OK, here’s the deal: these shows were big-time fun, and even more fun than the shows (if I can imagine such a thing) was the rehearsal at Tony’s studio under the late, great Disc Diggers, in which spirits were consumed and I got to hear all my favorites under the guise of “shouldn’t we run through that one one more time?”
Let’s proceed to one of the actual nights in question: the first show was at Johnny D’s (by the way, let’s just mention that this was all done, as usual, rather spur of the moment and last-minute, despite the fact fact that I’d been trying to pull a Christmas benefit show together for many years; the only difference this year being my decision to not give in to the fact that I had once again not gotten it together to do the show until way too late to promote it properly. This year I vowed that the shows would occur, no matter how badly I promoted them. And they did! Yayyyy!!! (Kids, don’t ever let the fact that you’re a hopeless moron stand in the way of your becoming president! Remember – going downhill is natural! Failure is inevitable -enjoy yourselves!
Ed “Moose” Savage wasn’t even on the prospective list of participants, and yet, by some miracle, there he was! I’ve shopped in his store, Picture Paradise (159 Brighton Ave. in Allston, beautiful Allston) for many years, and Moose is what you call a presence, a guy and a half. My favorite Moose song is “Iceberg Lettuce”, but this one is also brilliant (and not just unexpected.)
Then the thing about wrapping Roy Orbison in clingfilm, which someone sent me over the internet. If I recall correctly, it’s part of a series of things you can do with clingfilm (apparently a German euphemism for Saran Wrap) and Roy Orbison that a friend of mine found on a German website …someone sent me over the internet. If I recall correctly, it’s part of a series of things you can do with clingfilm (apparently a German euphemism for Saran Wrap) and Roy Orbison that a friend of mine found on a German website (it’s true! go to http://www.michaelkelly.fsnet.co.uk/karl.htm for greater learning.) (By the way, I’ve never done this before or since, and have no excuse for the far-fetched German accent. Sorry.)
Then come the Ticks, and not a moment too soon. The Ticks are cute as buttons, and know it, and are always lording it over old guys like me. They’re also a Cape Cod institution -either that or they live in one. I love the Ticks. They’re also one of the only ones that actually fell for that line about “we’re only doing original songs” and wrote a great one but then did this, which I obviously had to use, right?
In general, I haven’t included songwriter information, because I’m too lazy to find it and too poor to pay for it, but I did want to point out that the magnificent lyrics to “Extra-Strength Mistletoe” were (like the rest of the song) written by the inimitable Pete Labonne, who should be studied somewhere, relentlessly. (“I’m gonna cattle-prod your apron like you were a twitching lab rat”? “I’m gonna persephanize you down and down to where the dead reside / Where the freedom-seeking autistics quietly go to hide”?!? This guy is way out in front here, kids… start building the statue…) And, damn, are we a bunch of slobs on this or what? And it’s still early!
For some reason, whenever we’re in drag, there’s Alice Sheinfeld (aka Allan Sheinfeld; you know, an alias can be a wonderful thing), laying it down on two old traditional Christmas numbers, the first originally recorded, flawlessly and most rockingly by B. Bumble and the Stingers, and the second by someone I fortunately don’t know. Check Rikki on the “Nutrocker” (and -me, of all people, actually playing the ending right, which I know will never happen again, no matter how many more times I try it.) And “Here Comes Santa”, well, what can I say? Jolliness is a fucking disease, isn’t it?
And then in comes Jennifer Kimball with a terrible cold. Jen is one of my favorite people, and a ridiculously good singer, usually, like when she has a voice. Also, obviously, a major good sport to let this one slip through quality control, but we both felt that the spirit hereon more than outweighed the minor technical imperfections, like having no voice. I absolutely love Jen, and not just because she also doesn’t much like vibrato, but because she’s adorable and a true trooper who came to both rehearsal and show with a major cold that would’ve side-lined most of us. And because as a result she sounds all the more appropriately vulnerable and teensy on “Baby It’s Cold”, making yours truly sound all the more wolf-ly as I entirely butcher the wonderful Frank Loesser lyric (amazingly, he’s even as big a genius as Pete Labonne), at one point leaving the English language behind entirely. Not to mention a longer-than-originally-scheduled trumpet solo by a suddenly extraordinarily playful-to-the-point-of-inebriated Steve Lefevbre and what have you got? I don’t know, either.
Tony Goddess is one of the kindest gentlemen it has ever been my pleasure to encounter, and one of the most talented: his band Papas Fritas put out some records you absolutely need to hear (my favorite being “Helioself” on Minty Fresh.) “Love Just Won’t Quit” is from their songbook, unassuming but perfect; we also did the Beach Boys’ “Santa’s Got an Airplane” that night, which was also a blast.
