“Strings of streetlights, even stoplights…”
“If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.” That’s what they say in New England. It may be an exaggeration, but not by much. At the moment, the wind is howling, whipping up waves on the creek behind our home resembling an ocean storm. On the coast of Maine, the wind usually signals bad weather coming or going. We had a few drops of rain today, nothing to speak of; far less remarkable than the gale that continues to roar outside, shaking and bending sixty-year old pine trees with shallow roots clinging to the hard earth like white-knuckled riders on an amusement park rollercoaster. New England weather is not for sissies. I’ll be quite happy as long as the trees stay up and the power stays on.
I love all the seasons in New England. They are a big reason my wife Marion and I came to live here. There is a constant sense of change, of movement, of unpredictability. There’s a reasonable expectation of a lush, green summer, a stunning autumn, and with any luck, a white Christmas. Christmas in New England is more traditional, more old-fashioned than in most places I’ve lived. In the twenty-first century, there are still many towns and villages in New England that are worthy of a Currier and Ives Christmas card. Maine, of course, has it’s own maritime variation on the Christmas theme, complete with illuminated lighthouses and outdoor lobster trap Christmas “trees.”
I guess I’m just a sucker for tradition. I love the old Christmas records and films. Bing Crosby was a staple when I was growing up, and Bing’s “White Christmas” album still gets played every year, along with the mandatory viewing of “It’s A Wonderful Life” (James Stewart is one of my all-time favourite actors) and some newer perennials, like “Love Actually” and “The Holiday.” Of course, I was lucky enough to have been cast in “The Homecoming” (the 1971 CBS Christmas special which led to “The Waltons" series) which would probably be another favourite if it were not for the fact that I’m in it!
In 1974, (I had to Google that) CBS released a “Waltons" Christmas album. To be honest, I’ve never heard it. None of the cast, except Richard Thomas and Will Geer, are on it. I always resented the fact that a session group, dubbed the “Holiday Singers” were hired and told, “You’re supposed to be the Waltons, so sing badly.” I suppose that LP is somewhat of a collector’s item now. I know I’ve autographed a few of them over the years, and always felt a bit cheesy about it, and compelled to divulge the real story of the album.
In 1998, Mary McDonough and Bruce Burch (a great Nashville songwriter, who at the time worked for EMI) came up with the idea of doing another “Waltons” Christmas album, this time with the whole cast on board. I produced the CD, “A Waltons Christmas - Together Again,” as well as playing guitar and writing five of the songs on the album. My concept for the CD was that it would depict a musical Christmas Eve party at the Walton house. The cast did a brilliant job. I’m happy to say I’m still pleased with that one.
Here’s a little trade secret: most Christmas albums are recorded during the summer. This gives the record company time to package the product and do the pre-release promo, marketing and shipping. The legend goes that when Elvis cut his Christmas album (the biggest selling Christmas record of all time in the U.S.) at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, he asked them to crank the air conditioning and decorate the studio for Christmas, including bringing in a Christmas tree. I guess Elvis was what you’d call a “method singer!”
So, what am I doing musically for Christmas, 2017? Well, I’m glad you asked. This year, I’m delving into Santa’s bag once again. On December 1st, I’ll be releasing a Christmas blues “single” (in the old “45” sense, meaning two songs) on this website. The Christmas songs will be available only as downloads (sorry CD fans). The production will be similar to the approach I used on my blues CD “Goin’ To Clarksdale,” released last summer, meaning I’m doing all the playing - guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, and vocals. The songs are two of my all-time favorites, Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run,” and the Christmas classic, “Silver Bells,” done blues-style. Chuck Berry has always been one of my musical idols - the so-called “Father Of Rock And Roll” and the man Bob Dylan described as “the Shakespeare of rock and roll.” “Silver Bells,” from the Bob Hope film “The Lemon-Drop Kid” was first released on record in 1951 by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards, and was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. You may not know the songwriters by their names, but you certainly know their work. This incredibly prolific duo were three-time Academy Award-winners - for “Buttons And Bows,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Que Sera, Sera.” If this were not enough, they also composed the theme music for “Bonanza” and “Mr. Ed.” ( “A horse is a horse, of course of course…”) Livingston and Evans may not have recognized their song “Silver Bells” from my blues version, but I loved giving the song my own treatment, and I hope you’ll enjoy listening to it.
That’s all for now. Until next time, I hope you all have a wonderful, safe and happy Thanksgiving. Cheers!
BLACK FRIDAY SALE on 11/24
To order Jon's new CD as well as personalized autographs,
visit the JONWALMSLEYMUSIC SHOP