Christmas Lagniappe Redux
I’m sure many of the HOTG regulars and passers-by are otherwise occupied for the Christmas holidays; but for those of you who do stop by, I am re-visiting two music posts from the 2004 season, during the start-up period of the blog, when traffic was even lighter. Hope more of you enjoy ‘em this time. I’ll be back around New Year’s with some special offerings. Have a great week.
Our first stocking stuffer comes from a much loved New Orleans' group, Huey 'Piano' Smith and the Clowns, dispensers of year ‘round good cheer with their many great novelty tunes from the mid-1950’s to the early 1960’s. Originally recording for Johnny Vincent (Imbragulio)’s Ace Records starting in 1957, Smith and his revolving aggragation of singing and playing characters had signed on with Imperial Records to work with Dave Bartholomew in 1960. Lead singer Bobby Marchan left the group prior to the move; and their hit making had cooled.
For various reasons, their tenure at Imperial was short-lived, though they made some great tracks. The label cut them loose after releasing four non-productive singles. So, Smith went back to Ace where, in 1962, his group recorded the rather adventurous album, ‘twas the ight before Christmas, comprising R&B reworkings of seasonal standards along with some new Xmas-related novelty songs. At the time, Ace had a national distribution and promotion deal with VeeJay that the larger label was not living up to. As a result, the LP was issued, but never really got a chance to be heard. Despite (or due to) its short shelf-life, it became legendary to fans of the group and highly collectable.
"Rock & Roll Santa Claus (Johnson)
Huey 'Piano' Smith and the Clowns, from 'twas the night before Christmas, Ace, 1962
“Rock ‘N’ Roll Santa Claus” features Curley Moore on lead vocal and was written by one of the city’s greats, Earl King (Johnson). One of my favorite New Orleans Xmas songs, it’s one of a kind with an effective arrangement and an intense marching band snare approach by drummer Charles ‘Hungry’ Williams, who seems not to have hit a single cymbal on the take. I’ve read that Mac Rebennack was the the guitarist on this album; and, as he was involved with a lot of Ace productions as a young man, he likely arranged and ran the sessions, too. Mac has said that Curley Moore was one of his vocal influences; and I think you can hear that to some degree in Curley’s performance.
My LP is a 1980’s era Ace re-issue, when Vincent was still alive and somewhat in business in Jackson, MS. You can tell it’s not an original because the cover has “Dr. John Band” printed on it. Of course, Rebennack did not adopt the Dr. John name until the later 1960’s. In 1998, Westside released a CD version, when they gained the rights to the Ace masters; but that too is sadly out-of-print now and often WAY overpriced when you see it.
"Glad Tidings" (Van Morrison)
Merry Clayton, from Gimme Shelter, Ode 70, 1970
Definitely not sloppy seconds, Merry Clayton, born and raised in New Orleans, turns Van Morrison’s, “Glad Tidings”, into a soulful, personal Christmas wish. It’s another tune from her remarkable and never re-issued 1970 Gimme Shelter album, recorded in Los Angeles. Merry has been the subject of other posts here, as a matter of fact. She lets loose on this spirited album closer in fine style, and also aptly expresses my best to each an every one of you this holiday season. New Orleans is an even more special place at Christmas. The city has given us so much musically and culturally. Let's all try to give something back to it in the coming year and help re-build the legacy.