Tag Archives: Charles Brown

Intimate Christmas music for lovers

Or is this Christmas music for young lovers?

The album jacket and the record label can’t agree, but it probably doesn’t make much difference.

This is a record that comes all the way from 1956. I’m not sure which is more remarkable — that I paid just $1 for it this spring, or that after 55 years, its vinyl grooves are still crisp and clean.

My copy is “a special D.J. album of ‘Merry Christmas Baby!'” from the Starday-King Radio Station Service. It is marked “not for resale,” but I trust the statute of limitations expired long ago.

Hollywood Records was an R&B label founded in Los Angeles by Don Pierce in October 1953.

A year later, it bought the masters of several R&B Christmas songs from the bankrupt Swing Time Records, some of which Swing Time had bought from the defunct Exclusive Records. The latter included “Merry Christmas Baby” (widely credited to Charles Brown but more likely done by Johnny Moore’s Blazers with Brown singing lead) and Mabel Scott’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” two of the biggest hits in the genre in the late ’40s.

In early 1955, Hollywood bought more Swing Time masters, including songs by Lowell Fulson (“Lonesome Christmas, Parts 1 and 2”), Lloyd Glenn (“Sleighride”). and Jimmy Witherspoon (“How I Hate To See Christmas Come Around,” renamed “Christmas Blues” here).

All those now-familiar hits make up half of this compilation LP.

In late 1955, Hollywood released Christmas 45s by Johnny Moore’s Blazers (for whom Brown had starred until leaving the group in 1948) and the Jackson Trio (also known as the Ebonaires). Both sides of those singles are here, too. Add two more by Johnny Moore’s Blazers and you have the LP.

None of the six Hollywood releases did as well as the six songs bought from Swing Time. Truth be told, Hollywood had trouble selling much of anything, at any time of the year, and went out of business in 1959.

Having unraveled all that, it’s clear that the latter-day Hollywood releases were being pitched as that intimate Christmas music for lovers … or as Christmas music for young lovers. The cuts from those older masters (which got top billing on the album cover) were a little more gritty.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” credited as Charles Brown but more likely Johnny Moore’s Blazers with Brown singing lead, 1947.

“Christmas Eve Baby,” Johnny Moore’s Blazers, 1955. A shameless remake of “Merry Christmas Baby” with Frankie Irvin singing lead.

“Love For Christmas” and “Jingle Bell Hop,” Jackson Trio, 1955. This group remains a mystery.

All from “Merry Christmas Baby,” 1956. It’s long out of print.

Also worth noting: DJs must have been exasperated with Hollywood Records once they took a closer look at this Christmas release. The order of the songs on the big promo sticker on the front of the LP doesn’t match the order on the record.

Much of the time line in this post is drawn from J.C. Marion’s fine and rather detailed study of the Swing Time and Hollywood labels.

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Filed under December 2011, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 6

Tonight’s Christmas record is a testament to the Zen of record digging.

I never have a list when I look for records. But there certainly are records I’d like to have. Tonight’s record was one.

The first time I saw it, the price was beyond my budget. Then I went a couple of years without seeing it. Then I found it at a record show, reasonably priced. I got it. I’ve seen it since, but again rather pricey.

So if you, too, have been seeking this record, let’s give it a listen.

“Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs,” Charles Brown, 1961/1975.

Charles Brown was a mellow Texas cat whose gentle blues/R&B style was a big influence on the Los Angeles scene of the late ’40s and early ’50s. But his style was so gentle that he was all but left behind when R&B gave way to rock in the ’60s.

Brown was singing and playing piano with Johnny Moore’s Three Trailblazers when, in 1947, they cut “Merry Christmas Baby,” a tune that’s become a Christmas blues standard. It was written by Moore and Lou Baxter.

In 1960, Brown recorded another Christmas blues standard — “Please Come Home For Christmas” — a tune he wrote with Gene Redd. It was released on this LP a year later and made the seasonal charts for more than a decade.

How great are these songs? I have more than two dozen covers of each one. Maybe we’ll dig those another time. We’re here to dig Charles Brown.

The ones you know.

“Merry Christmas Baby”

“Please Come Home For Christmas”

The ones you don’t.

One hard blues, one nightclub blues, one roadhouse blues.

“Christmas Blues”

“Christmas With No One To Love”

“Christmas Comes But Once A Year”

All from “Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs,” Charles Brown, 1961/1975. It’s out of print.

My vinyl copy is the Gusto Records re-release of the 1961 original on King Records. It adds “Merry Christmas Baby” but drops “My Most Miserable Christmas.” Some of the tunes were re-recorded for the 1975 release. I don’t know whether these cuts were recorded in 1961 or 1975. This record also was released on CD in 1995.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

Three under the tree, Vol. 32

You never know where you’re going to find that next great Christmas record. Today’s three under the tree are more recent, quite unexpected and altogether pleasant finds.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jim was having another record sale. Jim lives in one side of a tiny duplex. His basement is wall-to-wall records. He’d just put out a bunch of new additions, but hadn’t pulled the Christmas records from them. So I did it for him as I went through the boxes.

Then Jim pointed me to the rest of his Christmas records. I found this:

“White Christmas,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.” 1972. It’s out of print.

You probably know the Edwin Hawkins Singers as great gospel singers, which they are. But they also did a little R&B. Here’s proof. “White Christmas” isn’t one of my favorite Christmas tunes, but this is a wonderfully smooth, stylish version, with the solo by Tramaine Davis.

Although five of the eight cuts on this record are Christmas songs or hymns, it’s not presented as a Christmas album. The liner notes say: “This album contains Edwin Hawkins’ message, peace poetry.”

Our second tune comes off a record I came across almost two years ago. I couldn’t afford it that January day, but I found a more reasonably priced copy at our local record show a couple of months ago.

You probably know Charles Brown for his classic “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Please Home For Christmas.” Here’s another, a slow R&B number that’s reminiscent of Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody.”

“Let’s Make Every Day A Christmas Day,” Charles Brown, from “Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs,” 1975. It’s out of print.

My vinyl copy is the Gusto Records re-release of the 1961 original on King Records. It adds “Merry Christmas Baby” but drops “My Most Miserable Christmas.” Some of the tunes were re-recorded for the 1975 release. I don’t know whether this one was recorded in 1961 or 1975. This record also was released on CD in 1995.

Our third tune comes from a record I never would have heard it if not for our son Evan, a middle school kid at the time. If you know Relient K as a Christian band, don’t let that put you off. Its 2007 release, full of bright pop-punk, has become one of our favorites.

“Angels We Have Heard On High,” Relient K, from “Let It Snow Baby … Let It Reindeer,” 2007. It’s an expanded version of their out-of-print 2003 release “Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand,” on which this cut originally appeared.

Shredding the guitars and bashing the drums, they rip through this in 1:55. You don’t often hear this song on Christmas records, which makes this energetic version all the more remarkable. (Anyone for Handel’s “Messiah” in a breathtaking 1:10?)

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Filed under December 2009, Sounds