The Story Of How Mick Foley And Shooter Jennings Teamed Up To Record ‘Crazy Christmas’

The thing about Mick Foley is that if he announced that he was hitting the studio to record a full length album of Christmas songs, we’d trust him. Sure, he isn’t known for his singing ability and there’s a chance that he doesn’t even know all of the words to the classic holiday hits, but if there’s a celebrity that has earned our appreciation and admiration over the years for being a jovial and cheerful, albeit sometimes-violent, bearded man, it’s Mick Foley. However, when it came to the news that Foley had recorded a “Christmas album” entitled, Crazy Christmas, we couldn’t help but be a little relieved that it was actually a spoken word story, written by Foley’s youngest son, Hugh.

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.

Once upon a time, there was a boy, his dad and Santa Claus…

The result of their brainstorming was something that will make for a great story for so many more fathers to share with their kids. In fact, Jon joked that it might be the perfect way for dads to impart their wrestling fandom onto their own kids. After all, this is a story about a father and his son, told by a father and his son.

Mick: Being in that recording studio with my son is something that I’ll never forget. I’m really thankful that Shooter had that type of outside-the-box thinking that could bring it to fruition.

Shooter: When I was little, my dad did the children’s album, but at that age I was a little older than Hugh and I was starting to get a little big for my britches, thinking I was cool. My dad’s children’s album was cool, with songs about dirt and stuff, but it was also kind of uncool in a way, because I was just starting to get into Nine Inch Nails. Later, when I was 16, my dad and I did a record together that featured some industrial stuff and it was the music that I listened to, because he wanted to be a part of that. Certain parts of this reminded me of when we worked together on that, because it was a moment that I look back on very fondly. There was another time that I wrote a story, in which we were at a haunted Toys R Us in California, but we never finished it. I always regretted that we never finished it.

Again, Mick and Shooter never even stepped foot in the same studio during the making of this album, but a lot of the mutual admiration that they discussed and cited as the catalyst for Crazy Christmas stemmed from the fact that they are sincere in their loves of family and Christmas. Just as Shooter once thought he was too cool to have story time with his dad, he was more than happy to help Mick complete the adventure with his youngest son.

Shooter: Hearing this thing between you and your son – getting the audio tracks, I got to listen to the raw thing, so when you would coach him or he would say something to you, and being able to absorb all of that while editing it up the best I could, I went back in and made the sections of music to set the mood of the story – it was just so cool and so well-written that when I was done with it, I was like, I can’t wait to play it for my kids this year. That’s the kind of thing that they’re going to be able to hold on to. I hope I get to do this with my son or daughter when they get older. It felt a lot like I was able to finish that piece that I never finished with my dad.

Mick: The fact that you said that at the time you did Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals and Dirt you were getting too old for it, and it was something you felt funny about doing, it’s the same way my son is now. He’s like, “Dad, I don’t know why it’s a big deal,” and I said, “Listen buddy, when I was handed that first copy of your book last year” – I think we printed 500 copies – “I was prouder than when I got my first copy of my autobiography.” He couldn’t quite understand what I was saying, because it was bringing back all of these memories of waking up and seeing him covering up his papers because he didn’t want me to see what he was working on. It was a gift that he spent dozens of hours making. And now with Shooter’s help, it’s something that we can share and it’s something that is permanent, and 50 years from now he can show his kids and grandchildren this project that he and his dad did together.

Shooter: It’s like a permanent record and I just felt really blessed to be a part of it. I love that about you, man, it’s trait that not a lot of people have. I’m very impressed with it, and I hope that it’s something that I get to do in a third generation way.

Behind every wrestler’s Christmas story, there’s a soundtrack written by a fan…

“The fact that Mick was even acknowledging my radio show means a lot to me,” Shooter admitted. This wasn’t just a situation in which one celebrity was meeting another and they stopped and said, “Hey, we should work together!” There was still a sense of shared awe, as any wrestling fan could imagine how he’d react given the opportunity to meet Mankind. However, Shooter at least had the benefit of having been there when his father got to meet Hulk Hogan so many years ago, and one specific quote has always lingered from that encounter.

Shooter: As a kid, I grew up with the Hulkster and Junk Yard Dog, and I would watch that Saturday morning cartoon. I remember sitting with my dad while he met Hulk Hogan, and he said, “The only two things in life that make it worth living is guitars tuned good and firm feeling women,” and my dad was shocked that that culture even paid attention to him. Later, my dad said that he played some shows in these arenas where the wrestlers performed, and they put in him places where half the audience had to turn around in their seats to look at him.

