I’m probably like most people out there, 2020 has been a slow, painful slog. Despite the grim year, I looked up and suddenly it was the dreaded (for me) Holiday Season. How is it almost Christmas? It seems like just yesterday I was barricading myself in my house for the 4th of July. I guess we all thankfully got a collective Xmas gift this year in the form of a couple of viable vaccines. I was watching the local news last night and they did a story on a group of a dozen rescue dogs. They’d all been found in the house of a hoarder down in Tulsa and transferred to Kansas City because the Tulsa animal shelters are full. Not to get off track here, but if you’ve got charitable dollars to give, don’t forget your local animal shelters or the Humane Society. Anyway, these poor dogs who had been owned by this hoarder had never been outside. They’d never seen the sky or the sun. One can only imagine what the hoarder’s house smelled like. They showed the dogs being led by leash off the back of a truck and into the KC shelter. The dogs were looking up in fear at the sky they’d never seen. They were agitated and disoriented and perhaps a little agoraphobic. I couldn’t help but think I’ll look pretty similar to those dogs when I’m led out of this attic I’ve been hiding in for most of 2020. I can almost see myself being led by the arm by the Rock Chick – to keep me steady – while I stagger down the front porch steps, staring nervously at the sky…”What is that large burning orb hovering above the tree line?” “Well sir, it’s called the sun.”
I’ve documented on these pages my, uh, “lack of enthusiasm” for the Christmas season (Confessions of an Ex-Grinch: My Christmas Epiphany). Anymore, and especially this year, it feels like a season I’ll have to endure rather than enjoy. I don’t know what turned me into such a ghoul about Christmas. I really like to give gifts. I like to make people happy, which may be a surprise to, well, people. My parents and my grandparents (God rest their souls) always put on a great Xmas. When we were little kids we’d wake up and come bursting down to the living room and it was nothing short of gleeful. And yet, here I am. As I got older it became more and more awkward for me to actually accept a gift. I never feel like I can express gratitude properly. It’s an odd thing to be hung up on. The Rock Chick says she knows when I don’t really appreciate a gift, but can she? I’m not sure I can even tell. Naturally, me marrying the Rock Chick was like the Grinch marrying Mrs. Claus. Every Christmas is a production Cecil B. DeMille would envy, which I’ve grown to enjoy. Admittedly, the strong egg nog helps… I guess I was just out there on my own, playing like a “Desperado” like the Eagles song for too long…”you’ve been out ridin’ fences for so long now.”
One of the most irritating things about the Holiday season for me is the damn music. This year in Kansas City there was a radio station that started playing Christmas music the day after Halloween. When I heard that on my radio I kinda wished I was Elvis and I could shoot the radio with a pearl handle revolver and get away with it. Mariah Carey must count the days until the Christmas season so she can cash in. The song I hate the most – and it doesn’t matter who is singing it – is “The Little Drummer Boy.” If I have to hear that damn song again I’m going to “pa rum pum pum” lose my fucking mind. It’s like that song was designed to make me go insane. Bob Seger, who I love, does a particularly noxious version of that song.
It was with great surprise, as I was perusing Spotify and Apple for new music, that I discovered under the “new releases” category a song by the Black Crowes, “Back Door Santa.” While it was a Christmas song, it was still a Black Crowes song so I was intrigued. I’ve always loved the Crowes. I read an extended cover article in ‘Classic Rock’ magazine recently about their last break up and how the Robinson brothers (Chris/vocals, Rich/guitar) were slowly trying to reunite, as brothers first and band members second. They were going to tour this year for the 30th anniversary of their classic debut, Shake Your Money Maker but then, well 2020 and Covid happened. I know they were able to squeeze a couple of acoustic shows in at the end of last year. I hope those guys, on a human level, can sort out that relationship. Sibling relationships can be complicated (The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands) especially when you work together.
Its hard to believe it’s been thirty years since their debut came out. In 1990, I had literally just escaped my exile in Arkansas when Shake Your Money Maker came out. “Jealous Again” got radio play and it was just the kind of Stonesy, Faces-like rock and roll I had loved my whole life. When I heard their Otis Redding cover, “Hard to Handle” I was hooked, I bought the album and have stayed on the bandwagon ever since. “Twice As Hard” remains a staple here at the house. It didn’t hurt that their sophomore album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion defied the expectations of a “sophomore slump” and was actually even better than their debut. I can remember being drunk in downtown Dallas where I kept mistaking the lyrics of the first single, “Remedy,” and singing loudly, “Baby baby why you dry your hair?” instead of “dye your hair.” No one was amused. Well, no one but me. Southern Harmony was the first tour I was able to see them live and yes, they can bring it.
Knowing its been 11 years since their last album, the oft overlooked gem Before The Frost…Until The Freeze (new tracks recorded live at Levon Helm’s barn), I was really excited when I thought the Crowes had recorded a new song, even if it is a Christmas song. Well, it turns out “Back Door Santa” was recorded back in 2005 and released as a free download. Apparently it was included on a couple of movie soundtracks. The song was written by soul artist Clarence Carter back in 1968. It has been recorded by various artists over the years including Bon Jovi and of all people, Brad Delp from Boston. I’m going to have to look for that Delp version, that sounds intriguing.
“Back Door Santa” is pure, old time, Stax records, soul – complete with a horn section. What struck me about the Crowes version is how gleefully they perform this song. Chris Robinson on vocals sounds particularly joyful in his singing. With lyrics like “(Lookie here) I ain’t like old Saint Nick
He don’t come but once a year (oh, ho, ho, ho)” I have to agree with what it says on Wikipedia, that the song has “little to do with Christmas as a holiday.” Perhaps that’s why the song appeals to me. It’s a salacious, shameless come on. I love that he sings “OH, ho ho” instead of “ho ho ho.” I just think it’s hysterical. And while I can’t say with any certainty that “Back Door Santa” makes good on its promise of “I make all the little girls happy while the boys are out to play,” I can say they made this little Grinch very, very happy.
If you like soul, if you like the Black Crowes, hell if you’re weird and like Christmas music, I think you’re going to like this track from the Black Crowes. While I was hopeful that this was a sign they were recording new stuff, at least they’re reviving the brand and that may just be the first step. I’m hopeful in 2021 Santa brings me a new Black Crowes album… or at least a show I can potentially attend if things get better. It’ll be hard to leave the attic…
Happy Holidays to all of you out there but especially you folks who aren’t as into Christmas, like me. I hear the Holidays can be a time where depression increases. I can only imagine that this year it’ll be even worse with people isolated… Reach out to your loved ones, friends and family, make sure everybody is ok and let em know you care. It’s a dark ride… take of each other out there.
Cheers! And remember… “I come runnin’ with my presents, every time you call me dear.”