“Did Eva record any Christmas songs?” Yes, but only a few. Read on:
“Silent Night,” with Eva accompanying herself on guitar, is now available for download from iTunes, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk. During the holiday season Eva always added a few carols to her set list, and this one, taken from a tape of a live performance, is beautiful. Eva learned the song in German from her mother, but sadly, did not record it in that language.
Shortly after completing the album THE OTHER SIDE, Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy recorded two songs for the Christmas season, “That Spirit of Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” (a.k.a. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”). These duets are now available as part of Chuck Brown’s 1999 Christmas album, “The Spirit of Christmas,” from Liaison Records.
“I thought it would be a good idea to record two Christmas songs and release them on a special Christmas single, because every year they could be played on the radio,” says Chris Biondo. “We got the song ‘That Spirit of Christmas’ from the movie ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.’ Ray Charles sang it in the soundtrack and I thought it would be a great one for Eva to sing. We were able to track down the song on a Ray Charles album called ‘The Spirit of Christmas.’ The reason we did ‘The Christmas Song’ as the other one was because we had learned it to do at a Christmas party with the ‘Chuck and Eva Band.’ The party was at the Kennedy Center, I think it was for the radio station WOL, and Chuck suggested we do this song. That was the only time we played that song live.
“We started recording the songs during the following summer, it took us forever to record them and we never got the timing right to release a Christmas single — the manufacturing season for Christmas albums was September. We finally had both songs finished, right around the time Eva got sick.
“‘The Christmas Song’ is pretty much the same arrangement everybody does; ‘That Spirit of Christmas’ is my arrangement, I programmed it on my sequencer with drums, I played bass, and later everybody else played on top of it. Lenny Williams played piano on both of the songs, Kent Wood played all kinds of stuff on synthesizers. Hilton Felton, who played organ on ‘Golden Thread,’ played Hammond organ on both songs.”
AT RIGHT, a clay Christmas angel ornament made by Eva.
IT’S NOT THE PRESENTS: The other Christmas song Eva recorded is called “It’s Not the Presents Under My Tree, It’s Your Presence Next to Me,” by Billy Poore and Tex Rabinowitz. Eva recorded this at Chris Biondo’s Rockville studio as a demo. “It was when we first started working together. They needed a good singer, because they were going to submit the song to Linda Ronstadt,” Biondo recalls. “She just walked in and read it down. They handed her five twenties.” At that time, Eva was a complete unknown, and the small fee she earned for recording the demo would have been a welcome addition to her personal finances.
Linda Ronstadt must have “passed” on the song. “It’s Not the Presents” first appeared as Eva’s recording, on a locally-produced CD of non-traditional Christmas songs called ANOTHER ROCKIN’ CHRISTMAS in 1995. (A review in the Washington Post said something to the effect of “This song did not inspire Cassidy’s best singing.”)
The song next turned up in a compilation album for a local charitable organization, Hungry for Music, which provides musical instruments to inner city children among other things (see their website for more information). “It’s Not the Presents” is on the CD “A Holiday Feast, Volume V” and according to the project’s director, the songwriters generously gave the charity a gratis license to use the song. It is now part of Hungry for Music’s latest album, a sort of “greatest hits” from all the HFM albums.
Now that Eva Cassidy is an internationally-known vocalist, this little Christmas demo has found its way to more seasonal albums, including “Target’s Holiday Sounds of the Season” and two Christmas albums from Time/Life.
One of Eva’s fans, “Doug in Pennsylvania,” had occasion to ask Billy Poore about the song in 2002. Doug writes, “Poore was the main writer of ‘Presents,’ and Tex Rubinowitz did some minor tinkering with the melody to earn a minor songwriting credit. Sometime since, Mr. Poore sold his rights in the song to Mr. Rubinowitz, who now has sole licensing rights and still resides in the DC metro area, I understand. Eva recorded ‘Presents’ in two different sessions, first in May and then again in July, 1990. It’s the earlier one on the ‘Another Rockin’ Christmas’ album, and he said the other is on the Target album. Mr Poore’s book, 40 Years of Rockabilly, contains brief mention of “Presents” and Eva’s recording of it. Mr. Poore says he specifically solicited — and received — Eva’s personal permission to use her ‘Presents’ track on the original ARC album in 1995 and that he still has the message Eva left him about it on his answering machine tape!
“I found him to be one of the most musically-knowledgeable, gracious, and avid supporters of Eva’s belated success around! One more illustrative item: an interviewer asked him, of all the musical artists and personnel he has worked with through the years (no slouch list that includes Elvis, Dwight Yoakim, Danny Gatton, and more which are detailed in his book) for which one did he have the most respect. Without hesitation Mr. Poore’s answer was ‘Eva Cassidy.’ To which the interviewer not surprisingly responded: ‘Who?'”
OTHER CHRISTMAS SONGS in Eva’s performing repertoire: Mike Dove, “Eva’s first fan,” who attended most of Eva’s performances, says, ‘At Christmas time she would start every set with one or two Christmas songs, she’d do Christmas carols, and then do the rest of the set. “Silent Night,” “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” just the traditional stuff. It was pretty cool, too bad we didn’t get any of those taped, it sounded really good.’ Chris Biondo recalls, “She used to do ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain,’ in a gospel version, like a shuffle.”
ABOVE: Eva made this wonderful “black angel” ornament for the Christmas tree of her manager, Al Dale. He mentioned it in an interview with NPR’s Elizabeth Blair, for “Morning Edition”: “I had a Christmas tree up, and I had this nice angel on the top of my tree. And she looked at my tree and she said, `Al, you need a black angel at the top of your tree,’ like that. Lo and behold, she made me a gorgeous black angel with a guitar hanging down — it was so cool — and had him dressed in an African outfit.”
In the interview Al Dale adds, “That was Eva,” as if the incident encapsulates something important in Eva’s personality. Indeed, it does.
Here’s a close-up so you can see more detail. The angel’s wings are made from feathers!