Season’s greetings to you all in Hi-Fi! I’ve been kicking around the idea of recording a Christmas guitar album for a while now. Every year I faced the same problem—I would get excited to play Christmas songs around the holidays, but couldn’t finish an album in time to release it before December. In 2016, I posted a series of guitar videos online counting down the days to Christmas. The response to them was overwhelming to me; it was great to know there was still a demand for classic Christmas music. So this summer I got motivated, locked myself in my music room to assemble some of my favorite seasonal songs, and started working on Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar.
While recording, I realized that a holiday album needs no stylistic boundaries. This was a chance for me to explore different genres of American music, and pay tribute to some of my favorite jazz, western swing, and country guitar players. It was also an opportunity to further explore multi-track guitar recording, an art form pioneered by Les Paul in the 1940s and ‘50s. I always marvel at how he and guitarists such as Jorgen Ingmann and Buddy Merrill conceived of and executed their densely layered albums. I know this style is of interest to guitar enthusiasts, but maybe not as much to the average music fan. So the challenge was to delve into this genre to satisfy myself and guitar fans, while still retaining the melodies and feel of these familiar Christmas standards.
The album kicks off with “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” The original, recorded by 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd in 1952, is a little grating (to put it mildly), but I always liked the melody, and I love later recordings by The Ronettes and Jimmy McGriff. I used this tune to create my own Les Paul-style “guitar orchestra” arrangement.
Bing Crosby introduced “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in 1943. My arrangement is not based on any particular version, but I evoked Jorgen Ingmann’s “Apache” throughout, and this space-age mood is accentuated perfectly by the percussion of Alex Hall. While searching for definitive Christmas melodies, I often referenced Bing Crosby and Chet Atkins. These two giants of American music were a big influence on my arrangements of “Mele Kalikimaka,” “Silver Bells,” and “Winter Wonderland.”
Frank Sinatra recorded “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” three times. My arrangement was most influenced by his first version from 1947. In later recordings, the lyrics were changed to be more upbeat. But for me, hearing a mellifluous young Sinatra with the original lyrics, and the beautiful string arrangement of Axel Stordahl, always strikes the perfect bittersweet Christmas chord.
“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” is a seasonal jazz standard written by Irving Berlin that might be forgotten these days, but was often included on Christmas albums of yesteryear. I love the melody, and used it to try my hand at arranging a big band-style guitar orchestration. Irving Berlin also wrote “White Christmas.” The guitar tracks on my version were recorded on Christmas Day a few years back, starting the process that resulted in this album.
“Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” are my tribute to the studio musicians known as the “Nashville A-Team.” They backed up Bobby Helms and Brenda Lee on the original versions, and are responsible for the sound of countless country and pop records of the 1950s and ‘60s. I can’t hear these two songs without the stinging guitar accents of Hank Garland, a seminal guitarist who recorded one of the most jaw-dropping jazz albums ever (“Jazz Winds From a New Direction”), and is also responsible for the classic lead part on “Little Sister” by Elvis Presley. I stayed in a Nashville mood for the Elvis classic “Blue Christmas” (played here as a Ray Price shuffle), and with “Pretty Paper,” a country waltz written by Willie Nelson that was a hit for Roy Orbison in 1963. “Jingle Bells” is a tribute to Don Rich, lead guitarist for Buck Owens and his Buckaroos.
I’m tucking you in with the beautiful melody, “Christmas Time is Here,” written by Vince Guaraldi for “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Thank you for spinning my Christmas record, I hope it gives you a sentimental feeling and conjures up some of your favorite holiday and musical memories. I would like to give a big thank you to everyone who encouraged me to record Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar; I couldn’t have finished it without you!
–Joel Paterson, 2017