Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fa La La La wha'?

If Santa left a copy of Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas) under Stu Reid's tree, he'd be a very happy man

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Hark the herald angels sing.

So do the Skydiggers, Nick Lowe and Lindi Ortega — three of 24 acts showcased on the latest volume of the Reid Family Christmas Spectacular — Winnipegger Stu Reid's annual paean to the sounds of the holidays.

Reid is the host of Twang Trust, a roots-rock radio show that airs Wednesday nights on CKUW 95.9 FM from 6 to 8 p.m. For the last 18 years, the married father of one has crafted a CD -- or in the case of volumes one through five, a cassette — that lumps together tunes from Christmases past and present. As the big day approaches, he and his wife dole out copies to friends, family, the pizza-delivery guy — you name it.

"It's basically become our Christmas card," says Reid, owner of one of the most authoritative collections of mistle-tunes this side of Whoville. "People usually start asking in November when the new one's coming out."

If you think Reid's mixes are packed with the same, tired chestnuts you're currently enduring in elevators all over town, think again.

Instead, his compilations are peppered with yuletide treasures more along the lines of Stompin' Tom Connors' Jingle Jangle Aeroplane, Mike Plume's Merry Xmas to My Ex-Miss and the Drive-By Truckers' Hope Santa's Out of Rehab for Christmas.

"The reason so many people say they hate Christmas music with a passion is because it's the same syrupy crap year in, year out. But there's a lot of cool stuff out there."

Reid ought to know; all told, he has somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1,000 seasonal LPs, 45s and CDs. He credits the Boss for opening his ears to selections that offer more zing than Bing.

"Bruce Springsteen's version of Santa Claus is Comin' to Town first came out on a promo-tape in 1975 and then again on a kids' album in '81," says Reid. "I've always been a Springsteen freak so yeah, that's probably what got me started."

Initially, Reid searched for tunes performed in a rock vein only. But as he began sifting through bins at second-hand shops and flea markets, he realized just how wide a swath Christmas music cuts. A quick flip through Reid's shelves reveals titles from every genre -- country (Christmas with Hank Snow), pop (Merry Christmas from the Brady Bunch), classical (A Liberace Christmas) and, well, who can say (Abbott & Costello Christmas Stocking).

"Granted there's a lot of stuff here I've never played and never will; some things I pick up only because the cover is so kitschy," Reid says, illustrating his point with a merry and bright copy of 1958's Christmas Holidays at Radio City Music Hall.

Here's a question: what does Santa bring a guy who seems to own every ode to Christmas there is, to wit Bruce Robison's Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas and Uncle Si's Rudolph the Red Nosed Redneck.

"I don't really have a hit list but there is one record by Red Sovine I've never been able to find," Reid says, referring to the late country singer. "There are at least half a dozen really morbid songs on it, including one about a single father who doesn't have enough money to buy his kids presents so he goes to the corner store on Christmas Eve to see if there's anything he can afford and gets hit by a car and dies."

Canadian filmmaker Mitchell Kezin is the writer-director of Jingle Bell Rocks, a 2013 documentary that focuses on people who share the same hobby as Reid.

Like the individuals in his movie, Kezin is also a Christmas-music junkie -- has been since 1985, the year he came across a copy of Jingle Bell Jazz, a 1962 release featuring one of his idols.

"I flipped the cover over and saw Miles Davis's name on Side 2, beside a song called Blue Xmas (To Whom it May Concern)," says Kezin, 47, when reached in Toronto, where Jingle Bell Rocks had its North American debut earlier this month.

"I thought 'What the hell is this? I didn't know Miles Davis recorded a Christmas song.' "

Kezin rushed home, slapped the LP on and, to hear him tell it, that was the end of silent nights at his place.

About 10 years ago, Kezin purchased a rare Christmas album on eBay. After it arrived in the mail, Kezin discovered the seller had sent along a magazine article about Christmas-music fanatics -- some of whom had amassed upwards of 10,000 albums.

"I had no idea such people existed; I thought I was the only freak out there who loved weird Christmas music," says Kezin who, like Reid, also makes "merry mixes" for his buddies every year.

"I read the piece and was completely blown away. I said to myself, 'This is the template for a movie.' "

Start to finish, it took Kezin about eight years to string Jingle Bell Rocks together. Much of that time was spent tracking down artists responsible for some of his favourite holiday gems.

"Clarence Carter, who sang the classic Back Door Santa, was just so accommodating," Kezin says of the soul singer better known for hits like Patches and Slippin' Away. "During his long career, he'd been asked to death about all his other records but nobody had ever bothered to talk to him about his Christmas stuff, which he is equally proud of."

There is no word when Jingle Bell Rocks will be screened in Winnipeg but Kezin is hoping to hear from the powers-that-be at Cinematheque sometime in the new year. Meanwhile, he will continue his quest for ditties like Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas) and Santa Claus is a Black Man.

"People who only listen to AM radio or buy their Christmas music at Walmart probably have no idea there is other music that is so much better and that can help them through the holidays," Kezin says. "I mean, I could never get sick of the stuff I listen to."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2013 A8

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