On Friday, November 28, fans can get their hands on Crazy Christmas in the form of a limited vinyl record, as 1,500 copies of this 7-inch album will hit select stores for Black Friday. Mick will even be throwing on the Santa suit and hitting an unnamed store to surprise some lucky shoppers. Fans who aren’t fast enough shouldn’t worry, though, because on December 9, the story will be available for digital purchase on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon, among others. To describe Crazy Christmas might be an exercise in spoilers, because the story is only six minutes long and simply needs to be heard to be understood and thoroughly enjoyed. Instead, we’ll tell another story today, one about how this record was made and, in the process, forced two worlds to collide, when you’d swear they should have collided years ago.
Crazy Christmas was produced by Black Country Rock Media, which is the label owned by country and Southern rock artist Shooter Jennings, son of the late, great Waylon Jennings. As such, the score for the Christmas story was also provided by Shooter, as he and BCR producer Jon Hensley have created their own bizarre-yet-wonderful tradition of creating 7-inch albums for celebrities who aren’t necessarily “traditional” musicians, but want to be heard in their own unique ways. That’s sort of how Crazy Christmas came together, except the story behind this record seems so much more… destined to be. It’s almost as if Mick and Shooter, 14 years apart in age, were supposed to team up and make something for us all to enjoy.
The funny thing about Crazy Christmas is that Mick and Shooter didn’t formally “meet” until after it had been separately recorded and edited. So when I had the opportunity to get them both on the phone to talk about Crazy Christmas and what went into making this charming and magical record, it was also the first time that they had ever spoken to each other.
Shooter, meet Mick. Mick, meet Shooter.
Before there’s an album, there’s an idea. A really vague idea…
In 1993, Waylon Jennings released the concept album Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals and Dirt, which featured the country legend performing some original songs that were written for children, but also one song that was a little more personal. On the final track, Waylon said, “It may sound a little silly for a grown man to be singing children’s songs, but to put it into perspective, you have to think of it as a big rascal singing about little rascals.” After all, Waylon dedicated this album to all of the kids that were just like him, those who refused to grow up, but “Shooter’s Theme” was obviously for one little rascal in particular.
Then there was “Useless (The Little Horse That Didn’t Grow),” which told the story of a horse named Ulysses that proved that big things come in small packages. The spoken word track is exactly what Mick had in mind when he invoked the album as the idea that ultimately led to Crazy Christmas.
Mick: It started way back with Waylon Jennings’ Greatest Hits, which was the first cassette that I ever bought. I was that rare kid growing up on Long Island that was a huge country music fan. One of my favorite Waylon CDs as I got older was Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals and Dirt, which I knew that Shooter had done with his dad.
Whereas Waylon wrote “Useless” with a young Shooter’s help – “He let me dress up his idea,” Shooter revealed – Mick left the majority of the creative work to Hugh. Initially, Shooter didn’t have an exact idea of how he and Mick would collaborate, but as Mick said, “There was a pretty great mutual admiration to this, because he was pretty pumped that I was watching his show, and I was pretty pumped that he knew who I was and had been a fan back in the day.” As soon as the opportunity presented itself, Mick knew that they could make their own version of that Waylon album.
Mick: I met Jon [Hensley] in Nashville and he said, “Shooter wants to know if you’re interested in doing a project together.” I said, “Well, I don’t know what kind of project I could do, because I’m not a musician,” so I just threw it out there, “You know, my son wrote a story for Santa Claus…” An inside-the-box kind of thinker might have said, “That’s not for me,” but Shooter kind of saw it as my Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals and Dirt, because that’s specifically what I referred to it as. I got an email from him that read: “Man, that means a lot to me and I will think of it as such.” So I started recording and I altered the story… I put in a little twist where I was too naïve to dress warmly for the North Pole, and after I read it to my son, he admitted that it came out pretty good.
For Jon it was a shot in the dark, but the idea rang true to what he and Shooter had been trying to do at Black Country Rock. Basically, as Jon explained, he was playing creative matchmaker, and the act of simply drawing these two men together would probably take care of the rest.
Jon: Even before that, I don’t know if you guys were Tweeting each other or just acknowledging it, but I knew that Mick was coming to Nashville and I wanted to see the show. I remembered that early on in his career, Mick wore a Hank Williams, Jr. t-shirt, so I had a feeling that he knew who Shooter was. I sent an email and Mick responded directly, “I’m a fan and I listen to his show.” That’s kind of how it started, and then I went to Nashville and met Mick, and then Shooter and I started talking.
Shooter: When we started this label, I was always bringing in these weird musical projects and Jon started having these off-the-wall ideas, like when we put out Ron Jeremy’s 7-inch. It’s not kitschy, because these are people and characters from popular culture doing things that they care about that people normally wouldn’t expect. Ron Jeremy is a really good classical pianist and he’s really funny. He does this whole bit where he plays the piano really well and talking about how to get girls in the mood. It’s really, really cheesy humor, but it’s funny. So any time that we’ve met someone, Jon says, “Hey, let’s do a 7-inch on him.” His first thought is to figure out a way to do something creative with somebody, and it’s not something that you’d expect.
I thought we could do something with Mick where we talk about him growing up and listening to country music, and it would be spoken word, but we’d be able to add some music to it. I was digging, but I knew we’d find the right angle. And then he came to us with this idea and it was obviously the right thing, knowing how much he loves Christmas and Santa Claus. There was no other way we could go. But I’m never afraid to just jump in and do something, because even if we just went into the studio, I’m sure we would have figured something out.
Mick and Shooter could have just recorded an album of them talking for an hour and their fans would have loved it, but we’re pretty lucky that they decided to develop and produce Hugh’s magical story.