The 12 Roots Songs of Christmas- #12

No excuses for not posting since November. Sigh.

While driving home from work today, I realized we’re twelve days away from Christmas. And that brought to mind a way to get some posts written this month, since it isn’t happening any other way.

I haven’t thought this out- I know where I’m starting and I’m pretty sure where I will end up(and with which song)- but I haven’t created a master list. I’m just going to post 12 songs in 12 days, songs I consider to be masterful and favourite roots music songs. Not the best, necessarily.

Dick Staber, left; songwriter "Call Collect on Christmas"
Dick Staber, left; songwriter “Call Collect on Christmas”

I begin this evening with “Call Collect on Christmas,” a seasonal bluegrass classic. A Dick Staber song, first recorded (I think- I can’t actually find too much definitive information about the song) by Del McCoury in 1974. If I’m reading the liner notes to 35 Years of the Best of Rebel Bluegrass correctly, the song was unissued until that four-disc set appeared in 1997. Staber had been a member of The Dixie Pals, and I imagine that is how the song came Del’s way. His version is mighty tough to beat, and not many have tried.

Staber recorded the song on a 1984 album (according to iTunes), and that may be one I have to download one day. I didn’t think I could find a more enjoyable version of the song than McCoury’s, but then came James King within the O Christmas Tree compilation that Rounder released a decade ago.

untitledThis version- released as The James King Band- was even better, in my opinion. The fiddle carries the song; Adam Haynes should be proud of this one. “Carries” is likely the wrong word, because it is King’s voice that has the lasting impact- as is his wont, King sounds like he is about to burst into tears with each passing rhyme. I do believe he is the most expressive bluegrass singer around, giving George Jones a run for his money on each of their finest days. I don’t know what led to the falling out between King and mandolinist Adam Prater, but one of those men must be regretting it- Prater sounds mighty stout on this one.

A couple years later, The Bluegrass Brothers- another favourite outfit- put out a third version that found its way into my collection, again via a record label compilation. Christmas With Hay Holler had a real ‘down home’ spirit, and “Call Collect on Christmas,” sung by Jack Leonard and featuring some nice banjo picking on the break (courtesy Robert Dowdy) was a highlight.

Any of those three versions of “Call Collect on Christmas” is well worth a listen- and the Staber clip I heard on iTunes sounds interesting, too- the song has everything I look for in a Christmas song- a pitiful excuse of a son, well-placed guilt, a mother’s death…ah, Christmas with the family.

I searched without success for a video of the song online. The closest I came was The Bluegrass Brothers’ version on their MySpace site: All versions mentioned are available on iTunes and the McCoury and Staber versions are on eMusic.

[I also plan on posting a link to a favoured non-roots Christmas song daily- today, The Kinks’ “Father Christmas”: Quite possibly, the second best ‘rock/pop’ Christmas song I’ve ever heard.]

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee, and thanks for your patience with me. Life tends to take precedence over writing these days; just the way it is. Donald

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