Monday, August 14, 2006

George Wright - Merry Christmas

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...



Ernie said...

Since posting this LP last year, I've discovered a couple of things. The original release date of 1956 can't possibly be right for this STEREO copy. I think he re-recorded it a few years later. I dug up a mono copy, and sure enough, the times are slightly different. Also, the mono copy has a prettier cover. Same basic idea, but slightly less pink. Watch the blog in December...

CaptainOT said...

OOPS! I forgot to mention that I found this album at Ernie's blog - but you probably knew that by now!

According to an online George Wright discography (, this album was released in 1956. The Goldmine Christmas LP Price Guide doesn't have a date listed for this album. Both references also state that Wright did release an album entitled "Christmas Time" on the Dot label (Mono - DLP 3479 / Stereo DLP 25479) in 1962.

Thanks for the heads up Ernie... will watch your blog in December!


Ernie said...

I stumbled across a copy of George Wright-Christmas Time (among other gems) this weekend. It's in mono, but it's still really good. Watch for it this Christmas!

CaptainOT said...

You da man, Ernie!


rainey said...

I have searched for thirty years for a copy of George Wright's "Christmas Time" LP, as I heard and played nothing else at Christmas from my earliest memories... my little sister and I did these crazy little Christmas dances for everyone at Christmas to the songs on this album.. it was our annual Christmas pagent. Something in the mystery that he caught in the grooves of this record just blew my little mind. I would literally play it over and over for as many times as I could absolutely get away with from the second it was declared "Christmas" till the whole thing was packed away for one more year. Oh! the memories! Then as life went on, my mother moved our family's album collection to the attic (!) and when she rented the house to someone after my dad passed away, and she moved, that person cleaned out our attic and took everything when they left. I had been on the road for a few years pursuing my dream, and when I went back for this album and a few others, I was heartbroken to learn that this album, and one other, a beloved set of Henry Mancini tunes was gone. I finally stumbled on a copy of this album on ebay a few weeks ago, and was completely thrilled to hear "The Little Red Monkey" once again. Even though this copy is riddled with scratches and pops, and I'll keep searching for a copy that doesn't jump so much, I'm still wiping away quite a few tears of happiness hearing these beloved sounds once more, and remembering the magic of my sweet, childhood Christmases. Thanks, George, and God bless you, where ever you are...
Love, and merry Christmas,
Rainey Haynes

CaptainOT said...

Rainey - Thank you for the beautiful remembrances - it's amazing what Christmas music can do.

The credit in this case has to go to Ernie - another satisfied customer, Ern!


rainey said...

Ernie, brother-man! You're the Christmas Mench!
SIgned, sincerely,
Rainey the Christmas Maniac

Anonymous said...

Richard Vaughn (who owned HIFIRECORD and the 5m/21r Wurlitzer pipe organ) later released this album in Stereo by requalizing and adding reverb to the original Mono master tape (I prefer the Original Mono version myself). The organ was originally recorded on three track mono 1/2 inch tape. This album probably has the most beautiful version of "White Christmas" ever recorded.

Los Angeles, Ca.

CaptainOT said...

E. Sinclair - Thanks for the additional info and heads up on the not true stereo version!


Raineyrocks said...

Hey all! I wanted to contribute to the discussion a trivia tidbit about this album that I ran across, which I found interesting... that the song, "For Holly" was written about the one and only Holly Hunter, whose dad was good friends with George. How about that. It's a sort of moody, magical song; one can only imagine the precocious and beautiful little girl that inspired it.
Thanks-- signed, Rainey, huge fan of George and all things "Wright"

Anonymous said...

This album is now available on Amazon on CD but Be warned! This is a needle drop mastering from disc. The copy I received had a needle skip!
I guess the master tape is long gone by now. Shame.