Let’s pull our Sleigh up again. Today I think it’s time to remember that Christmas is a time for celebration. A time to meet up with old friends and make new ones. A time to sing and dance and laugh. A time to shake our fists in the face of the dark, cruel winter as we affirm our faith in the inevitable restorative power of the light.
For many years I did much of my celebrating in bars, pubs, Honky Tonks and Road Houses soaking up the music and the booze as the nights progressed. The music choices today reflect that biblious spirit.
First, the Boss Of The Blues – Big Joe Turner. Big is no empty boast; Joe was over 6ft 2 and weighed more than 300 pounds so when he arrived in a room you knew he was there! You would also know Joe was around because his voice could break through walls and wake the dead. Joe had to develop his shouting style when he worked in the hectic, heaving bars of wide-open Kansas City in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Even though the joints Joe worked in such as the Kingfish and the Sunset would have been rammed to the doors with free spending, free fighting customers Joe never had any problem getting heard from behind the bar. As, ‘The Singing Barman’ he formed a famous partnership with pianist Pete Johnson immortalised in the standard, ‘Roll ‘Em Pete’.
If I had been a customer I would have ordered (in honour of the Rudy Toombes song) One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer – knocked them back and settled in for a night of peerless blues.
Joe’s career lasted some 60 years and he was variously styled as a bluesman, a jazz singer, a Rythmn and Blues stylist and a pioneer rock ‘n’ roller – whatever the label the big man went his own sweet way launching every song into the stratosphere with the immense power of his vocals.
From the moment, ‘Christmas Date Boogie’ opens we know we are in good hands. Big Joe is very much the master of ceremonies marshalling the instrumental forces around him. They are all fine players given their chance to shine but there is no doubt who is the star of the show! You can just imagine the big beaming smile of Joe as he tears into this Christmas frolic. Resistance is useless – where’s the Bourbon?
I’ll let the very fine Irish poet (I think you may have guessed by now that I am somewhat well disposed to Irish poets) Michael Longley introduce the next music Titan:
‘He plays for hours and hours on end and thought there be
Oases one part water, two parts gin
He tumbles past to reign, wise and thirsty, at the still centre of his loud dominion -
THE SHOOK, THE SHAKE, THE SHEIKH OF ARABY’.
The subject of the poem and the artist featured in our second music selection is, of course, the one and only, one man musical encyclopaedia and indefatigable party starter: Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller. A short list of his accomplishments would have to include his very considerable prowess as a pianist, organist, singer, songwriter, composer and comedian.
Yet any list of talents and achievements would undersell Fats impact on his contemporary artists and his audiences. Fats was beyond category – he was Fats Waller and The Lord of any room he chose to light up. He could in the course of a single number go from being rollickingly rumbustious to wistful gentle melancholy.
Sadly his early death meant that the true depth of his talents were never fully sounded but nevertheless he leaves a unique legacy of wondrously entertaining recordings. If you ever need cheering up and reminding of how good it is to be alive just press the button next to Fats name and you will feel a whole lot better – I guarantee it.
Today’s poem is, ‘Mary’s Song’ by Charles Causley.
‘Warm in the wintry air
The ox and the donkey
With summer eyes
They seem to say:
On Christmas Day!
Sleep, King Jesus:
Your diamond crown
High in the sky
Where stars look down.
Let your reign
Of love begin,
That all the world may enter in.’