Saturday, December 27, 2008

Look What I Got From Santa

2008 was a great year for The Hipwaders. Thanks to our fans we did well enough to build up a very nice band account to pay for the recording costs for our forthcoming EP, "The Goodie Bag". We had enough in our account (let's call the account, "Santa") that Santa brought us gifts for Christmas. I got this:

This sweet Danelectro 12-string electric guitar will be used extensively on our "Kindie Christmas" album that we're currently at the rehearsal/arranging stage.

Thanks Santa!

Here's a holiday themed guitar song that rocks:

I Want A Rock and Roll Guitar - Johnny Preston 1959

What did Santa bring you?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Feast of Stephen!

For over a hundred a fifty years, people have enjoyed the popular Christmas Carol, "Good King Wenceslas". It's a nifty tune that's based on a real -life guy named Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia way back over a thousand years ago. Within a few decades after he died there were four biographies out about him. He was one righteous dude who helped out the poor and down & out.

Hundreds of years after his death he was so popular that the Holy Roman Emperor Otto 1 declared that the the Duke was now a King. Too bad he wasn't around to accept the award.

Anyhoo, around the 1850's Rev. John Neale translated a poem by Czech poet Vaclav Svoboda and put the words to an old 13th cnentury tune, "Tempus Adest Floridum".

Viola! "Good King Wenceslas" is born.

Now, the secret to having a tune last for so long has been revealed. Songwriters gather 'round as Wikipedia has explained why this song is a perennial favorite. Follow these instructions and you too may have a hit.

"The lyrics consist of five quatrains in the meter trochaic heptameter. Each quatrain has the scheme AABB with feminine rhyme. The unstressed syllable of the fourth foot is abated in each line in favor of a caesura, forming the line into two hemistichs, which conveys a sense of urgency. In the accompanying common time musical score, the caesura is attained by rendering the fourth foot as a half note, while the last foot of the line effectively becomes a spondee by being realized as two half notes. "

Sounds easy enough.

Now let's go start handing out alms...let's alm's an alms race...sorry, I got carried away.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa's Coming, Santa's Coming!

Just got this update from NORAD:

NORAD Christmas Eve Special Bulletin

I hope everyone is enjoying time with friends and family. Here's some awesome tunes - both sacred and secular.

First, it's Hank "I'm Movin' On" Snow with his hoppin' "Reindeer Boogie" from his aptly-named album "Snow On Christmas"

Reindeer Boogie - Hank Snow

This has got to be in my top five fave melodies of all time. A simply beautiful song that gets an awesome arrangement. An amazing recording considering it's from 1916!.

O Holy Night - The Venetian Trio 1916

Now go double check to make sure your stocking doesn't have a hole in it.

"Jump in bed and cover up your head, 'cause Santa Claus comes tonight!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Air-to-Air Missle Toe Jam Football

Yep. I do like me my kisses. All of ‘em: Butterfly, Eskimo, French - even that blown kiss I nonchalantly catch in my right hand and then toss to the ground just to be cheeky.

Fortunately, Christmas affords us the excuse to kiss whilst under thy mistletoe. Dating back to Greek mythology, mistletoe is thought to be The Golden Bough of Aeneas, ancestor of the Romans. Like I care. It’s lip-smacking time, baby. Don’t need no reason.

How a parasitic life-form became something to celebrate (besides children) has something to do with the fact it bears fruit during the Winter Solstice and may have been used by the Druids during Winter Sosltice celebrations as a symbol of immortality.

The custom of having to kiss when under the mistletoe is believed to be of Scandinavian origin. That’s fine with me as I’m 1/4 Danish and don’t need any more excuse than that.

As Jimi may have sang...

“‘Scuse me while I kiss this, ...wife.”

Christmas Kisses - Ray Anthony 1961

Honk, If You Hanukkah

As today is the first day of Hanukkah, it's time to celebrate the fact that many Jews are willing to help out with the Christmas experience.

Many of the greatest Christmas “standards” were written by Jewish songwriters. I’m talking about Christmas classics such as “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”, “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow", “Santa Baby”, “Silver Bells”, “White Christmas”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, and trust me, our beloved “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was no gentile.

If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em seems to be the attitude here and we’re all the better for it. It’s tough to compete with Christmas and the best way to cope with the holiday is with humor:

Jewish Jingle Bells - Jimmy Haskell with the Jackie Ward Singers (1967)

“Have A Jewish Christmas...?” was a comedy album by Brenner & Blitzer (sounds like bench-warming Reindeer) that made fun of fellow Jews who secretly celebrated Christmas. Ray Brenner & Barry Blitzer were a successful comedy-writing team for such shows as McHale’s Navy, Andy Griffith, Get Smart, and Gomer Pyle.

My favorite cut from the album is entitled “Christmas Cards” and features the mysteriously named Reginald X. Carlisle as Hall Markowitz. Supposedly, the pseudonym was to protect the identity of popular comedian, Arte Johnson who was under contract to “Laugh-In” at the time.

