If I could have gotten a converter installed, I would have uploaded an MP3 of Phil James’ “Give Us Some God Damn Figgy Pudding” piece from the first Burl Xmas album. However, we did continue the tradition of spoken word on subsequent offerings, and Mr. Tom Igoe was kind enough to do this version of “Nicky the Pimp”
And this is a down dirty one from the Chimp.
One of his rare vocal performances!
Spingo loves the surf guitar. If he could have gone back in time, he would go, just to kill Dick Dale, for the off chasnce he could have een reincarnated as the Miserlou Master.
This is a purty one from the Big Chimp.
As a concept band, Burl quickly discovered the benefits of guest artists. When you have talented friends, including their work next to yours makes you look smart, if nothing else.
Here’s one by Clive “The Robot” Thompson, whom I would later collaborate with on a different project, the Greencard Cowboys. Clive’s day job is as award-winning technology journalist. But when he first got out of college in Toronto, so the story goes, he paid a lot of his rent by playing guitar constantly at various gigs all around the city.
He primarily plays guitar, but can also program drums, play bass, a bit of keyboard, and a killer harmonica. Once I saw Clive teach himself banjo in a day, well enough to record a song with me in the evening. So he’s a prodigy, the bastard.
Here he is making pretty instrumental Xmas music, like a prodigy should.
Another Burl original.
This one was ACTUALLY recorded live in one take. Or maybe two.
Some simple guitar noises, accompanied by lyrics that combine the warm comfort of December frostbite with the wholesome feelings of maximum security at the Michigan City State Prison.
Much like “Fluffy Christmas for Cuddles”, I can’t really listen to this one all the way through. In fact, I think the only time I was ever to listen to it all the way through was when I recorded the damn thing. Except this one started out trying to be something funny, and it turned into this. Brrrrr….
It didn’t always make it to final recordings, but there are three essential styles that Burl was prone to: punk pop, surf, and a sort-of blues.
Of those, my voice is most suited to the blues shouter style. You could imagine my voice singing on a Buddy Guy or a Charlie Musselwhite track, if you squinted hard with your ears.
Relatedly, I just heard Ella Fitzgerald’s “Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney” again this season, and the lyrics to this song match that theme closely indeed.
“Big Red Blues” is also a Burl original, one of the few. Please to enjoy, and as always: live in one take.
This one was actually physically painful. Running that low into the register, my voice was buzzing like shrapnel in a tornado full of hornets.
It does sound cool, I think, though not holiday-like in the slightest!
SONG: Heat Miser
We had a Freedy Johnston cover of this song which was really quite pretty. But the rhythm of the song turns out to be a giant pain in the ass. And really hard to program a good drum track for.
And we couldn’t figure out a good key.
So we just handed it to Mark, and made his life miserable.
I remember talking to Spingo about it, and thinking we would do a version of thius song EVERY YEAR until we got it right.
That was going to be a tradition, but we only did it once as the torment of this song was a “once enough”.
We had three basic traditions in Burl recording.
1. Live in One Take
Every song, no matter how many tracks you think you hear, was recorded live in one take. Dare to dream, anyway!
2. Bud Tallboys
Is an explanation needed?
3. Punishing the Singers
The majority of the Burl songs were sung by me or Mark McClusky. We both have fine singing voices, maybe not radio-ready, but perfectly passable. Mark fronted Lakeside Rebar, an alt-country band in San Francisco, for years. I’ve done recordings for the Greencard Cowboys project where people actually say, “Hey, that sounded OK” in shocked tones.
The reason they’re shocked is for every “Deck the Halls”, a fun shouter, there were barrels of clunkers and missed notes, and “clearly he can barely remember the lyrics”.
And as lot of those performances began with an idea Spingo found ineffably funny: “Morgan, why not sing that in a falsetto?”
Or because we had a track that was unsingable, and played peer pressure games: “Come on, McClucky, we already have the track! All you have to do is sing!”
And as to WHY Mark or I would agree? See tradition #2.
So tonight, I will present two examples. “Heat Miser” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
This one had a strange career. Obviously, it’s one of our more listenable ones, because it’s straight forward chunky guitar rock, the three of us are singing along in reasonable tune, and it has a nice silly ending. We weren’t trying to creep you out particularly.
The thing is, it’s also the simplest ones we ever did, and if they were so inclined, folks could even sing along to it. So it got picked up for other circumstances.
Like: It appeared on an album put out by Leapnet, my old agency in Chicago, which had Xmas cuts from various employees.
Like: It got used as a soundtrack for an insane Flash movie by some German guy. I have the .exe file somewhere, and will upload it later for folks to download. Might even see if I can convert it into a Flash file than can be viewed online without downloading.
SONG: Deck the Halls
As always, recorded live in one take.