Some forty years later, when I learned that this Christmas recording was still a best-seller, I began thinking that our audience just might be ready for Merry Christmas, Volume II. Yes, there were other Christmas recordings by The New Christy Minstrels after our monumental first release, but they, in my opinion, lacked the originality, fun and excitement of the initial effort. Okay, maybe I'm biased. ------ Randy Sparks
Here then is Merry Christmas, Volume II.
1. Ebenezer Scrooge is the oldest of the new songs in the collection. It was conjured-up in the seventies, along with another dozen tunes that were considerably less interesting or fun to sing and play. It nearly saw the light of day back then, and I'm glad now that it was put on the shelf. Nobody has heard it, so it's still new, and what Todd Hallawell has done with it, instrumentally, is pure magic.
2. Christmas Wishes was written in the last few minutes of our now-famous Hollywood sessions, which produced Merry Christmas, Vol. I. Art Podell had played most of the tune for me the previous day, and I liked it a lot. He asked me if I had any ideas for a lyric, and I probably didn't. We were so very busy then. I didn't give it another thought, until somebody remarked that the album seemed too short, that we ought to have another song or two. We had nothing else prepared, but we did have some studio time left (very unusual in those days), so I dragged Artie
into a quiet corner, and he played his beautiful melody for me again. The words flowed magically, and in just a few minutes, after some last minute polishing, it was a completed song. It took another short while for the group to learn the chord changes and settle on vocal parts, but in record time, it was in the can. Were I not such a feet-on-the-ground, logical person, I suppose I could easily read something mystical, spiritual into this event, but the truth is that we, as a group, were a well-oiled machine by then, so head arrangements did come easily. We all knew, instinctively, how do to what we did best. The most magical part of the story happened a bit later. Ann Murray found the song on our album, quite on her own, I believe, and made it the title tune of her classic Christmas recording.
3. Hairs In His Ears could quite likely require an apology in some households. I know it's not proper to be telling kids, 'distrust is a lesson you must learn,' but it's true! The story line is from my on personal struggle to understand how Santa could be in so many places at once, and 'hairs in the ears' (or the lack thereof) became my tip-off that imposters were out and about.
4. Flor de la Noche Buena means (in Spanish) flower of the good night, the good night being Christmas. It was named for our first minister to Mexico (where it was discovered), Joel Roberts Poinsett, in the 19th Century. He's the person who gave this beautiful flowering plant to the world.
5. The Wren (King of Birds) (pronounced RAN) is the very same small bird we all know and love. For some unknown reason it was selected by the Irish to serve as a stand-in for the martyred St. Stephen on his day, December 26, and the ritual calls for a procession of boys to carry the slain bird's corpse through the streets. They call on each house along their route, and they are rewarded for their song and pageantry with food and drink. Thankfully, nowadays, the annual wild bird slaughter has been been curtailed with the introduction of plastic wrens.
6. No Room At The Inn At Christmas. This one requires more than a paragraph. In my judgment, it's the best song in the ollection. It's a true story, taken directly from life, a gift.
Just after 9/11, people were afraid to fly, and airline fares dipped to an all-time low. When the ticket price to London reached below $300., I said to my old pal Dirty Ernie, "This is your best chance to visit the old country." DE was a retired truckdriver, a former out-of-control biker, and an all-round good guy. He was proudly Irish, always over-celebrating on Saint Paddy's Day, and forever speaking wistfully (in a phoney accent) about 'getting back to the old soil,' even though he had never been there. We went. It was Christmas Eve when we caught the last ferry to Dublin, and DE was in his glory. I noticed that something was amiss, as I'd been there before, but Ernie was oblivious and well pleased to drink to his 'homecoming' with a pint of Guinness in the only open pub we could find, and I left him there, while I went searching for a Bed and Breakfast, a place to settle in for the night. The whole city was shut-down, I soon learned, and it would be that way for the next two days, Christmas and St. Stephen's Day. I found plenty of hotels and B&Bs, but no lights were on; nobody was home. I walked in the cold rain for a couple of hours, and the story was the same everywhere I went. Finally, in desperation, I went back to the pub where I'd left my friend, and we hailed one of the few cabs still operating. "Take us to the nearest place where we can find beds for the night," I instructed the driver. His reply cast a dismal shadow on our holiday. "The only room I know of in the whole city is at the most expensive hotel. I just came from there, and they only had one left." We raced to that hotel, and that ushered in a whole set of new problems. Ernie refused to accept what he called charity, and he didn't have much money, so I was required to live at his near-poverty level. This hotel room was 'way past our budget, and I knew we had to find another, cheaper place in the morning. I began with the phone book, calling all the B&Bs that were listed, but the answer was the same for every number I dialed: no answer. Near the bottom of the list, I finally reached a live person, but she told me that I was likely using an out-of-date telephone book. That number had belonged to a B&B at one time, but was now assigned to a private residence. I apologized for disturbing her on Christmas Morning, and explained that we were 'a couple of Americans in trouble.' "Just a minute," she said, "I'll let you speak to my husband. He's still in bed." "What kind of trouble?" the man's voice asked, and I told him how we didn't know about the Irish custom of shutting down the country for the holidays, and how we needed a place to stay. "I own a hotel," he said, "but it's closed." Then there was a long silence. "I'll tell you what," he continued, "you catch a cab and meet me there in twenty minutes." I wrote down the address, and we followed his instructions. His name was Ned O'Shea, and he owned O'Shea's Pub and Hotel in downtown Dublin. He made a fire, then disappeared into the back room, and when he came out, he served us a fine Christmas dinner, never mind that it was still breakfast time! He then showed Dirty Ernie where the Guinness was on-tap, and gave us a key to our room. "You won't be able to leave here today," he said, "as there'll be nobody to let you back in, but tomorrow, the Pub shall be open, and you can come and go at will." Then he left.