Additionally, Shooter said that he drew musical influences for Crazy Christmas from a recent hobby – he’s been collecting old He-Man 7-inch records. When he admitted that, the music for Crazy Christmas suddenly made perfect sense, because while it plays so well with the mood of the story, it definitely stood out with that vintage Sci-Fi feel that reminded me of 1970s and 80s television and cartoons. According to Jon, Shooter’s enthusiasm for his effort was rather evident.

Jon: I remember when Shooter sent the finished product to me, and he said it was one of the best things that he’d ever worked on.

Shooter: I really felt that way, it’s true. I’m a fan of these kinds of soundtracks, like Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies and Vangelis did that soundtrack, so I was getting to borrow a lot of things that I don’t normally get to use or that I try to incorporate slyly into my music. But with this thing, I got to go all out with this obscure 80s synthesizer for a soundtrack that was part Christmas song, but then during the fight scenes I got to be more intense. I was making this score and it was so fun, and then at the end of it, I didn’t want it to be over.

When Hugh was communicating with the North Pole, I had this music that was like something from out of an 80s Sci-Fi television show. I spent so many hours on it, and at like 4 or 5 in the morning, I’d call Jon and say, “Listen to the whole thing right now!”

That also helps explain why Crazy Christmas is being released on vinyl. There’s such a vintage and time-honored sound to the story that it really needs to be heard, not to sound too much like the Iron Sheik, in an old school way.

Mick: It’s obviously much easier for someone to push a button and listen to the digital version, but releasing this as a 7-inch record, as a very limited edition, gives it a sense of immortality. It’s the difference between a hand-written letter and a text. And it’s going to force me to find my old record player so I can listen to it. But with an album, it’s like a commitment to put it on and listen to the whole thing, because you can’t just listen to one or two songs on the vinyl. With this, you put it on, listen to the story and make it a family event.

Of course, there’s just one little problem with Crazy Christmas – once it ends, people are most definitely going to want more. The bad news is that as much as I could beg and plead, even offering to launch a Kickstarter project, there are no plans for an animated version just yet. According to Mick, “A few people have read the book and said that we should animate it, so I’d love to see if that’s the next step.” Jon added that it would be perfect for the Adult Swim crowd, even hinting that it’s just the right length for a Robot Chicken short (perhaps Casper Kelly should consider this for his Too Many Cooks follow-up). But the good news is that Hugh isn’t done writing.

Mick: My son already wrote a follow-up. It’s an Easter story and there are no periods or anything, and he said, “I know dad, I just didn’t have time.” He loves doing it, and he knows that every year when he asks what I want for Christmas, I tell him, ‘Just write me something.’ My other son is 13 and he’s great with videos, so he’ll make me a video and Hugh writes me a story, and my daughter does something creative. That’s what Christmas is about. I have the documentary, I Am Santa Claus, and it deals with my transformation into Santa, and I take this month very seriously. It’s real work when I do my volunteering as Santa, and it’s a really cool time. The kids understand that it’s more important to give than receive.

Shooter, on the other hand, knows showmanship better than anyone, so if you end up listening to Crazy Christmas and find yourself wanting more, just know that it’s all part of the game. “As Buddy Holly said, you’ve gotta leave them wanting more. You play short shows and make them want to come back.”

In order to be the man, you’ve got to “Ho, ho, ho” like the man…

Last year, independent movie producer Tommy Avallone found success on Kickstarter, raising the money that he needed to finish his documentary, I am Santa Claus. The point of the film was to offer the average Scrooge a look at the day in the life of the men who spend their holiday seasons dressing as Saint Nick to ask the good little boys and girls what they’d like for Christmas. The interesting twist was that Avallone offered Mick the chance to actually become Santa, and Saint Mick said that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

Mick: I’ve always been a year-round Christmas enthusiast, always feeling that Christmas comfort and magic throughout the year. It was pretty charming for me to be able to put on a Santa suit and walk around with no expectations that I was the guy. In the WWE, they’d have me put on the suit and come out, and they’d say, “It’s Saint Mick!” but the director of this movie contacted me and said, “How would you like to actually give it a try? How would you like to become Santa Claus?” It was pretty harrowing and I almost bowed out at a few points.

I felt like I’d earned the right to wear this robe, and it sounds ridiculous, but you become that character, so you feel like you are that guy when you’re in the chair with the kids. It’s true for actors and performers when somebody’s in that zone. So when I put on that suit, whether for 10 hours a year or, especially this year, considerably more, I feel like I am that guy. It was a great experience, and I was able to take some of what I learned in that suit and guide this project in a different way.

