COUNTRY MUSIC NEWS - The Voice of Country Music In Canada
One might suspect that the North Country (Canada) with its wintery image of wind, sleet and snow, would be the perfect incentive for creating Country Christmas music. Surprisingly, ‘Cancountry’ has not been particularly well represented in the genre, while Nashville has taken the lead with most every country star having a Yuletide album in their catalog.
While ‘Cancountry’ artists have delivered a reasonable share of Christmas albums through the years, there are some noticeable absentees among major Canadian artists. Can you believe that the Shania Twain team has not yet added to their coffers with a Christmas album release that would surely sell in the mega-millions, given Shania Twain’s worldwide following. Ditto for contemporary Canuck artists like Terri Clark, The Wilkinsons, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, etc. all of whom have copped Album Of the Year honours for their popular country albums.
That shortage of Christmas albums from major Canadian country stars dates back through the past few decades. It is puzzling that such popular acts as Family Brown, Lucille Starr, Ian Tyson, Ronnie Prophet, The Mercey Brothers, Dick Damron, and many others, never saw fit to record a Christmas album during the height of their careers.
WILF CARTER, DON MESSER, HANK SNOW BREAK THE ICE
Some of the first Christmas albums on the Canadian country scene came from pioneer artists. Wilf Carter’s 1965 Lp, appropriately entitled Christmas In Canada, is widely recognized as the first Country Christmas album by a major Canadian country artist. Don Messer & His Islanders followed up with the 1967 package, Christmas With; and Dick Nolan, of Aunt Martha’s Sheep fame, was next in line with his 1968 Atlantic Christmas album. The legendary Hank Snow had the perfect name for a Christmas album package, and his RCA record label took full advantage of that fact, releasing two Christmas albums in the 1960’s – Christmas With Hank Snow and Snow In All Seasons.
It is interesting to note that all of these early Canadian Country Christmas albums came from East Coast-born artists.
STOMPIN’ TOM HEADS SANTA’S BEST SELLERS
The 1970’s ushered in a new generation of country artists and record labels like Arc, Marathon, Dominion, etc. Top Canadian acts of the decade like Diane Leigh, Joe Firth, Honey West, Joyce Seamone, Colin Butler, etc. all delivered interesting Christmas albums, many of which included original Christmas compositions.
One of the all-time best-selling Canadian Country Christmas albums came out of the 1970’s, with Stompin’ Tom Connors Lp Merry Christmas Everybody. The album has since been re-issued on CD format and continues to be a popular Yuletide seller some 30 years after its debut.
The 1980’s brought yet another new group of stars, led by Anne Murray, who would release three Christmas albums during the decade, and follow that up with a fourth Seasonal collection in the new millennium. Other key releases during the 80’s came from Carroll Baker with her tasty Christmas Carroll package, the first of three Rita MacNeil Christmas outings with her Now The Bells Ring collection, and albums by groups like The Rovers, The Carlton Showband, The Emeralds, The Leahy Family and Manitoba’s Fine Country Folk act.
NASHVILLE HITMAKER PHIL O’DONNELL DEBUTED WITH A CHRISTMAS SONG
One of the more interesting Christmas Lp’s of the 1980’s was Joan Kennedy’s A Christmas To Remember, which has since been re-issued in CD format. The album’s title track was co-written by Kennedy with Phil O’Donnell who also produced the package while heading-up Joan Kennedy’s Country Clover band. Phil O’Donnell would eventually take his talents to Nashville, where of late he has become one of the most in-demand songwriters on the Nashville scene, with major cuts by artists like Travis Tritt, Joe Diffie, Tracy Byrd, Neal McCoy, Montgomery Gentry and Craig Morgan; also co-producing Morgan’s latest albums which included the hit song That’s What I Like About Sundays, the first #1 hit by an indie label artist (Broken Bow Records) since the 1970’s.
