Christmas Song History
Every song has a story behind its genesis and Gene Autry's music has some great tales to tell. Here is a brief history of Gene's beloved holiday hits written by Jon Guyot Smith from the Grammy Nominated box set Sing, Cowboy, Sing!: The Gene Autry Collection released by Rhino Records, © 1997 Rhino Entertainment Company, re-printed by permission.
Here Comes Santa Claus
(Right Down Santa Claus Lane)
Gene was riding his horse, Champion, down Hollywood Boulevard for the annual Christmas parade in 1946 when, hearing the crowds of children gleefully crying, "Here comes Santa Claus!" he was inspired to write a song. He turned his sketch over to Oakley Haldeman (then in charge of Gene's music publishing firms) and legendary A&R chief "Uncle" Art Satherley. They completed the lead sheet, hastening a copy over to singer/guitarist Johnny Bond's home to make an acetate disc of the finished product. A cocktail was mixed for Uncle Art, who sipped near the microphone while Bond sang Here Comes Santa Claus for the first time. When the group heard the ice cubes jingling so merrily on the playback, they were inspired to use a "jingle bell" sound on Gene's record! It was the first Gene Autry Christmas release, a huge commercial and artistic triumph that opened the door to an unexpected extension of his phenomenal career.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
After the success of Here Comes Santa Claus, every songwriter on the planet was imploring Gene to record his or her marvelous Christmas composition. He received hundreds of lead sheets and home recordings, all of which he carefully studied.
Ina Autry, to whom Gene was married for nearly a half century, was an individual possessing both charm and superb judgment, and was as well-loved by fans and industry personnel as was the cowboy himself. When Gene passed on Johnny Marks' "Rudolph" in the belief that the song did not suit his image, Ina urged him to reconsider. She loved the line about Rudolph's exclusion from "reindeer games" and felt that the "ugly duckling" theme would appeal strongly to the young-at-heart.
Ina's advice was as sound as ever. Gene's 1949 platter became the biggest seller the Columbia label had ever known. It reappeared on the charts each Christmas season for several years, and the 1957 remake for his own Challenge label was likewise a hit. Although the lyric has no connection with cowboys or country & western themes, the simple tale of the physically challenged reindeer remains Gene Autry's all-time biggest seller.
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