Today brings the first day of a short series within this series.
One night in 1988 or 1989 — I don’t recall which — I taped a radio show from a most remarkable station in Madison, Wisconsin.
WORT, 89.9 FM, was — and is — listener-sponsored, volunteer-run, free-form Back Porch Radio. They spin a staggeringly diverse mix of local bands, indie rock, R&B, soul, dance, jazz, punk, country and performance art. (You can stream it live, too.)
The DJ called himself Willie Wonder, and he played R&B, soul and jazz late at night one night a week on a show called “Cross Currents.” One December night, he was dropping Christmas tunes into the usual mix.
I probably was listening to the show as I drove home from work, started digging it and popped in a tape when I got home. I’ve listened to that tape — named “Willie’s Hot Christmas” — every year since. It’s one of my faves.
In the 20 or so years since, I’ve been collecting the tracks from that tape. I have, or have identified, all but one tune. Last year, I sent the tape to my friend Mike, who ran it through his home studio and burned it to CD for me. That, my friends, is what makes this little series possible.
We’re going to recreate Willie Wonder’s show from that night, from the point I started taping, three songs at a time.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” Jimmy Smith, from “Christmas Cookin’,” 1964. It’s out of print, but is available digitally.
This is the first cut from the classic Christmas jazz album by the master of the Hammond B-3 organ.
And now, that one last mystery song …
“The Christmas Song,” unknown jazz sax instrumental. If you know who does this, please drop me a line.
(The mystery cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)
“Merry Christmas,” Lightnin’ Hopkins, 1953, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. It’s out of print. Also available on “The Very Best of Lightnin’ Hopkins,” a 2000 CD compilation.
This rough, gritty electric blues cut was recorded on July 29, 1953. That’s Hopkins on vocals and guitar, backed by Donald Cooks on bass and Connie Kroll on drums.
Willie’s Hot Christmas continues tomorrow.