It suddenly dawned on me that this was the best Christmas story ever, and it was happening in real life: No Room At The Inn At Christmas. I just happened, at the time, to be writing our new Christmas album, and this true story was the finest gift I ever received. Our benefactor knew nothing more about us than that we were Americans in trouble. By the way, when we checked-out two days later, there was no bill. God bless you, Ned O'Shea!.
7. Starry Gazy Pie is still on the menu in Mousehole, Cornwall, England, every holiday season. It's in tribute to the real Thom Bawcock, whose bravery saved the citizens from certain starvation in the time before refrigeration.
8. Dear Friends And Gentle Hearts is presumed to be the title of a new song that Stephen C. Foster was working on when he died, as these are the words scrawled on a piece of paper found in his pocket. My logic tells me that, since he had just lived through what was for him another lonely holiday season, there's a good chance that this was intended to be a Christmas offering. I have taken the liberty of completing the task he'd begun, and in doing so, I harbor no illusions about my qualifications. I'm not suggesting that I'm in his league as a writer of songs, or that I ever could be, but we do have something in common. We both owe our success to Christy's Minstrels.
9. I love what Todd Hallawell has done with my simple, folksy St. Hood. It's no longer simple and folksy. There's a lot to be said for finally catching up to where our idols were in the 40's.
10. John Doan performs beautifully on Carol of bells. He's the rarest of the rare, a harp-guitarist, and we've been friends and musical co-conspirators for a long time. He accepted my nvitation to play in Burl Ives' final concert, and he joined with us in Missoula for this live Christmas recording.
11. My favorite classical composer is Robert Schumann, although I prefer to think of him as Bobby S., from Nashville. That makes him seem a lot more human. He's my co-writer on At Christmastime. He wrote the beautiful melody, and I adapted it for our use herein. He had his own idea about words for the tune, but insisted on writing in German, and that leaves much of our audience wanting.
12. Dirty Ernie and I had just left Dolan Ellis' place in Hereford, Arizona, and before we got to Road Forks, New Mexico, the AM radio signal was fading in and out, and I was certain I'd heard the announcer say, "Now, here's I Smell Santa Claus." 'Wow, that's my kind of Christmas song,' I thought to myself, 'a real Dr. Demento treasure!' Of course, when the station faded back in sufficiently, I figured out that what I thought I'd heard was not what the DJ said at all. He was playing some ordinary, respectful Xmas ditty, but my imagination was already off and running. This song is one of very few dividends from my US Navy-sponsored 1956 hearing loss aboard the USS Princeton, CVS-37. I'm now indebted to the 5-inch gunners.
13. Universal Santa is a bit of my own middle-of-the-road philosophy. I honestly wish we could come to some sort of agreement about keeping Santa religion-neutral for the sake of the kids. It's a fun piece of folklore that has never hurt anybody (except those who choose to believe that chimneys can be used for making dramatic entrances), and if we can somehow persuade the children to like or at least tolerate one another, we might see a brighter future for the planet. Santa, I think, could be of help.
14. Daddy, Does Santa Ride A Harley? was the hit of our live presentation in Missoula, Montana. People liked the song a lot, they told me, and when Santa Claus rode onto the stage at the end of the song, it was pandemonium! They loved it. We all did. The audience stood up and cheered, and they wouldn't quit! What's more American than mom, apple pie, and Harley-Davidson?
Check out the artist's website:
1. Ebenezer Scrooge
2. Christmas Wishes
3. Hairs in His Ears!
4. Flor de la Noche Buena
5. The Wren (King of Birds)
6. No Room at the Inn
7. Starry-Gazy Pie
8. Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts
9. Carol of the Bells on Harp-Guitar
10. Saint Hood
11. At Christmastime
12. Universal Santa
13. I Smell Santa Claus!
14. Daddy, Does Santa Ride a Harley?