By Nick Morrison
The holiday spirit, powerful though it may be, just doesn’t work for everybody: Some folks simply hate the season. Maybe they’re lonely, maybe they’re broke, maybe they’re depressed, maybe they’re killjoys. Whatever the reason, “Jingle Bells” isn’t everyone’s cup of egg nog. If you count yourself among their ranks, here’s a list for you. We hope it makes you feel better, and if it doesn’t, look at it this way: If the only thing you get for Christmas is the blues, at least you’re getting something.
Song: Christmas Morning Blues
Artist: Victoria Spivey
Album: Complete Recorded Workd, Vol. 1 (1926-1927)
Victoria Spivey was one of the first big blues stars and one of the few female blues songwriters of her time. “Christmas Morning Blues” is one of the earliest blues recordings to feature a “Christmas sucks” theme, and Spivey doesn’t hold back. It’s dire: “New Year’s he won’t be here, ’cause death will be his Santy Claus.” And that’s just the second verse. The great guitar accompaniment is provided by Lonnie Johnson, Spivey’s longtime friend and frequent collaborator.
Song: Good Morning Blues
Artist: Count Basie with Jimmy Rushing
Album: Best of Early Basie
This early Count Basie recording has been somewhat forgotten as a Christmas blues, probably because the word “Christmas” isn’t in the title, but it’s a fine one. When the song was recorded, the Basie Band featured some of the most groundbreaking musicians in jazz history, including Lester Young, Jo Jones and “Sweets” Edison. Although this band set the standard for what swing should sound like, at heart it was a great big blues band with a great, round blues singer named Jimmy “Mr. Five By Five” Rushing. “Good Morning Blues” is big-band blues at its best, but these guys make it sound easy.
Song: Christmas Tears
Artist: Freddie King
Album: 17 Greatest Hits
Texas blues guitarist and singer Freddie King was a powerhouse player and a huge influence on the blues and rock guitarists of the 1960s. When a very young Eric Clapton covered King’s classic instrumental “Hideaway” on his debut release with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, guitar fans sat up and took notice. In this 1961 recording, Freddie King makes no bones about how he regards the notion of spending Christmas alone. (Clapton eventually covered this one, too.)
Song: Lonesome Christmas (Part 1 and 2)
Artist: Lowell Fulson
Album: Merry Soulful Christmas
In the postwar R&B scene on the West Coast, singer-guitarist Lowell Fulson was right up there with T-Bone Walker in popularity. His early bands featured such up-and-coming players as Ray Charles and Stanley Turrentine. Several of Fulson’s recordings, including “Three O’Clock Blues,” “Reconsider Baby” and “Tramp,” are now considered blues classics. Fulson originally recorded “Lonesome Christmas” in 1950.
Song: How I Hate to See Xmas Come Around
Artist: Jimmy Witherspoon
Album: Blues, Blues Christmas: 1925-1955
Singer Jimmy Witherspoon was another star of postwar blues on the West Coast. He was also probably the only blues singer who got his start in Calcutta, but that’s another story. In this bluntly titled blues, Witherspoon takes us with him as he tries to scrounge up the money to buy a few Christmas presents. Things end badly, of course, which is exactly what you should expect from the final song in a list of low-down Christmas blues.