Christmas in Memphis
01. The Man With All The Toys (Wilson/Love) 2:29
02. Auld Lang Syne (Trad) 2:32
03. Christmas Day (Wilson) 2:26
04. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Martin/Blane) 3:01
05. Little Saint Nick (Wilson/Love) 2:00
06. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Spector/Greenwich/Barry) 3:13
07. Silent Night (Trad) 3:10
08. We Three Kings (Trad) 3:18
09. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Trad) 2:29
10. Santa's Beard (Wilson/Love) 2:09
11. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (Coots/Gillespie) 2:48
12. Feliz Navidad (Feliciano) 2:59
Produced by Husky Team (Dave Amels & Dennis Diken) for Nun Bett-R Productions
Recorded at Coyote Studios, Brooklyn NY, April 22 & 23, 2002
Engineered by Albert Caiati, Assisted by Jason Spittel
Mixed by Dave Amels & Erik Gavriluk at The Bomb Factory, Burbank CA, September 2002
Mastered by Tim Conklin
Dave Amels - Organ, Wurlitzer Piano
R. Stevie Moore - Bass
Jon Graboff - Guitar
Joe Masucci - Percussion
Richard X. Heyman - Wurlitzer Piano, Baritone Guitar, Organ
Dennis Diken - Drums
Joe McGinty -Wurlitzer Piano
Chris Bolger - Guitar
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Soul of the Season|
Holiday groovin' with Husky Team
First there was Dusty in Memphis, the soulful 1969 album that Dusty Springfield recorded in Elvis Presley's longtime Tennessee hometown.
Now there's Christmas in Memphis, the recently released soulful album that Husky Team recorded in Neil Diamond's native Brooklyn, N.Y. -- more specifically, the borough's Coyote Recording Studios.
Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken, half of Husky Team, talks about the duo's new Confidential Recordings holiday album, plus some of his other recent projects.
GigCity.com: When did you and keyboardist Dave Amels, your Husky Team partner, come up with the idea to record an album of Christmas songs?
Dennis Diken: A few years back, Confidential's Michael Shelley had mentioned to me that he had the idea to do an instrumental Christmas album featuring organ as the lead instrument. Michael is a friend from [New Jersey free-form radio station] WFMU-FM. He had a regular show there for a few years and still does occasional fill-ins, as do Dave and I. [Michael] also [is] a talented songwriter, recording artist, record collector and mix-tape maven of renown. I think the idea sprang out of him wanting to start a label that would release records that he would dig listening to himself. He envisioned Confidential Recordings to be a label that would concentrate on "niche" records, with an emphasis on the Christmas music market. The idea of doing Memphis grooves came out of discussions that Dave and I had.
GC: Was it tough to get into "the Christmas spirit" in April, which is when you recorded the disc?
Diken: Not really. I had read that when Elvis Presley recorded his first Christmas album in September 1957, he had Radio Recorders in [California] decked out with a Christmas tree, replete with wrapped gifts underneath to create the proper holiday atmosphere. Well, we didn't do anything like that, but we got into it pretty easily. I think someone brought along some schnapps -- that didn't hurt none.
GC: At what point did you and Dave decide to record these songs with Memphis R&B/soul-style grooves?
Diken: Dave and I always had been looking for an excuse to do something in this style. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. We're both big fans of all the different Memphis bags. Some of my favorite drummers are Gene Chrisman, Al Jackson and Roger Hawkins, [who's associated with Alabama's] Muscle Shoals [studio], but he counts, too! Dave is a real stickler for the correct feels and drawbar settings for the Booker T. & the MG's sound. Dave actually found the Hammond [B3 organ] for Coyote [Recording] Studios in [the] Williamsburg [section of] Brooklyn, so he knew that this would be the best choice of studios for the sessions. Apparently not all B3s are the same. The right instrument was key for the vibe to be right for this recording.
GC: Talk about how you and Dave selected the songs you wanted to record, and how you went about recruiting the other musicians.
Diken: We converged in my record room and dug out a bunch of Christmas discs and some of our favorite Memphis sides. We tried to match up melodies of the holiday tunes with selected grooves of the R&B and soul tracks. Although Dave tested out the ideas on the keyboard before the sessions, we really didn't know if all of the concepts would work until we assembled the players in the studio. We were relieved on the first day of recording when everything fell into place pretty well!
All of the players are close friends of ours with whom we've done many other recording projects and live gigs. We were very happy indeed that they were all available and so enthusiastic to do this record with us.
The lead guitarist and electric sitarist is the redoubtable Jon Graboff -- he plays pedal steel, mandolin and 12-string guitar with [New York country artist] Laura Cantrell. We played together with her on the last leg of the Elvis Costello tour this autumn. Jon also recently released a fine Christmas album this year called For Christ's Sake, also on Confidential. He really got the Memphis/Steve Cropper thang going on our sessions.
R. Stevie Moore played bass. Stevie is an amazing player, a cult hero and a closet genius -- one of the pioneers of home recording since the '60s. His Dad is Bob Moore, one of the "A team" session players in Nashville in the '50s through the '70s. [Bob] played bass on legendary records by Roger Miller, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, Roy Orbison [and others]. Stevie inherited an incredible talent and went on to develop his own thing.
Richard X. Heyman is another [New York] musical giant –- a great songwriter and recording artist. His latest album is called Basic Glee. Richard can and does play just about any instrument very well. He played baritone guitar and Wurlitzer electric piano and organ on the record.
The supremely gifted Joe McGinty of Loser's Lounge fame also joined us on Wurlitzer electric piano on a few tunes. His Kustard Kings combo also issued A Kustard Kristmas on Confidential this season.
Chris Bolger, another good friend and fine musical spirit, guested on guitar on a few tracks. Chris has played with us on the Raymond Scott shows at [New York's] Bottom Line [club], and we make music on a more than semi-regular basis. [Chris also is] very talented songwriter as well.
A fine drummer [named] Joe Masucci played percussion. Mind you, we recorded these tracks live in the studio, so Joe was right there in the room with us. The groove is always more cooking when all the elements are being performed at once as opposed to being overdubbed later.
We only did a few "fixes" and overdubs. One of the great joys of making this record was the fact that we completed it in two days. We went in with the knowledge that we were working on a tight budget with real time constraints. When we walked out of the studio after two sessions -- with
lunch and dinner breaks -- the album was complete, except for the mixing!
GC: Do any of the songs stand out as personal favorites?
Diken: "Auld Lang Syne," to the groove of [the Booker T. & the MG's tune] "Green Onions"; [The Beach Boys song] "Christmas Day," to the groove of [The Box Tops hit] "Cry Like a Baby"; and [The Beach Boys'] "Little Saint Nick," done to a Bill Black Combo feel.
GC: What other projects have you been working on lately?
Diken: I just completed liner notes for a Del Shannon compilation for EMI. Earlier this year, I had the honor of writing notes for The Lovin' Spoonful album Daydream, which is one of my favorite [albums] of all time. I was deeply saddened and shocked to hear about the [Dec. 13] passing of the Spoonful's Zal Yanovsky. He was probably my favorite guitarist of all time -- a very overlooked rock 'n' roll figure.
An article I wrote for Weird NJ magazine has just come out. The Smithereens are putting the final touches on a track for a George Harrison tribute album. We'll be playing in Chicago on New Year's Eve [and] B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in [Manhattan] on Jan. 17, [among other gigs]. I'm planning to release an album [soon] by Sleeping Giant, one of my recording projects. There's other things, but I can't think of them at the moment.
GC: Do you have any New Year's resolutions for 2003?
Diken: To visit my Dad more often.
Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Published December 16, 2002
New York's Husky Team - keyboardist Dave Amels and Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken with, most notably, underground rock figures Richard X. Heyman & R. Stevie Moore - reimagines a disc's worth of tunes, including more than a few from "The Beach Boys' Christmas Album," all as if done by such Bluff City bastions of the soul groove as Booker T. & the MGs, Willie Mitchell and the Bill Black Combo. The Stax-and-more vibe plays out on such curious amalgams as Auld Lang Syne tacked atop Green Onions and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas melded to Hip Hug-Her. You won't want to hear a sequel, though this drop-dead of a tribute should put a proud smile on the face of any soul-loving Memphian.