Making a Christmas album

Hi guys and gals,

In the process of approaching my production of a Christmas album, I have had to face many interesting problems. All of us have heard every Christmas song in the world our entire lives. Many of us are extremely tired of even hearing a Christmas song. I was even one of these folks until I heard Buddy Emmons steel guitar approach to his Christmas album. This is my favorite Buddy Emmons album ever. So I asked myself what approach I should use to a Christmas album to make it interesting, tasteful and extremely listenable to children of all ages and musicians of varied tastes.

I have heard other steel players do Christmas albums that really just sort of sounded like a country recording session only using Christmas material as the format. I definitely did not want to do the straight ahead melody approach of Buddy Emmons or the country steel guitar approach of several other fine players. Because Christmas songs have been recorded by so many people with so many different approaches, it was really a challenge to try to figure out a new and different way of coming at the same old songs. Making these songs fresh, unique and different was my goal.

What I did was hire Nashville’s finest team of jingle players and writers. We charted everything out discussing chord changes with modifications to make them very interesting with a root in the melody with a smattering of brutal jazz, a touch of classical and of course, some tasteful E9th and C6th styles. One of the finer players in Nashville who has heard this album said it sounds like Curly Chalker, Buddy Emmons and Howard Roberts doing these tunes for a good movie soundtrack. I will personally say that there is something here for everybody from the hardcore musician to the kids who can’t sleep because Santa Claus is coming.

How does this all pertain to being a tip for you? The problems that I encountered approaching this Christmas album are really problems that you should be facing in learning to play, being original and putting yourself into your own style of playing. Anytime you play anything with anyone anywhere, don’t be Buddy Emmons, don’t be Curly Chalker, don’t be Bobbe Seymour, be yourself. Of course, there are many things you can learn musically from we three and everyone else. Use everyone’s playing as a blueprint for learning and creating your own style. Be a creative individual and not a carbon-copy of someone else’s playing. You playing what someone else has played is the same as you delivering the Gettysburg Address … everybody knows you’re not Abraham Lincoln. The reason most of you steel players don’t read music is because most of you are creative or have a creative core and don’t want to play what somebody else has already written.

How many times have you gone to church and seen the church organist play for an hour and you think hey, she’s good, then learned that she can’t play a note if the hymnal isn’t in front of her? What kind of a musician is it that can only play what’s written for them to read and play? To me a musician is someone who can create and not just be a machine by turning someone else’s written ideas into a song. I would rather hear a poor creative player than a great reader … at least I’m hearing what he’s saying and what’s going on in his mind. Steel players, all of you, I salute you all for being the creative individuals that you are. Now get out there and be creative and be yourselves and remember it’s not wrong because Buddy Emmons, Curly Chalker and I didn’t do it first. If we all played exactly the same, there wouldn’t need to be but one of us.

My exercise in being original in the form of this year’s Christmas album will be available within a month. There won’t be a newsletter next week because I’ll be in Ireland. I’ll see you in two weeks.

Your buddy,


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