Christmas Time's A-Comin'

Lyrics: Tex Logan
Music: Tex Logan

Played by the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band on 6 December 1987. Thanks to Jeff Harter for the lyrics.

Sandy Rothman wrote this about the performance:

"For us in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, performing Bill Monroe's seasonal classic "Christmas Time's A-Comin'" (recorded originally in 1951) was an in-the-moment decision. We were playing the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles in December of 1987, having come back to the West Coast after our unforgettable Broadway run, and were starting to feel that old holiday feeling - inspired by Jerry's well-known love of Christmas. We had Kenny Koser with us, a fiddler who plays the melody beautifully. I suggested the song while we were warming up. We ran through the chorus and Jerry wrote the title on the set list. We were definitely in our usual seat-of-the-pants mode, so not every word in the verses may be in place - but it was great fun to sing."
See also below for a fuller account.

Lyrics
Holly's in the window
Homeward the wind blows
Can't walk for runnin'
Christmas time's a-comin'

Chorus
Can't you hear them bells ringin' ringin'
Joy don'tcha hear them singin'
When it's snowin' I'll be goin'
Back to my country home

Christmas time's a-comin'
Christmas time's a-comin'
Christmas time's a-comin'
And I know I'm goin' home

White candle's burnin'
My old heart's a-yearnin'
For the folks at home when
Christmas time's a-comin'

[Chorus]

Snow flake's a-fallin'
My old heart's a-callin'
Tall pine's a-hummin'
Christmas time's a-comin'

[Chorus]
[Chorus]
Jerry Garcia Recordings
     Date Band
      6 Dec 1987 Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band (note 1)

Notes
(1) Made available as a free download from jerrygarcia.com.

Background

Sandy Rothman gave this fuller account of the background to the JGAB performance in a Relix interview:
How did that song come to be played that night?
I think we talked about it when we were in New York because we knew December shows were coming up. I remember asking Kenny, the fiddler player, whether he knew that and he said, "Oh, yeah." He followed the career of the writer of that song. Itís a Bill Monroe song but written by Tex Logan who was a fiddler who lived lived in Boston and New Jersey and worked for Bell Labs. An interesting guy, a fiddle player but heís also an electrical engineer; an educated guy, a fascinating guy. Weíd known that song forever. We must have talked about in November, probably got together on Front Street and discussed it but I donít think we ever sang it or practiced it until that day we performed it.

Thatís the cool thing about the song. Thereís a looseness to it, and even though it was barely rehearsed, like other material by the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, the final result came out so well.
Which is what you pretty much can say about everything that particular group did. It was all seat of the pants pretty muchÖand drawing on the trio harmony we had going from the mid-'60s. It was easy for us to sing anything in three-part harmony because weíd done it years before but I donít think we ever sang that one before. That was just a onetime thing. You know how bluegrass is, everybody knows those songs. Everybodyís been hearing 'em their whole lives. You can just do it. We didnít do it that well. (laughs) Jerry missed most of the words. It was mostly there.

Iím surprised you never did it with the Black Mountain Boys.
I donít remember any Christmas gigs with the Black Mountain Boys. I bet you we would have thought of it if we had a Christmas gig. It would have come to mind because in bluegrass everybody sings that song at Christmastime. Thereís others but thatís a primary one.

Looking back on it, you played that song with Jerry in the Acoustic Band as well as with "Father Christmas" Bill Monroe.
That reminds me of what a lot of people told me, "Hey, youíve played with Bill Monroe and Jerry Garcia." [laughs] But thatís also true of Peter Rowan and a few other people. Back then in the Black Mountain Boys, we all knew Jerry was special but I donít think anybody knew that he was gonna be the icon that he became. Just good olí Jerry.

Youíre downplaying it but thatís still a helluva feat. I canít say that and neither can 99.9% of the musicians out there.
Yeah. I see what youíre saying. [laughs] In terms of the world at large and the way things work those names are very well known.

There was an interesting quote from a Jambands.com interview where in talking about Jerry you said: "This kind of music was what he always turned to Ė but he loved all roots music. Appalachian music was near and dear to him, as was old country blues and pre-bluegrass old-time stuff, gospel music, R&B. All of it. Jerry was always turning people on to music that they maybe never would have listened to on their own Ė and he still is."
Yeah, absolutely. That will just keep on going.

