Christmas Music(ology) Part 2: Christmas Behind Bars

Here’s a selection of recordings about spending Christmas behind bars.

This mid-1920s sermon is by Rev. J.M. Gates, a hugely popular pre-war gospel recording artist from Georgia.

Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell left us this smooth song in 1929.

L.A.-based vocal group The Youngsters tell us how to avoid spending Christmas in jail in this 1956 Empire recording.

Last, John Prine in 2000 gives us a ballad from the imagined inside of prison.

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Christmas Music(ology)

I like Christmas music, both classics and oddities. Last week, I went on a Christmas music binge and unearthed some gems. A few blues selections are below! If you want more, I’ve been sharing severalĀ (blues, jazz, outsider, rock ‘n roll, country, hillbilly, and exotica) Christmas tunes per day on my Facebook page, marked with #Christmasmusicology.

I found out about Reverend Edward W. Clayborn from Dixon and Godrich’s Recording the Blues, a slim history of early blues and gospel records, recording sessions, and labels. Clayborn’s thin, spring-loaded slide and “Jesus is the reason for the season” message are somehow simultaneously incongruent and totally complimentary. (Document Records did a compilation and booklet on Clayborn, if you need more.)

“Sonny Boy’s Christmas” is a post-war-blues-era Christmas record that doesn’t feel like a novelty, a rushed studio afterthought, or a throwaway. It’s peak Sonny Boy (II), in top form on Trumpet Records in 1951.

Non-Christmas fun fact: Lillian McMurry, owner of Trumpet Records, was in debt to Plastic Products, Inc., Buster Williams’s indie record pressing plant in Memphis. McMurry gave Williams Sonny Boy’s contract in 1954 in exchange for some debt relief and, since Williams also pressed for Chess Records, he sold Sonny Boy’s contract to Leonard and Phil Chess.

Here’s a fun, modern blues Christmas tune by the amazing Denise LaSalle, who recorded for Chess, Westbound (in Detroit, with whom she scored a gold record), ABC (in Memphis), and Malaco (in Jackson, MS).

One more. This ain’t blues, but it sure is good. I was surprised an Alex Chilton Christmas recording is out there, so I feel like it’s my job to signal boost it. Lucky for us that we’re alive in a world where it exists. Merry Christmas, y’all.