he toured the midwest for a while with a group called The Playboys. But the music business is tough, and few musicians can support themselves by their music alone. Eventually, Wayne took a job with Office Reproduction Materials (ORM) in Chicago, and in 1967, he and some friends managed to line-up some studio time and cut these two beautiful tunes. Wayne was popular at ORM, and when the company's executives heard about Wayne's music, they volunteered to bankroll the effort by printing a small run of the record to circulate as a holiday gift to their customers. Sounds to me like that's one business with a lot of class.

But that's not all I discovered. Wayne Champion, it seems, continued to perform publicly, and excerpts from several of his recent gigs have been posted on YouTube. Here are a couple of them:

Now, unfortunately, I've got some bad news:  Wayne Champion passed away in 2012. Several of his fellow musicians and friends put together a memorial service for him at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, where had performed numerous times over the years. Here's a video of part of that event:

Of course, I never met Wayne Champion and I know very little about the man, but it was a little strange to spend such a long time trying to find out about him only to learn that he recently died. The two Christmas songs that The Tone King discovered are wonderful tunes that seem to be infused with a deep love for the holidays and for life. The several video clips I found make it exceptionally clear that the artist who sang those songs was more than just a talented musician, but a fine human being. Here's to you, Wayne. May God bless and keep you.

Track 1
Introduction, by the Jack Coyle Chevrolet Company

This year’s collection opens with another voice from long ago and far away – an announcer introducing customers of the Jack Coyle Chevrolet Company to the dealership's "Free Records and Gasoline program. I can't tell you much more about this short clip, other than the fact I found it on one of the many fine holiday mixes available on Soundcloud. The version below is a little longer than what's in the mix, so check it out. Oh, by the way . . . I'm not giving away either free records or gasoline this year, despite what this guy has to say.

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