The 1990’s brought a sizeable increase in Country Christmas album releases by Canadian artists – of course, by now we were looking at and listening to our music on CD format. Key artists like Ray Griff (There’ll Always Be A Christmas), George Fox (A George Fox Christmas), Quartette (It’s Christmas), and Kenny Hess (A Country Christmas) all delivered standout Christmas albums. Other’s jumping on the sleigh with new Christmas albums included The Johner Brothers, Tommy Hunter, Michael T. Wall, Bobby Lalonde and Hal Willis, with his Christmas Clones collection of all-new and original Christmas tunes.
The 1990’s closed out with Paul Brandt’s first Christmas album, A Paul Brandt Christmas, which featured new Christmas compositions by Brandt (The Way In A Manger and A Star Is Born), mixed with Christmas standards and his revival version of Six Tons Of Toys which was a Christmas take-off of Dave Dudley’s trucking song hit, Six Days On The Road. Paul Brandt has since followed-up with his second Christmas album, A Gift, released in 2006.
The first half-decade of the new millennium has already seen some major artists getting in on the Christmas music theme, with Michelle Wright’s A Wright Christmas and George Canyon’s Home For Christmas albums among the most popular of recent time.
MULTI-ARTIST CHRISTMAS PROJECTS PROVIDE AID TO SPECIAL CHARITIES
There have also been some very successful multi-artist Christmas projects through the years. The Christmas In The Valley series, created by Ted Daigle of Ottawa radio station CKBY, in collaboration with popular recording artist/TV Show star Wayne Rostad (of CBC’s On The Road Again), ran for some seven annual Volumes, featuring Christmas songs performed by the Who’s Who of the Ottawa Valley country music scene. Proceeds of more than a quarter-million dollars from sales of the albums were donated to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
Similar Christmas fund-raising projects, with multi-artist compilations CD’s were produced by Gilles Godard (Holiday Heroes/Folks Like Us / Uniting The Spirit) on behalf of the Special Olympics In Canada; while CMT Canada issued annual Volumes in their A CMT Christmas series. Jim Hopson’s Wellcraft Music Group collaborated with Oshawa Radio station KX-96 on a series of multi-artist Christmas album projects in aid of children’s charities. Laurie Thain produced The Greatest Gift multi-artist CD which featured a bevy of west coast country talent, with proceeds again going to children’s charities. Kevin Evans (of Garrison Brothers fame) put together a similar package featuring East Coast talents, under the CD title An East Coast Christmas.
One of the few Canadian record labels to feature its roster of artists on a Christmas CD was Savannah Records. In 1992 their At Christmas We Sing CD featured Yuletide offerings by such favorites as Terry Carisse, Gary Fjellgaard, Anita Perras, The Good Brothers, One Horse Blue, Tim Taylor, etc. Many years before this Savannah Records release, the fabled ARC Records label issued the vinyl Lp “Country Christmas” which contained Christmas songs by artists of the day like Artie MacLaren, Sharon Strong, Lonnie & Lottie and the late dobro master Dean Hutchinson.
Through the years there have been many Christmas “single” releases by Canadian country artists, many of which received sizeable airplay on Canadian radio stations, but due to their short life span during a Christmas music season on radio, none have achieved any sizeable chart standing.
SONGWRITERS LIGHT UP THE CHARTS
Many of these Christmas singles, and indeed many of the songs included on Christmas albums by Canadian country artists, were written by Canadians. Several of these Christmas compositions achieved success beyond Canadian airwaves, most notably Hank Snow’s Reindeer Boogie, which was not only a seasonal favorite for him, but also revived to great success in 1999 by Nashville star Trisha Yearwood, who actually saw her version crack the Billboard Country Hit Charts that year. Another Canuck Christmas composition achieving hit chart status was the Emmylou Harris recording of Light Of The Stable, penned by Nova Scotia’s Steven & Elizabeth Rhymer. The song was also the title track of Harris’ 1980 Christmas Lp, produced by her then husband Brian Ahern, the 2006 inductee into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
What started out as being a feature on the shortage of Christmas music created by Canadian country artists, seems to have blossomed into an extensive historical overview on a sizeable library of music. It seems that Santa and the North Pole environs may have been an inspiration after all.
CANADIAN COUNTRY CHRISTMAS ALBUMS