Christmas Cards - Brenner & Blitzer (1967)

Now go out and enjoy the 25th day of Kislev commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE., because really...why not?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Viva La Posada y Esquivel!

Living here in California, we’re very aware of our Mexican cultural history. First they owned it, then we owned it, now we share it. One very cool part of the Mexican culture is La Posada.

In 6th grade I was asked by my former 4th grade teacher to read about La Posada to the gathered students and parents at our schools’ annual Christmas Show. At a borrowed Jr. High School gymnasium, I spoke at a microphone for the first time in front of an audience. With the reverberation in the room I realized I was suddenly sounding like Linus from “A Peanuts Christmas” and found it pretty cool. I’m assuming the 4th graders were acting out the Posada ritual behind me but I couldn’t see them and was too focused on reading my script. What I did learn is that for 9 days prior to Christmas Eve families gather to re-enact the travels of Mary and Joseph in their quest for lodging for the birth of baby Jesus. For each of those 9 nights a different family (representing the innkeepers) invites their parading neighbors (Los Peregrinos) in for a party. On Christmas Eve, the re-enactors/party revelers have one big final bash and place the baby Jesus in the manger. They then exchange gifts. The gift exchange bit they borrowed from us gringos.

Besides Mexican food, I think La Posada would be a great Mexican tradition to adopt.

Another cool Mexican import is Esquivel!. Juan Garcia Esquivel was a child prodigy who taught song composition and arranging at an early age and led his own orchestra by time he was 17. Beginning in 1958, Esquivel! (I love the exclamation point!) came to Hollywood to make records. A master at stereo recording, Esquivel! once separated his orchestra into two parts and recorded them in separate studios a block apart using closed-circuit television to conduct them.

Esquivel! recorded a bunch of cool Christmas songs but this is my favorite:

Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Esquivel!

Herb Alpert-influenced George Garabadian and the Tijuana Brass bring us:

Parade if the Wooden Soldiers

Augie Rios had a hit with:

Donde Esta Santa Claus

and lastly, Mel Blanc and his politically incorrect Speedy Gonzalez declare...

The Hat I Got for Christmas is Too Big

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Arboreally Speaking, Cleveland Rocks!

So we just decorated our recently acquired 7&1/2 foot silver tip Christmas Tree. As a kid we had a silver aluminum Christmas tree for years until my family procured a green plastic tree. In the picture you can see and enjoy the kitschy wonderfulness of our original tree.

Note: parents, do not dress your children like this.

As we kids got older we rebelled and insisted we get a “real” tree. So our parents got us a small tree to decorate but the large plastic tree still held the place of honor in the living room. As an adult our tree has been decorated with my wife’s classic-style ornaments clashing with my pop culture taste (a Yellow Submarine, various rock instruments, Classic Christmas TV Specials, etc...). Now, with children it has taken an increasingly bizarre turn for novelty with no less than 3 different Godzilla ornaments and a Monster Inc. ornament where I replaced Boo’s lost head with a Pikmin character’s head. My wife’s traditional glass Santa Claus ornaments cower in fear. Of course, the boys think it’s the coolest ornament ever.

Let’s give thank to the good pastor Henry Schwan of Cleveland, Ohio for starting this Christmas Tree decorating thing back in 1851 and enjoy some of the cooler Christmas Tree Tunes.

This one is truly “the bomb” from 1907, it’s:
O Tannebaum by The Nebe Quartette

Christmas Trees had a hard time getting accepted during their history. The
church considered them pagan. I think the pagans would’ve loved these two rockabilly numbers about Christmas Trees (that’s how they rolled):
The Rocking Tree by Marguerite Trina

Rock Around the Christmas Tree by Big Bud

"Trim up the tree with Christmas Stuff like bingle balls and whofoo fluff..."
Dr. Suess

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Santa's Got A Brand New Goodie Bag

According to the Dutch, Santa’s Birthday is Dec. 6th. Sinterklaas (that’s St. Nicholas to you and me) comes to the Netherlands from Spain via steamboat two weeks prior to his birthday along with his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete).

Why this story hasn’t been made into a TV series or Hollywood movie yet is beyond me. This is fascinating stuff. First, the idea of Santa kicking it in Ibiza rather than the frozen north makes for a much more commercially interesting backdrop (worked wonders for Baywatch, didn’t it?). I’m sure Santa would rather dine on tapas and Paella rather than seal and whale blubber - and venison would no longer be on the culinary “no-fly” list.

Other than Aurora Borealis, the North Pole just isn’t as interesting as Spain. Songwriters have had to work hard to make Santa’s digs at the pole interesting. Case in point:

“What a Land, Santa Land!” - Don Elliott Orchestra

Obviously the idea of travel by steamboat would need to be updated to a speedboat, or better yet - hovercraft!

