Off White Christmas: What a Ride

The idea hatched at Waddell’s, only I believe it was dinner we were eating, not lunch.  Bob and I always talk about doing a project together, but distance and time have put the kibosh on that ever becoming a reality.  It was a couple days later when Bob appeared on a local radio show and blurted out that a Christmas album with Chip Whitson was going to be his next project that we found ourselves committed to making this happen.

I knew that I had a good three months to write half an album worth of songs, but instead of procrastinating I jumped right in.  I always write songs best if someone has given me a subject beforehand (like Christmas).  Once my beam is focused the tunes appear like radio signals in the air.

I’m fairly certain I had a couple songs right out of the gate, and shared the news with Bob.  He fired back with a couple tunes he had written while traveling with the family.  Knowing that he was busy writing got my competitive juices flowing.  If Bob was pumping out songs, I better keep up.

No problem having a good solid 5 songs by the end of Summer.

Had a great time learning his songs and teaching him my songs when Bob spent the pre-production weekend at my house in Spokane.  I could tell he had done his homework familiarizing himself with my songs.  I had his down pretty well too.  As we ran through the songs our musical telepathy was evident.  Bob was already singing and playing parts that I had imagined in my head.  He was also adding flourishes that I had not thought of, but damned if they weren’t just the right stuff.  For example that ringing G chord in Ex Miss Carol.  I’m fairly certain I popped out a few ideas on his material that stuck as well like the Traveling Wilbury’s style intro to Santa’s Getting Bigger, or the double modulation in Christmas Decoration Tragedy.

I think knowing that our time was finite added even more focus and urgency to the project.  We stayed at the table and worked that material.  Made the songs our bitch.  We earned a dinner of cheeseburgers and fruitflies at Daley’s Cheap Shots.  I know Bob was tired at end of the day; I was too.  Despite that we sat again at the table determined to crank out the duet that became “I Can’t Believe It’s Christmastime.”  I know we wrote that not even knowing if Shannon would agree to sing. Thankfully she did, and she sang beautifully.

Bob took the demos we made home and began the process of teaching the songs to Rick Waldorf and Bob Sularz.  In a mere two weeks I was going to arrive for our only shot at capturing the main tracks.  I should have felt nervous that I was not present as rhythm tracks were being recorded, but I wasn’t.  I knew that Bob had the same vision of how these songs should sound as I had.  It was like I had a twin working in my stead, only better because this twin also had his own great ideas to add as well.  Due to Bob’s hard work and the power of the internet, I arrived at his house on the same weekend as my birthday well prepared.

We focused that beam and somehow captured good solid takes for all the songs that would require my singing and/or guitar playing.  We had many great laughs of course.  Garth and Karen popped over and assisted us in setting up the sleeping bag singing booth.  That was food for some laughs as well.

I drove away from Missoula on Sunday feeling good, because I knew we captured good songs and good performances.  Heck, I didn’t even care that I had been short sheeted in Bob’s guest room.  I felt more alive than I had in years.  I love the process; absolutely love it.  It’s what I’d do full time if I could support my family.

The next few weeks were like endless Christmas. I’d get home from work to find mp3s waiting in my email.  Bob added harmonies, piano, guitar stabs, and percussion.  If I shared an idea that I felt might elevate the song even more, Bob would add it, send it back my way for a listen, and sure enough he was right on the money.  I remember at one point I could hear some little slippery slide guitar fills on “Christmas Decoration Tragedy” in my head.  I called Bob with this idea and described to him best I could what I was hearing.  He was sick as a dog as I recall, and I wasn’t sure he was paying much attention to my ramblings given his illness.  Next day I came home from work to find an mp3 featuring the exact slide guitar parts I had described to him.

I know Bob and I don’t really call ourselves musicians, as much as we label ourselves “entertainers,” but I found through this process that we really are good fucking musicians.  You’ll never hear “Eruption” from either one of us, but for what we do you’d be hard pressed to find guys that can do it better.

It’s not Chuck Berry, it’s not the Stones, Merle Haggard, or Phil Spector.  It’s a stew of all many great influences that no other cats would be able to cook up.

Bob Wire has been amazing through this whole project from the concept, to the writing, the recording and into the promotional phase.

It’s Christmas and damn if I don’t feel blessed.


Chip directs the band while Rick Waldorf lays down a bass line.