I'm rarely one to sing Christmas carols. Most of them are either too overtly religious or corny to belt out with much sincerity. Some should never leave the kindergarten or Sunday school classrooms at all.
This week, however, I'll take a stab at crooning a classic at Cord and Pedal's Christmas Ball (a.k.a. La Fête de Noël) at the Pour House. I've been covering the local music collective's holiday bash for years, but this is the first time I've been invited to actually perform. I'll be singing a gem.
My earliest experiences with the standards were with the Christmas with Coniff album by the Ray Coniff Singers. My family wore out the vinyl that contained that set of songs — easy-listening versions of "Frosty the Snowman," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," etc. The tracks landed on the turntable every year.
The jazzy Vince Guaraldi Trio set from Charles M. Schulz's Charlie Brown Christmas was more my speed — especially the piano-driven instrumental "Linus and Lucy."
The folk-singer stylings of Burl Ives made an early impression on me, too. His songs from the animated, early '60s TV special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer were particularly memorable. Ives was an authentic Greenwich Village folkie and veteran of early radio and Broadway. On Rudolph, his avuncular narration as Sam the Snowman (a character with facial hair similar to Ives' own mustache and goatee) blended perfectly with his crisp performances on the title track, "Silver and Gold," and "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," all of which were actually composed by American songwriter Johnny Marks specifically for the program.
Looking and listening back, "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" might have been my favorite holiday song as a youngster. It was simple and melodic, uncluttered and upbeat. Ives casually and convincingly declares Christmas as "the best time of the year" in the first verse.
It's in the key of C, which is one the most comfortable keys for any country, folk, or blues standard — for both the musician and the listener alike.
The song is cheerful and neighborly, too, as in the second verse where Ives sings, "Have a holly jolly Christmas/And when you walk down the street/Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet." It's perfectly selfless and friendly — and great advice in general.
It's carefree and just a wee bit naughty, too, with slight nods to physical affection ("Ho, ho, the mistletoe hung where you can see/Somebody waits for you/Kiss her once for me") and boozin' it up ("I don't know if there'll be snow, but have a cup of cheer").
This week, local indie label Shrimp Records steps in as the main presenters of the Christmas Ball. Cord and Pedal main man Kevin Hanley basically passed the scepter to Cary Ann Hearst, who booked the Butterbeans, the South Carolina Broadcasters, Lindsay Holler, Joel Timmons, the Shrimp Records Family Band, Go For Launch, the Hawkes, Run Dan Run, Whisky 'n' Ramblin, Hungry Monks, Clint 4, Rachel Kate Gillon, and others. Proceeds will benefit the Charleston Animal Society.
As part of a duo with singer/guitarist Doug Walters, I'll probably avoid the Ives-esque old man rasp and attempt a rich baritone on "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," and I'll try to go over as a weird cross between Neil Diamond, Joe Strummer, and Thurl Ravenscroft (of "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" fame). Even if my fractured croon bombs (or clears the room temporarily), I'll at least be in good company and far away from the sounds of Coniff.