The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Before Thanksgiving break, University of Kentucky choirs director Jefferson Johnson told his fellow musicians in the GrassKats, “If UK beats Tennessee, I’m going to rewrite Rocky Top.”
The GrassKats are a Bluegrass ensemble featuring Johnson on fiddle and vocals that plays at the UK choirs annual Collage: A Holiday Spectacular. Sure enough, the Cats did beat the Volunteers for the first time in 26 years, and the audience at the Collage concerts Saturday and Sunday got to hear Johnson make good on his promise to mess with the Tennessee song.
“I know when we started playing it there were people wondering, ‘What are they doing? You don’t play Rocky Top in Kentucky,’” Johnson said Monday.
It soon became clear that this version, Santy Claus, was going in a different direction.
The choice lyric, “Now I’ve got my gift from Santy Claus, it’s been 26 years!” brought a big cheer from the near-sold out crowd in the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall.
Here are the complete lyrics from the song, sung of course to the tune of Rocky Top – surely you’ve heard it.
Rocky Top (Santy Claus)
New words by Jefferson Johnson
Vs. 1: Wish that I was with Ol Santy Claus, High in the North Pole hills.
Most folks never seen Ol Santy Claus, Reckon they never will.
Vs. 2: Once I wrote a letter to Santy Claus, Askin for a special thang.
Wrote me back and said “Son you’re crazy cause, That’ll take YEARS to brang.
Santy Claus, you’ll always be, a special friend to me.
Good Ol’ Santy Claus.
Santy Claus don’t forget me, Santy Claus don’t forget me.
Break: (verse and chorus) banjo, guitar, fiddle
Vs. 3: Its been years since I wrote Santy Claus, I’ve been cryin real tears.
Now I’ve got my gift from Santy Claus, ITS BEEN 26 YEARS!.
Santy Claus, you’ll always be, A special friend to me
THANK YOU Santy Claus.
For bringin my gift to me, Santy Claus remembered me.
TAG: WE BEAT TENNESSEE
A lot of artists have covered Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree since Brenda Lee brought the Johnny Marks tune to the world in 1958.
She and Him may be the first act that should have re-recorded the modern Christmas classic. They may be the first act in quite a while that should have recorded a Christmas album, though certainly pretty much everyone does that these days. Through their first two albums, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have established an easy retro cool that lends itself perfectly to a perpetually nostalgic perception of Christmas, and this is an unabashedly nostalgic album.
As era-appropriate as this Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree is, the performance demonstrates what makes She and Him work. Deschanel does not put near the overt energy into her performance that Lee had in her iconic recording. But the song swings, and Ward contributes complimentary guitar licks that make the whole recording a delight. Deschanel never amazes us with her singing voice, but the ease of her style and the way she bends a phrase keep us listening, and the success of the duo is in how the new girl and Ward’s styles blend.
In their retro vein, She and Him pull out a few classics that some of us may have forgotten like The Beach Boys’ Little St. Nick, a holiday variation on Little Deuce Coupe, as well as classics that emerged from the mid-20th century like The Christmas Song.
Though her vibe may be cool, you never doubt Deschanel’s sincerity as she sings “I’ll never outgrow the thrill of Christmas day,” on Christmas Day. A Very She and Him Christmas works because on it, Ward and Deschanel give us something simple and calm at a time of year that is often complex and hectic. Like the songs and albums that inspired it, this should become a Christmas classic.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich