I really look forward to the holiday season each year. The precious family time, the tightly wrapped presents, the glistening white snow – ok, no glistening white snow for me anymore, I’m in Florida now. And holiday time means holiday tunes, usually starting in about October these days. But if you’re like me, you’re just a little bit tired of hearing the same holiday jingles over and over again each year. Of course, there’s something fun about the first time you hear “Winter Wonderland” and “The Christmas Song” coming through that department store’s speakers. After all, who doesn’t love the holidays? And by Thanksgiving, I’m already pulling out my copy of Jewel’s first Christmas album – that can be our little secret, by the way. But you and me – deep down we’re blues fans, and after a few weeks of the novelty of Christmas music starts to wear off like yesterday’s aftershave, we’re ready to get back to our musical roots. So perhaps you’d like to give your ears the gift of a few holly jolly blues jams? Here are five Christmas blues songs you should add to your holiday blues playlist. As the snowflakes pile up outside against the brightly lit houses, snuggle up beside the crackling fireplace and give them a listen. Or, if you’re in Florida like me, just play them on the beach.
1. B.B. King – “Back Door Santa” If there’s anything more reliable than Christmas coming ‘round once a year, it’s B.B. King making thrilling music. “Back Door” is the tale of a naughty Santa. He’s spreading some Christmas cheer to all the lovely ladies, “while the men are out at play,” and he’s definitely bringing some presents, “every time you call me, dear.” King’s take on soul man Clarence Carter’s Yuletide yarn is sung playfully and grooves on with wit and levity. But what is extra special about this rendition is that not only is it a great tune for the holiday season playlist, with it’s pulsing bass, swinging brass, and lighthearted guitar licks, it’s a really great anytime blues song.
2. Sonny Boy Williamson – “Sonny Boy’s Christmas Blues” Sonny Boy Williamson brings some heavy Mississippi blues flavor to make your holiday time just a little more merry. But there’s no peace on Earth to be had for the protagonist of this sad tune. His baby’s left him, and he doesn’t have much to do this season except drink in the spirit of Christmas – or should I say, the spirits of Christmas. Probably whiskey will do. The poor soul, “tried to fetch religion, but the devil won’t let me pray, that’s why I got to stay drunk boys all day that Christmas day.” Layered with flurries of electric guitar and filled to the brim like an eggnog latte with swampy harmonica lines, he acknowledges, “If she do happen to come home, I will enjoy this Christmas.” But, frankly, we wouldn’t bet our Christmas presents on it. So, cheers!
3. Canned Heat – “Christmas Blues.” “Well it’s Christmastime everybody, but it’s raining in my heart” this tune laments, as our downhearted hero begs, “Tell me why we must be apart.” An American blues band well known for their performances at Monterey and Woodstock, Canned Heat helps brings a little swing to a blue Christmas. A bright, tightly arranged and well-produced holiday jam that benefits from short but cherry sweet solos on harmonica and guitar, this was a single released from the aptly named Christmas album Christmas Album. As the lyrics question, “What is my life little darling another lonely Christmas without you,” you’ll certainly feel sympathy for the dejected blues singer. But this ditty is sure to blow any Christmas blues you might have away.
4. Freddie King – “Christmas Tears” A second “King” of the blues guitar, Freddie this time, delivers us this wonderfully woeful tale of lost love. One can picture the singer and his broken heart lying despondently beside a half decorated, dimly lit Christmas tree as he sadly informs us, “I hear sleigh bells ring but I haven’t heard a word from you in years.” Not even the local holiday carolers can prevent King from “cryin’ Christmas tears.” This one is sure to tug at your heartstrings just a little bit, as the song slowly unfolds its largely piano-decked ache. But unlike Santa, you won’t need a helping of milk and cookies to get you through this one, as “Christmas Tears” is an excellent exercise in holiday blues music and is sure to lift your spirits on a crisp, cold Christmas evening.
5. Joe Bonamassa – “Christmas Date Blues.” Last Christmas, Joe delivered like ol’ St. Nick himself, bringing us this driving blues-rock chestnut. The smoking guitar lines are strung about like tinsel and there’s a stocking stuffed full of jazzy piano soloing as well. An updating of Big Joe Turner’s “Christmas Date Boogie” from 1948, this cut is proudly nostalgic without being overly sentimental. The band is kicking and Joe’s voice sounds as brilliant as ever. He tells his pretty baby that she’s as “sweet as you can be,” and entreats her to keep him on her mind. So don’t be fooled by the title – this holiday season romp is great cheer, and will have you grooving all through the night before Christmas.
– Brian R.
Which of these holiday time blues songs is your favorite? Or do you have another favorite that I didn’t mention? Comment below or tweet me @BonamassaBlog!