Probably the most fascinating aspect of the entire story is how Santa’s got a “Man Friday” named Black Pete to assist him in the delivery of the presents. This is classic buddy flick material folks, following such multi-ethnic genre predecessors as Poitier & Curtis, Nolte & Murphy, and ...uh, Crockett & Tubbs. Let’s face it, while making his rounds Santa’s holding some serious stash and needs some muscle to watch his back. Elves aren’t that intimidating and a sidekick opens up so many more storyline options.

So all you budding screenwriters get busy as we enjoy Santa’s Birthday...

Santa’s Birthday - The Caroleer Singers & Orchestra

p.s. Speaking of birthdays, The Hipwaders have now finished recording their “Goodie Bag” EP and will start mixing next week!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday is now Officially Red

Are you getting up before the dawn to make it to the mall to get the deals that will make your Christmas bright? Not me. I’m staying in bed. However, I feel your sense of urgency and in an effort to assist you with your shopping may I provide a soundtrack?

Here's my favorite song about Christmas shopping. It's by the The Ambassador Chorale and Players, a group of session singers who recorded under a bunch of different names for cheap record labels during the 1960's. Now, keep your head low, elbows out and go shop!:

Christmas Rush- The Ambassador Chorale and Players

While this song is not about shopping, it does have the manic energy needed to navigate your way through the aisles and smiles(?) of your fellow shoppers. From the year 1950, it’s the always fun and giddy Andrews Sisters who also made some real swell Christmas records with Bing Crosby. The song fits in with my last post about Jingle Bells as without that song there would be no:

Jing-A-Ling, Jing-A-Ling - The Andrews Sisters with the Quincy Jones Orchestra

Now, have fun, shop safe...and buy me a toy (that’s what my boys always say).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"The One Horse Open Sleigh" (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jingle Bells)

Why start this blog? Most likely because of the song originally known as "The One Horse Open Sleigh" published in 1857 and written by James Lord (!) Pierpont for Thanksgiving. What kid doesn't learn to love "Jingle Bells" (as it was re-titled and published in 1859) at a young age? I'm sure I was one of those kids to quickly discover the joys of singing the song and it's parodies - "Jingle Bells, Batman smells", anyone?

It's the one song in our repertoire that is guaranteed to get kids up to the mic to sing a verse and chorus.

As a "kindie" songwriter and performer I feel that Christmas music is closest to the Kindie music genre. First, let me give you my quick definition of Kindie music: Music that appeals to all ages with a primary focus on children too old for nursery rhymes but too young for "relationship" songs. Part of Christmas music's appeal is in it's positive message, celebration of innocence, and wonderment. Those qualities are also reflected in Kindie music with both genres have the ability to draw the young and old together.

My band, The Hipwaders, will soon be attempting to record a Christmas/Holiday album for release winter 2009. We plan to begin recording in January and I worry about being able to keep up the "Christmas spirit" when the idea of even listening to Christmas music after December 25th makes me ill. I thought perhaps if I'm forced to maintain focus on Christmas and as much "winter holiday" music & stuff on a regular basis I may be able to make it.

Therefore, if interested, keep checking this blog for our progress in this endeavor.

Now, back to "Jingle Bells". Here's a few of my favorite versions:

First recorded on an Edison Brown Wax Cylinder in 1898 by the Edison Male
Quartette. This version was performed as part of a comedy bit entitled "Sleigh

Sleigh Ride/Jingle Bells - Edison Male Quartette

Here, fleet-fingered Fats Waller performs his version entitled, "Swingin' Them
Jingle Bells" recorded in 1939. Note his uncanny knack for impersonating Jerry Lewis a decade anyone even knew who Jerry Lewis was:

"Swingin' Them Jingle Bells" - Fats Waller

Another favorite version of "Jingle Bells" is Ira Ironstrings' 1959 version that starts off as a Dixieland romp (a genre that generally annoys me after just a few minutes) then suddenly veers off into the swinging exotica realm with malleted percussion giving it a "zing zang" hipness one would would not expect. Even stranger is the fact that Ira Ironstrings was actually an alias for steel guitarist Alvino Rey who was the musical director of the the King Family Singers, a bland outfit that had a TV variety show in the 1960's that managed to be more "vanilla" than Lawrence Welk. The King Family made "Bobby & Sissy" seem more like "Sid & Nancy".
Ira/Alvino made cool-named records like, "Ira Ironstrings Plays for People with $3.98" and...wait for it..."Ira Ironstrings Plays with Matches". Brilliant.
So where did Ira/Alvino's hipness come from? Give this track a listen and you can hear that he learned well from his session work with the great Esquivel!:

Jingle Bells Stomp - Ira Ironstrings

Lastly, also from 1959, comes a version from one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums, The Three Suns "A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas". The Three Suns fall into the "lounge" category but offered much more weirdness. This version adds some zippy "Ren & Stimpy" guitar (that's the best way for me to describe it!) with some cool jazzy organ. Dig this:

Jingle Bells - The Three Suns

Now, step away from the screen and grab yourself a Turkey leg. Stay hip and remember, "It ain't cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving."