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21 February 2010

The Spirit Of Christmas (1984)

  1. What Child Is This? (Freddie Hubbard - tp; Rudy Johnson - ts)
  2. Little Drummer Boy
  3. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (James Polk - p: on bridge and last chorus)
  4. This Time Of The Year
  5. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
  6. That Spirit Of Christmas
  7. All I Want For Christmas
  8. Christmas In My Heart
  9. Winter Wonderland (Kevin Turner - g)
  10. Christmas Time 
A soulful album of Christmas and holiday songs, with soul balladry, jazz, horn-lined swing, and choral harmony.

Columbia 39415, 1986-01.

All band tracks but one were done - before the end of the summer while still on tour - with Ray's contemporary band, including Johnny Coles, who was a regular member on this tour from the beginning in April to and including the Fall of 1984, and who did a substantial portion of the trumpet solos.
The one exception that wasn't backed by the band, was The Little Drummer Boy, which was recorded "off season" (i.e. in a hiatus between tours, maybe in early 1985 before Ray hit the road again) with a few LA session musicians, amongst whom James Gadson, who also contributed to a few of the other tracks. As a special guest (and one of the few musicians who were credited in the album's liner notes), Freddie Hubbard** took care of some of the trumpet solos.
James Polk recalls that Rudy Johnson and Clifford Solomon laid down some saxophone solos. All solos and e.g. the bass tracks (by Roger W. Hines) were recorded separately, outside the group sessions, as overdubs.
Guitarist Jeff Pevar wrote: "In the winter of 1984, just after joining the RC Orchestra, I was invited by Ray to fly out to his recording studio in Los Angeles to play guitar on some songs he was working on in his studio at the time. We spent a couple days working together, just the 2 of us. On [Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer], Ray wanted me to play blues guitar and asked me to just play whatever I felt. After I overdubbed guitar to the song we then rewound the tape (no pro tools back then) and we listened back to the work and he either said something like... 'Oh man, I LOVE that there!' ....or.... he would sing a blues guitar melody that he would want me to play to replace what I had played."
Guitarist Kevin Turner remembered how he was just booked to dub over some patches, but then was invited to play the solo on Winter Wonderland (#9), replacing a trumpet solo that Ray didn't like:

Finishing the tracks off (or getting the right record deal) obviously took so long that the album's release had to wait until January 1986 (the latter is the published date; but distribution and sales no doubt had already started in Q4 of 1985).

**According to one story, Freddie later remembered that he had trouble finding Ray's studio and was late to the session. Afterwards he said Ray told him he couldn't pay him for the full session because "You KNOW you were late, man!" Another story has it that Freddie was heard discussing pay, with RC sitting in the control room, saying: "Freddie... I wouldn't pay Jesus that goddam much money!" Johnny Coles was quoted for asking Ray why he didn't have him play the solos. Ray told him that "he's paying Freddie all that money, he sure didn't offer it to me!"

From the Ray Charles Orchestra:
Mark Curry, Jim Seeley, Robbie Kwock, Jeff Kaye, Johnny Coles - trumpet; Mayo Tiana, John Boice, Dan Weinstein, Dana Hughes - trombone; Clifford Solomon, Brian Mitchell, Rudy Johnson, Ricky Woodard, Louis Van Taylor - saxophone; James Polk - piano, keyboards; Roger Hines - bass; Kevin Turner, Calvin Keys - guitar; Rick Kirkland - drums.
Session musicians: Freddie Hubbard - trumpet; Jeff Pevar - guitar; James Gadson - drums.
Backing vocals: The Raelettes (Estella Yarbrough, Elaine Woodard, Trudy Cohran, Anne Johnson, Janice Mitchell) and unidentified others took care of the male backing vocals, at some instances enhanced by Ray's own voice.

The songs were arranged by:
Ray Charles (#10); Ray Charles & James Polk (#1, 3, 5 7, 9); Ray Charles & Larry Muhoberac (#2) and Ray Charles & Bill McElhiney (#4, 6, 8).

Robbie Kwock remembered that "[...] amazingly, Ray recorded the entire album as sound engineer, even crawling around under the soundboard to get rid of bad cable hum".
The odd photo art work for the album was shot by Joe Adams, at Mammoth Mountain in the Angeles Mountains.

* These notes were compiled with the help of alumni of the Ray Charles Orchestra, most notably Robbie Kwock, James Polk, Mark Curry, and Jeff Kaye.

What Child Is This:

Little Drummer Boy:

Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town:

This Time Of The Year:

Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer:

That Spirit Of Christmas:

All I Want For Christmas (track #2):

Christmas In My Heart (track #3):

Winter Wonderland:

Christmas Time:

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