As I type these words, my mind is playing tricks with me. You may not know it but this addition to my Christmas music collection is a very significant one and I'm not sure how to react to it.
The largest subgenre in my collection was Hawaiian Christmas music. Thirteen albums. Solo artists like Don Ho and Willie K. Groups like The Waikikis, The Blue Hawaiians, and Na Leo Pilimehana.
Lush cover art like The Mahaka Sons "Christmas Day In Hawaii Nei" or crazy cover art like the 49th State Record Co's "Santa's Gone Hawaiian".
If you didn't catch it, I said this WAS the largest subgenre.
Christmas organ music skyrocketed to the top this year. From November 2005 to present, I have added TWELVE different organ albums to my collection. Looking at my albums-to-be-shared-at-Christmas pile, there's another three Christmas organ albums awaiting addition to my collection. This is not counting the half dozen or so Christmas organ albums I'll probably download this upcoming holiday season.
I'm surrounded by Hammond B-3s, Wurlitzers, Kimballs, and Lowrey organs and they're all playing Christmas music. Why not? Most moviegoers of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s can remember house organists playing before, sometimes during, and after movies at their theaters.
George Wright was one of those organists. He began his career in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1930s, working movies houses in both Oakland and San Fran. As a result, he landed the prime job of organist of the ornate Fox Theater and a radio show of his own at the beginning of WWII.
He later moved to New York City in 1944, where he played the organ at the legendary Paramount Theater for legendary jazz and pop stars such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frankie Laine. It was also at this time that Wright began his recording career on the King Records label, releasing many 78 RPM records.
However, California beckoned George to come home in 1950. He settled into Los Angeles and never moved again - even had a mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ installed in his new home. He found a new job on the soap opera "General Hospital" (Ellen to Roger: "I'm pregnant!" =CUE DRAMATIC SOAP OPERA MUSIC= - that was him!) and in 1956, he signed with HiFi Records. In his first year with HiFi, he recorded five albums - one of which is this very album.
This recording is 50 years old but sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded. It's a remarkable album, especially if you close your eyes and play it at full volume. You'll hear plenty of Wurlitzer and Wright's playing will even make you think you're hearing a Moog machine!
The standout tracks include "Toyland", "Deck The Halls", "Christmas Fantasy" (a 7:17 medley feast of organ music) and you'll never hear a better non-orchestra version of "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" anywhere.
Wright continued to record albums on various record labels - one label named Banda was started by a close friend of George's for the express purpose of recording George Wright albums! George also gained a cult-sized following who followed him (even booked him) to concerts across the country, even swapping different pieces of an organ for Wright's Wurlitzer back home.
In 1990, George recorded a brand new Christmas CD entitled "Merry Christmas". This album features 17 different songs (most Christmas) with Wright playing the Hollywood Philharmonic Wurlitzer. Click on the link if you want to order the CD... I'm adding it to my Santa list.
George Wright completed his last album entitled "Salon" in March, 1998 and died 60 days later. He is generally considered the greatest theater organist of all time.
After researching and reading this yuleblog entry, I don't feel too bad anymore about the largest subgenre in my collection. Quite proud, actually.
On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...