And then “In the Bleak Midwinter”, my favorite. God, this was gorgeous, and I just love how it felt to hear this beautiful, stately song in the middle of all this revelry, and when Jen does her solo line, I almost lose it every time. During rehearsal I got them to sing this a few times. Boy, did I like the rehearsal! This arrangement was taken off a Christmas album by Jane Siberry, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Paula Cole, Rebecca Jenkins, and Victoria Williams called “Count Your Blessings” (on the Alert label) that has some real magic on it, and the title track is equally gorgeous. I mean, please, Jen, Amy (who filled in miraculously and courageously at the last minute), and Rebecca, all entirely unchaperoned? Merry Christmas indeed!
Then let’s just up the ante and get Ramona (sometimes known as the “the Belle of the Philharmonic”) to do a Muffs song -pretty much heaven on earth, dude! (This was actually my wife’s idea. Who was chaperoning me. She loves the Muffs. She’s a nice wife. I always try to get her to sing, because I know she loves to, and I know she’s good at it, but she is always too bashful. Ah well, apparently only room for one ham in the family and all that, durn it…) At this writing, Ramona has just put out a new CD called “Intermission”, that I’ve been hearing is great – can’t wait to check it out…
And then, speaking of bashful, there’s Shaun Wortis, who is one of my cohorts from the Mardi Gras shows we’ve been doing the last few years, thusly rendering an old Huey “Piano” Smith classic harmful (along with my other cohorts from the Incredible Casuals, conclusively demonstrating once again that we can play our way out of a paper bag… god what a sloppy goddam mess! I love this band!!! Totally beyond the bounds of competence early on, but pretty good by the end… hey, you only get a couple of cracks at these damn songs a year!)
Before we go further, let’s take a moment to mention the emergency keyboard ministrations of the one and only Phil Clements, who got hit with a lot of stuff last minute (like, for instance, being the whole band on “Bleak Midwinter”, and pulling it off beautifully) and responded heroically in every case. Garcon – another statue, s’il vous plait.
Which brings us to Rebecca and Shaun’s duet on Lttle Eva and Big Dee Sharp’s stirring “I Wish You a Merry Merry Christmas”, always one of my faves… and again, a total, glorious slobfest -and check out Johnny Spampinato being the responsible guy to get enough of the guitar solo to actually cue us back into the chorus! Christ, I gave that part to like 3 or 4 different guys, just figuring that the law of averages would grant us one out of the 4 who actually caught it; but Johnny? that wouldn’t’ve been my guess. Real chemistry between the lead singers on this one, if you ask me…
And that’s it for the Johnny D’s show as we’re whisked off to Joe’s Beach Bar in Orleans (out on the cape), a week or two later, for the (mostly) acoustic portion of our presentation. Twenty-five years ago, Joe’s was called the Barley Neck Inn, and it’s the place I met my wife, a cozy, old barn kind-of place with a big old fireplace that felt just right, a dark, golden roomful of friends and seasonal cheer and all that crap. The Philharmonic started with “I Wanna Rock Christmas”, a song I’d written just a few days prior, unheard and unlearned by anyone, including Tim Dickey, turning up surprised as hell on bass. This one might get a more serious attempt one of these days…
Seth Richardson was another great surprise, a discovery of the wife’s, via her good friend, O’Hara. Seth is still quite young, and wrote this at the last minute – pretty cool song… I’ll be interested to see what he gets up to.
And then there’s the Spampinato boys, Johnny ‘n Joey, both of whom I’ve known forever, both great singers and great players, both strangely Spampinato-like in a Spampinato sort of way. My friend Terry Adams has worked with both of them, at once, which I believe might be a record! Joey is probably the best bass player I’ve ever heard, and writes gorgeous, complex songs that somehow manage to be simple and touching as well, like this one here, originally recorded by my favorite band in the world, NRBQ, called “Christmas Wish”- magic.
More magic, as Kami Lyle floats in from the back of the room, supported by various co-angels (including the loudest of the Shook Family Singers), as the room is transfixed, all loo-loo-loo-ing away to the strains of a Charlie Brown Christmas; just one of those perfect moments, y’know? The show is obviously stolen, never to be returned, but I don’t care – I’m in heaven.
When things have gone well beyond finesse and the time is right for a dollop of noisy brutality, I always call on my friend Steve “Woo Woo” Wood, the soul of Cape Cod rock’n’roll, and he delivers every time. But I felt a little nervous about the programming here: how would little Lizzie Shook, in theory a non-performer, deal with following all this racket?
Little did I know how firmly the Shook Family Singers would grasp the baton as the most exciting father/daughter act since the Kendalls took the stage. Damn, what a song this Robert Earl Keen classic is, chockful of worldly detail, as the room descends from its drift in the clouds to putting its feet up in the trailer and cracking open a cold one. Young Lizzy, twangy Texan accent and all, has everyone eating out of the palm of her hand in no time, not to mention whooping and hollering at the end -jesus, the crooks are stealing from the crooks! I feel so superfluous…
All I can think of to do at this point is a little more Huey “Piano” Smith, and the rest of the night is a bit of a blur, though apparently master seven-string guitarist Fred Fried came by at some point with sax man Bruce Abbott for a comfy, impromptu version of the old classic, “The Christmas Song”; and then, I must’ve done “Memories” at some point…
And then we drove home. Merry Christmas!
© Chandler Travis, 2005