- Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks
- Crazy For Christmas
Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks Crazy For Christmas (Surf Dog Records)
Jimi Hendrix Merry Christmas And Happy New Year (Experience Hendrix)
Dear Mr. B:
I’ve asked several dozen people for help and they’ve all said the same thing – “I don’t have a clue, but you should ask Mr. B. He’ll know the answer.” So here I am with my dilemma, hoping you can make my world right and save Christmas.
I won’t go into details, but it’s been a couple of decades or so since my family has consented to all be in the same time zone (let alone under the same roof) for Christmas. Of course, I couldn’t get an easy assignment for this Yuletide summit like “Bring a batch of your yummy rum balls” or “Haul out that recipe for ‘On Yer Ass Eggnog’, why don’t you?” – oh, no. Nothing that simple.
Me, I’m responsible for the soundtrack to this little event – needing to come up with Christmas music that’s going to keep the “fun” in three generations of dysfunction. Surprisingly enough, I have most of the bases covered, except for my two uncles. This is where I need your help, Mr. B – I need some Christmas music that’ll warm the heart of…
Uncle Neal: Talks in some sort of hipster jargon that I have a hard time understanding. Except when he says, “yass, yass” or “that’s cool, daddy.” Nobody’s seen his eyes for, like, 50 years or so – always wears a big pair of clunky gas-station sunglasses. A sharp dresser in a weird stuck-in-a-time-zone sort of way. Snaps his fingers to some laid-back beat in his head when he’s walking.
Uncle Zap: Incapable of starting a sentence without “When I was at Woodstock …” Seriously: “How’s the weather, Uncle Zap?” “Well, when I was at Woodstock …” Or: “What do you think of this WikiLeaks thing, Uncle Zap?” “I’ll tell you one thing, when I was at Woodstock …” I’ll hand it to him: he can still button that fringed buckskin vest he’s had since … well, since Woodstock. Same thing with the headband. We think he’s been bald since the late 80s, but nobody’s seen him without the headband.
There you have it, Mr. B. Come up with some Christmas tunes suitable for those two, and you’re my hero.
With much appreciation,
Stumped In Steamboat Springs
Man, is that all? I don’t even have to sit up straight for this one, my friend.
First, here’s a little something for good ol’ Uncle Zap: Merry Christmas And Happy New Year from Jimi Hendrix. (I’m betting Zap hung around on Monday morning for Jimi’s set at Woodstock … heck – he was probably still there the following Monday.)
What we have here is a three-cut EP, Stumped. Tracks 1 and 3 are from a Band Of Gypsys rehearsal just prior to Christmas in 1969. (Wonder where Zap was by then? It had to be getting kinda drafty out there in Max Yasgur’s field.) With the Yuletide spirit wafting through the air at Baggy’s Studios in Manhattan, Jimi leads bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles through an off-the-tie-dyed-velvet-cuff instrumental medley that jams its way from “Little Drummer Boy” to “Silent Night”, eventually spinning into “Auld Lang Syne” (with a pause for some “Taps” along the way). The opening track holds things to 4:28, while the latter lets the tape roll for another three minutes as Jimi and the gang let things find their own groove.
Sandwiched in between the two Christmassy jams is a cute and funky thing called “Three Little Bears”. What does “Three Little Bears” have to do with the holiday, you ask? Not a whole lot, except the only place Uncle Zap might’ve heard it was on the long-out-of-print War Heroes album, so maybe we should look at it as sort of a cool Christmas gift, snuggled right down into the toe of the stocking. “Bears” is from a 1968 Jimi Hendrix Experience recording session (Jimi, along with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell). This is as playful as the Experience ever got – maybe too playful: Jimi makes a couple of remarks about how “silly” the song is, saying at one point, “Man, I don’t feel like going through with this.” Regardless, they turn in a fun four-minute-plus performance that features a killer little guitar hook. God rest them merry gentlemens, indeed.
Now for Uncle Neal, Stumped. Nothing says “hipster Beat jazzbo cool cat” like Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks, my friend; and nothing says “hipster jazzbo cool cat Christmas” like Dan and the gang’s new Crazy For Christmas album. Drop the needle on this record and you may actually see Uncle Neal’s eyes for the first time as they pop out and knock his sunglasses right off his nose.
I don’t care how long Hicks & The Licks have been doing this – they are the undisputed masters (and mistresses) of the R. Crumb-meets-Django Reinhardt world of crazy-ass-but-dead-on folk-swing. Simply put: nobody else in this world – nobody – sounds like this, Stumped. Never did; never will. Lovely backup vocals coo and sway with gypsy jazz guitars, swooping bass, and grinning, winking violin while the sultan hisself does that Hicksodian mix of way-cool vocals, sweet bits o’ scat, and all-around good-time delivery of the goods. (And, of course, there’s kazoo as needed.)
Crazy For Christmas features a mix of holiday chestnuts such as “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Carol Of The Bells” combined with some Mr. Dan originals (including “Santa’s Workshop” and “I’ve Got Christmas By The Tail”). Of course, even the most well-worn tune becomes a Hot Licks number by the time they’re done with it. I mean, come on: there must be a gazillion versions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” in the world, Stumped – but you never heard one as cool as this.
So there you go, my friend. I think we’ve covered the bases. Get yourself down to your local purveyor of fine tunes, grab these two albums, and get ready to have some Christmas cheer with the whole famdamily. Wait and see – by the time the evening’s over, they’ll all be arm-in-arm, half-whacked on rum balls and having a great ol’ time.
No need to thank me – that’s why I’m here.
Your old pal,