Livin' In Paradise
I’d say on average that about 85 percent of the people I ask, hate Christmas music with an undying passion. I am one of a crazed minority who actually like the stuff and have long cultivated a collection of the stuff. Although I usually begin the season with the two volumes of Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits, both of which are now out of print (C’mon Rhino!), but are easily found used on Amazon, my general rule with Christmas music is: the weirder the better. And God knows when it comes to weird, Bob Dylan’s new collection of guttural holiday croakings is truly amazing.
I do however, also have several soft spots for mainstream Xmas hits, first and foremost, Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” followed by his other “hit,” “Merry Christmas Baby.” Brown’s relationship with Christmas is an odd tale. A suave singer and pianist from Los Angeles who started with Johnny Moore and the Three Blazers, a group that became larger after Nat Cole (who Johnny’s brother Oscar played with) left town, Brown went solo and became something of a star and frequent visitor to the charts in the 1950’s. Rock ‘n’ roll swamped his career for most of the Sixties and Seventies but Brown had a late career renaissance in the late 1980’s thanks to a strong, young(er) quartet led by guitar player Danny Caron, bassist Ruth Davies and tenor man Clifford Solomon, as well as his abundant natural talent rising to the top again.
The weird thing is that after his monster 1945 record, “Driftin’ Blues,” Brown’s most remembered singles are both Christmas records: “Merry Christmas Baby” (1947) and “Please Come Home For Christmas” (1960). His stillinprint 1994 holiday record, Charles Brown’s Cool Christmas Blues on Rounder has both tunes in new rerecorded versions backed by the band mentioned above. Both are slow, smooth blues; that kind of thing that was once played late night in clubs. Sadly, that kind of schwank joint no longer exists in this country and hasn’t since the Sixties which explains what happened to Brown’s career. But even now, much as I love his two Christmas records, I marvel at the lovehate relationship with Santa Claus and all the rest that that man must have had. I remember seeing him playing both tunes in July in Albuquerque once, and he had a funny little rap about how great it was that those tunes had paid his bills for many years, but how it forced him into weird situations like playing them in the dead of summer. The man was always such a class act. And such a pleasure to be around. His passing in 1999 was a sad occasion. The unintended result of his Christmas stardom is that he’ll always be remembered by somethe cold, tired and musically geekyevery holiday season. Dammit! At Christmastime, Charles Brown is immortal!