This number, "Christmas Timeís A-Cominí" is just another example of that.
Yeah, I guess you can say that. You can extend that idea with Jerry was constantly turning people on to whatever he was into at the moment. That was a real big Jerry thing. Heíd come into a room and say, "Hey man! I just heard this and hereís the tape of it. Check this out." Always into that.

I read your memories of playing with Bill Monroe around Christmastime and loved the part of him wearing the candy cane looking bath robe around the Grand Ole Opry. In your intro to the "Christmas Timeís A-Cominí" download you mention about how Jerry was very much into Christmas. Could you elaborate on that?
He gave gifts. He bought gifts for people. He bought his brother a car one Christmastime. I havenít felt it yet this year due to all the crap thatís been going on in the world but you know how it is on a certain day comes along right near the holiday and you suddenly start feeling it? All those songs youíve been hearing in the department stores and you come out whistling 'em. Itís suddenly hits you. The spirit of Christmas somehow hits at a certain point.

Jerry was just wide open for it. He dug it. He loved it. I remember the Grateful Dead Ticket Office used to have a Christmas party every year and I remember everybody sitting around, "Whenís Jerry coming? Whenís Santa coming?" He would show up at some point, he probably was coming from someplace else related to Christmas, and hang out for awhile. He wasnít wearing a Santa outfit but he may as well have. The line youíre drawing between him and Bill Monroe is exactly the same. Bill was exactly like that with Christmas.

In the write-up on the Jerry Garcia website that accompanies the download, it mentions that this was put together "with the help of Jerryís long-time friend and collaborator Sandy Rothman." What did that involve?
I had that idea a looong time ago, back in í87 when we were playing in that little reunion band that we had, JGAB. As soon as we had done that song, I had this idea, "Wouldnít it be fun to get that somewhere where people could hear it at Christmas if they wanted and not pay for it? Just have it as a free thing." I donít remember if it was Jerry that said, "Yeah, like a gift to the fans."

It was just an off-the-cuff thing that we did. A seasonal song canít really go on a CD project. I guess people do that but I certainly wouldnít want to put a seasonal song on a regular record. I remember talking to the family and before that it was GDM and various different entities. And every power thatís been I have gotten in touch with them and said, "Hey! Letís do this at Christmas because we have this song." Nobody wanted to do anything about it.

Now, Red Light Management, who the Garcia family took on, those guys got in touch with me. I got to know them a little bit through email ó Kevin Monty and Marc Allan. I did the same thing I did with the other powers that be. "Weíve got this Christmas song. We played at one of our shows and it was recordedÖ Could we do something with this?" This was about two years ago. I mentioned it again last spring in an email. Didnít hear anything for awhile. Then, I got an email saying, "You know thereís a Christmas song that the JGAB did. We were thinking it would be a good ideaÖ"

Now, did you have the original tapes?
They have access to the vault. I would assume they do. They could get ahold of all that. I have it on a DAT tape but they wanted to get it from the original DAT. They were asking me where to go. I told them the usual sources, Jeffrey Norman or Joe Gastwirt. Iím assuming thatís where they went.

Did you then supervise it?
In a way I did because they sent what they had, which sounded pretty close to what I had and everything I remembered. The only questions there were were things like where to fade it in, where to fade it out. They were really nice about that. They forwarded to me the mp3s and honed in on the length. There was a bunch of noodling Jerry was doing on the guitar before that. I said, "You could maybe include that."

Then, they sent me three options Ė one that was cropped really tight to the very beginning, one that was a little bit looser and one that was maybe a minute longer than that that had all that guitar noodling. I didnít really have a strong opinion. I liked them all for different reasons. I told them that I was happy with any of the ones that they liked, and they ended up choosing the second tightest.

I found out from my friend, Rick, whoís here visiting and is a major collector that that show was never in Deadbase , which I didnít realize, and now it is in a new edition. That entire show was not public. It was just one of the shows, and I thought all traders had it but evidently not.

That is surprising. That was the only time that you played that number?
I donít recall doing it any other time. We played again a few times after that before he met his ill-fated end. We probably didnít play any closer to Christmas then that date.

Further Information
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography

 


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