Of course, that begs the question for Shooter: Can we expect to see him suiting up in red anytime soon? “I look more like an elf,” he laughed. “I’m like 5-foot-6, so maybe I could make a mini-Santa. I’ve always been a huge Christmas dude, too. Ever since I was little, that was always the most magical time of year. We traveled a lot, so I got to see New York at Christmas and all of these other places, and it’s just always my favorite time of the year for movies and music. I’ve just always had a lot of Christmas spirit.”

Of course they had conversations about music…

If they’d have allowed it, I would have just let the recorder go until Mick and Shooter ran out of stuff to talk about. In fact, it killed me to have to politely end the conversation after a while, because I assumed that, you know, they had better things to do. But there were two points that they went off on their own tangents, much to my delight, and the first regarded that old Bocephus shirt that Cactus Jack used to wear in the ring.

Mick: I had a Bocephus shirt back in the mid-80s, but make no mistake about it, Waylon was always my guy. When I break out those old vinyls, I probably have 16 or 17, but I think ‘Music Man’ might be the first one that I bought. They used to have that deal, eight cassettes for a penny, and I got Waylon Jennings’ Greatest Hits, the Best of Dolly Parton and Charlie Pride. The neighborhood kids saw this and nobody else was listening to country music. My dad had discovered it in the army, when he was stationed with some other guys from the South, and then we had this station, 1050 WAM, but it was kind of tough to be a country music fan in New York. In 1981, I had tickets to Willie Nelson on the 4th of July at Giants Stadium, and I couldn’t find a single person to go with me. I didn’t have a license, so I had to give the tickets up. I guess I was country when country wasn’t cool.

Shooter: By the way, Music Man, if I had to pick my favorite album, is definitely in the Top 2, because it’s either that or Ol’ Waylon. Music Man had that old Harlan Howard song, “Nashville Wimmin,” and I always loved that song.

Mick: Long before I’d heard the original… when I hear “He Went to Paris,” that’s a Waylon song.

Shooter: A friend of ours was at Jon’s house recently, and I played him “He Went to Paris,” because he’s a big Jimmy Buffett fan. Growing up, he would pick at me and tell me that I needed to listen to Buffett, and I’d say, “I hate that guy!” Later, I’d come to appreciate Buffett, but I played him this version and he went out and bought Music Man.

They even have some mutual friends, and yes, it’s Christmas-themed…

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Mick has made a ton of friends throughout his career or that Shooter knows other musicians and artists. But the funniest part about listening to them talk was the revelation that they have good mutual friends, and yet they’ve only now just met and worked together. As you can see above, Mick is friends with Norah Jones, who also happens to perform with the alt-country female group Puss n Boots, and the subsequent connection between Mick and Shooter is so simple that you’d be shocked to learn that Kevin Bacon isn’t involved.

Mick: One of my great Santa moments is a musical one. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her, Shooter, but the great Catherine Popper is a bass player and she has played with Jack White, Ryan Adams and Grace Potter…

Shooter: She has a side project with Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson called Puss n Boots. Sasha is a really good friend of mine, and I would see these pictures of you on her Instagram and I’d be like, “What is happening?” I had a New York band that I’m still good friends with, and those guys all knew Sasha and played with her. I’ve gone to some of those shows and played at a Puss n Boots show, so I’ve hung out with Sasha more than anyone.

http://instagram.com/p/pu4H0tqPfj/?modal=true

Mick: Sasha’s great and she did a song with me at one of my live shows. It was a parody of The Kinks song “Lola,” and it was about an erection and called “Boner.” We were disqualified from the talent show. Last year I had the chance to be Santa for the Puss n Boots show, and I got there 10 minutes before the show ended. I was late and almost ready to drive home, and I walked out on stage and it was just kind of magical. Norah began singing “Silent Night” and I remember vividly thinking to myself, “If you don’t walk up there and start singing with her, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” I completely ruined it. There are six stanzas and I only know two of them.

I love hanging out with those girls, and the last time I went to one of their shows, they know I have trouble standing for long periods of time and it was jam-packed with their friends before they went out on the road, and they told me they had a chair for me on stage, about a foot behind Norah. It was a great scene.

Shooter: I forgot all about that until you said it, but that’s another way that our worlds have collided. I’d love to see a video of you singing “Silent Night” with Norah Jones.

Mick: I’m trying to learn a song to sing with them, like “Must Be Santa.”

And that, friends, is how the soundtrack to Crazy Christmas 2 was born.

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