Blues Christmas Songs
If you thought that Christmas was a time where the blues couldn’t operate, think again as there is a rich Christmas music legacy courtesy of this genre. It’s not all about the joyous party anthems each December and like at any other time of the year there is plenty of room for the blues during the holidays. All the major players from the blues scene including John Lee Hooker, Canned Heat, James Brown and B.B. King have contributed memorable blues Christmas songs over the years and in many cases there’s is a long association with the season.
Charles Brown’s 1960 ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ is perhaps the archetypal blues Christmas song and such has been its impact that it has been famously covered by the behemoths that are the Eagles and Bon Jovi. Brown’s most famous Christmas song found a perfect home on his 1994 Christmas album ‘Cool Christmas Blues’ which included lots of little known gems like ‘Christmas In Heaven’, ‘Christmas Comes But Once A Year’ and ‘A Song For Christmas’ to put Brown at the forefront of the bluesmen with Christmas truly in their heart.
B.B. King also has plenty of Christmas blues music to his name with his most famous composition being ‘Merry Christmas Baby’, wherein he tears his vocals over a series low slung chords and a gallery of brass parts. Such was King’s love affair with the season that a 2001 compilation called ‘A Christmas Celebration Of Hope’ gathered together all the Christmas material from his long career in one place. Canned Heat’s most famous contribution to the season is ‘Christmas Blues’ which features their unmistakable chugging sound over a backdrop of a heart that has to put up with umpteen stormy fronts. This song was the centrepiece on Canned Heat’s 2000 Christmas collection simply titled ‘Christmas Album’.
While the aforementioned songs do have a festive pep in their step of sorts the reason we all love blues music is because it serves to storyline other people’s misfortune and when it comes to Christmas blues music there is plenty of bad news doing the rounds. And they don’t get much more depressing than Count Basie’s ‘Good Morning Blues’ wherein the male subject begs the man in red to bring back his lady love over a rich swathe of instrumental genius. From the start you know how it is going to end and compared to this even Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’ sounds like a chipper ode to the season. Similarly demented by loneliness is Freddy King whose 1961 epic ‘Christmas Tears’ is in danger of freezing over if the temperature dips below zero. With lines like ‘I hear sleigh bells ring, but I haven't heard a word from you in years’ this is a template for how the chronologies of a broken heart should be written.
One of the most acclaimed blues Christmas songs compilations is 1991’s ‘Blue Yule’ that superbly pulls together a retrospective of the best festive numbers from the genre. Alongside expected selections such as John Lee Hooker’s greasy ‘Blues For Christmas’ and Sonny Boy Williamson’s intoxicated ‘Santa Claus’ there are unheralded gems such as Eddie C. Campbell’s ‘Santa’s Messin’ With The Kid’ which features a wildly eccentric harmonica as well as Campbell subtle if suitably worn vocals. Hardly obscure but a little more contemporary is Robert Earl Keen’s 1996 live version of his ‘Merry Christmas from the Family’ which showcases an everyday family and a not so perfect Christmas that is still treasured and looked forward to each year. All the evidence you need to see that great blues Christmas songs are still being churned out.