By Randy Fox
When it comes to truly fabulous and incredibly weird country Christmas records, Red Sovine is hard to beat. Red recorded many great country records in a large variety of styles (including the 1956 floor-stompin’ rockabilly riot, “Juke Joint Johnny”), but during the 1960s and 1970s he built a reputation as the master of country recitation records. These spoken word classics positively oozed sentimentality and strangeness – the most obvious examples being his tale of a big rig gear-shifting haint, “Phantom 309” and the CB radio-powered crippled kid tearjerker, “Teddy Bear.”
When Red turned his reciting voice to the holiday season, he really delivered the goods. In June 1963, he cut two Christmas tunes at the Starday studios in Nashville for the LP Merry Christmas, Country Style — a compilation album that featured songs from several Starday artists. The first track Red cut for the LP was “Christmas Love Song,” a mid-tempo sugary confection in which Red spells out his love for his wife and family with the letters of C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, not really weird at all.
But then he followed it up with the King Daddy of whack-a-doodle Christmas records. “Is There Really Santa Claus” — a tasty tune populated by a dead mother, an embittered father, eternally hopeful children, a hopped-up speeding driver, and a Christmas miracle! (Well, kinda…) It’s one you must hear for yourself.
Red eventually returned to Yuletide recitations in 1978 when he recorded the album, Christmas with Red Sovine at Starday studios. The LP featured a mix of Christmas standards (“White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”), fun country Christmas novelty tunes (“Santa is a Texas Cowboy” and “Christmas is for Kids”) and best of all, several classic Sovine recitations beamed in directly from the dark side of the North Pole. While the little blind girl tearjerker “What Does Christmas Look Like” and the drunken yuletide suicide note, “Here It is Christmas” would be sufficient to propel any ordinary Christmas album to the Bizarro World, Red outdid himself with the magnificently morbid “Faith in Santa” which is centered on one little boy’s solemn wish for a hurry-up trip to heaven. Give it a listen. No jaw shall remain undropped!
Although Merry Christmas, Country Style has never been reissued, Christmas with Red Sovine was released on CD on 2011 and can be found at Christmas time in truck stops across the US. Whether on CD or vinyl, adding a little Red to your holiday season is highly recommended!
Randy Fox writes about music, the only profession that actually pays less than being a musician. His work has appeared in Vintage Rock, Record Collector, The East Nashvillian, The Journal of Country Music and many more fine publications. He can be heard every Tuesday night, 5 pm to 7 pm Central Time, on the “Hipbilly Jamboree” on radio station WXNA-FM Nashville.