More than a decade ago, one of the world's foremost guitarists took the concept of a Christmas rock concert to new heights with the show One Silent Night... Now, Neil Zaza, one of the most acclaimed and unique guitar players in the world, will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Northeastern holiday classic by inviting the audience to be part of a truly interactive concert experience.
HISTORY OF THE SHOW
Oddly enough, the idea for this Christmas CD set came about at an unlikely intersection of life experiences: a motor home accident and a holiday craft show. And if you think these make for unusual circumstances, lend me your ear for a moment, friends. Have I got a tale for you
It was early 1997 and Bobby Rock, Bill The Buddha Dickens, and I had just finished up rehearsals in LA for the Rock Across America tour. With a three-man crew aboard and a trailer full of gear in tow, we were all cruising through the night in Bobby's brand new Winnebago, en route to opening night in Atlanta. All of us were asleep, including, as it turns out, the driver! Not recommended.
As we drifted off the road onto some rocky terrain near an embankment, our boy woke up and panicked. He jerked the wheel hard left and clipped a guardrail with such velocity that the RV disengaged from the trailer and rolled bottom-over-top four times. The motor home seemed to disintegrate mid-roll, as huge chunks of mangled fiberglass were hurled skyward, and all of us passengers were deposited onto the highway at various points along the way. When the smoke cleared (quite literally), I found myself laying in the grass of the Interstate median, having just endured the bone rattling sensation of getting bounced around in some kind of turbo spin cycle of a clothes dryer. Miraculously, we all made it through.
THE JOKE An ambulance, a hospital, a catheter, and a postponed tour later, I soon found myself back home in Cleveland, recuperating and pondering my next move. Enter, the craft show. As a family event, I used to always go to a local holiday craft show and carry on about how watered down so much of the Christmas music for sale there always sounded to me. If it were me doing a Christmas CD, I would joke, it would be the real deal, and all of the blue-haired retirees would be lining up to load down their baskets with multiple copies of my masterpiece. All I would have to do is hang out at a booth and do a little playing to promote it. Early retirement awaits, I would tell themif I could only find a little spare time to actually record such a disc. Well, after the wreck, spare time was plentiful, and I was about to find out just how serious I was about making this Christmas CD.
Four Easy Stepsor is it? Every project needs a game plan and mine could be summarized in Four Easy Steps. Step One: Call Tim Bradford to take care of instrumentation and arrangements. Step Two: Drop a bunch of soulful melodies and killer solos over the top of it all and then do a clean mix. Step Three: Throw together some nice packaging and send everything off to the duplicator. Step Four: Show up at the craft show with my guitar to serenade the patrons and watch these discs fly out of the booth.
Okay, so maybe Step Four wasn't a true aspiration after all. (I have to draw the line at weddings and craft shows!) But even as a joke, it served its purpose because it actually got me thinking about how cool it would be, creatively, to take a shot at a Christmas record. And this would prove to be enough of an impetus to get the whole project off the ground even if my Four Easy Steps concept would eventually turn into Twelve Difficult Chapters!
From Humble Beginnings The first version of One Silent Night was close to the initial vision. Tim created the foundation for everything with his Kurzweil 2500 and bass tracks were divided up between Doug Johns and Greg Henderson. And since the only live instruments were bass and guitars, this permutation of OSN was always referred to as the MIDI version from folks in my inner circle. I was reasonably happy with how everything turned out but, with a multitude of other personal and professional distractions, I simply never got around to releasing it. Then, around 2000, when I was living in Canada for a time, I would revisit the masters and listen to them on occasion, just to connect with that feeling of being home back in Cleveland. This time around, though, it struck me as good, but somehow incomplete. I suppose my vision for the project had expanded over the last few years and, if I was ever going to release OSN, it would need a serious overhaul. So away I went
The first plan of action was to get real drums on it. But, since there was no available click track anywhere on my masters, my initial attempts to cut live drums were futile. Eventually, Tim found the original MIDI files (which had been packed away for years) and, once a click track was revived, we were back in business. I ended up recutting all but a few solos and rhythm guitar tracks, then I brought in Greg Henderson to redo all of the bass tracks. Things were really coming togetherso much so that it was going to be difficult to fit everything on one disc. It was at this point I realized that a Volume Two might be in order. Tim not only agreed to Bradfordize a few more classics for me, but he even kicked things up a few notches, as his arrangements of Jesu, Do You Hear? and The Messiah Medley clearly illustrate.
So now, with two volumes worth of OSN starting to really take shape, and my Four Easy Steps concept a distant memory, it was mandatory that we have live drums on everything. For this, I put Bill Cioce in the drummer's chair and we tracked both volumes at Palumbo Studios, which was basically a converted barn on rural property outside of Cleveland. What was the catch? (because you know that for this project, there has to be a catch!) We would record in the sweltering heat of Augustwithout ACand around the sporadic interruptions of an agitated neighbor's tractor rumblings! It was brutal, no doubt, but it truly did sound great in there, and Bill did a commendable job of gluing it all together with his rock-solid drum tracks.
An Orchestra? Are you crazy?! Now was it time to mix? Not quite. Having gone this far, there was really only one thing left to do: Bring in an orchestra and replace the MIDI strings! So, with my One Silent Night Christmas show looming on the horizon, I met with Paul Leary and explained that I needed 19 orchestral scores, for each tune, in three months! To those in the know, this is an absolutely insane amount of work to churn out in that time frame, but Paul pulled it off admirably. Given the extreme amount of time and toil that went into this project, the string sessions for OSN were monumental to me on a personal level. We recorded at a church called The Chapel, where Fred Patterson conducted his house orchestra. For me, seeing Fred and Co. play down the tracks was like watching a small army of painters put the final coat of paint on my dream home. So any difficult logistical issues we might have had to deal with that day were eclipsed by the joy of seeing this very ambitious body of work make it to the home stretch.
The Homestretch Speaking of home stretch, now it was time to mixand fast. I took my hodgepodge of masters down to (Who else?) Joe Viers at John Schwab Recording. We were under such a tight deadline to complete this whole project before my One Silent Night concert (which had been booked for months in advance), that it was suggested that we only release Volume One for the time being. But I had always envisioned both volumes as a single work and just couldn't bare the thought of separating them. So we kicked and screamed our way through these marathon mixing sessions and somehow managed to meet our final art and duplication deadlinesjust in time: The UPS man showed up with a pallet of CDs within 48 hours of show time!
Touchdown! So it all worked out, albeit differently from I had originally envisioned. Instead of debuting OSN in 1997 at a craft show with just a guitar, it was in 2002 to a packed house at the Palace Theater with a full orchestra. Instead of one volume, it was two. Instead of a bunch of sequencers, samples, and machines, it was living, breathing instruments, an orchestra and great players. And instead of One Silent Night-the concept-exiting the world with me on a highway in Texas, One Silent Night the tangible-found its way ineven if it did take more than Four Easy Steps.