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A roots and rockabilly holiday concert with JD McPherson and his band

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. A song from Questlove's Christmas playlist is from the holiday album "Socks," by J.D. McPherson and his band. They performed a Christmas concert on our show in 2018. We thought it would be fun to hear some of that. McPherson is a roots and rockabilly musician who pledged to never make a Christmas album. I'm glad he broke that promise. His album "Socks" features his original holiday songs, and they're really fun. Here's an excerpt of the band's FRESH AIR concert.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Welcome, all of you, to FRESH AIR. It's so exciting to have you here, and the new Christmas album is great. Do you want to introduce the first song?

J D MCPHERSON: Yeah, this is "All The Gifts I Need."

(Singing) Happiness is automatic. There's music in the air. Grab the boxes from the attic and haul them down the stairs. Freezing weather's round the corner. And everybody knows - oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh - soon the tree will be all lit up, sparkling as it goes. Today is anything but the same old thing. I can almost hear those sleigh bells ring. Singing all those happy songs while the little ones all dance along. I take a real quick look around and suddenly I see - it's not even Christmas yet. I got all the gifts I need.

(Singing) Got caught hanging the mistletoe. Somebody stole a little kiss. I ain't tied a single bow. But I can already cross love off my list. I take a real quick look around and suddenly I see - it's not even Christmas yet. I got all the gifts I need. I take a real quick look around and suddenly I see - it's not even Christmas yet. I got all the gifts I need.

GROSS: Thank you so much for performing that. That is so great. And this is in our studio. We heard J.D. McPherson on vocals and guitar, Jimmy Sutton, bass and guitar, and also, singing backup vocals, Doug Corcoran and Ray Jacildo. And that is one of the songs that's also featured on J.D.'s album, which is called "Socks," and it's an album of original Christmas songs. And it's really fun, just like the song we just heard. So, there's another Christmas song I'd like you to do, and it's called "Ugly Sweater Blues." And a lot of people intentionally wear ugly sweaters to Christmas parties - really hideous ones. So did you ever have any, like, ugly sweater traditions or real ugly sweaters that you were forced to wear?

MCPHERSON: Well, it was more of - so, you know, I'm a child - I have three older brothers and an older sister, and they were all out of the house when I was born. I was a big surprise. And so it wasn't really sweaters, but my parents put me in these, like, velvet, like, tuxedos and, like, little ruffled pirate shirts and things like that. And there's all these really unbelievable pictures of me with this bowl haircut, with these tuxedos and things. And, you know, I was 3 or 4 at the time, so it didn't bother me. But it's humiliating, right?

GROSS: (Laughter).

MCPHERSON: For - everybody has some point where they're being forced to wear clothes that they don't really want to. So, ugly sweaters - I think everybody - even if you haven't worn them, that's a thing that you can always relate to, that at some point your parents are going to make you wear something you don't want to wear.

GROSS: I know the feeling. I knew the feeling. All right. Can you do that song for us?

MCPHERSON: Mmm hmm.

GROSS: So this is J.D. McPherson and his band performing in our studio. We're going to hear J.D. on guitar and vocals, Jimmy Sutton on bass, Doug Corcoran is going to be playing steel guitar and Ray Jacildo, chimes. So here we go.

MCPHERSON: (Singing) Mama, don't make me wear that old thing again - hand-knitted Christmas trees and a silly snowman. No matter if I refuse, I got these ugly sweater blues. Mama, why can't you see? I feel like a fool. Green elves with snowflakes and scratchy alpaca wool - maybe you heard the news. I got these ugly sweater blues. Another year, another sweater and another holiday soiree. Mama hears the people laughing while the presents are unwrapping. She's not even sorry.

(Singing) Mama, don't make me wear that old thing again. Green elves with sleigh bells and a gingerbread man. Corduroys and pointy shoes - I got these ugly sweater blues.

(Playing guitar).

(Singing) Driving to Atlanta for an interview with Santa. I can hear him say, hey, that kid is back again, and dig that ugly cardigan. Oh, what a shame. Mama, don't make me wear that old thing again - hand-knitted Christmas trees and a silly snowman. No matter if I refuse, I got these ugly sweater blues. Done paid all my dues. I'm singing these ugly sweater blues.

GROSS: That sounded great. That's such a great song.

MCPHERSON: Thank you, thank you.

GROSS: That song was written by J.D. McPherson, who we heard on guitar and vocals, and this is one of the songs that he wrote that's on the Christmas album "Socks" that he recorded with his band. And thank you for playing this in the studio for us.

MCPHERSON: This is so much fun. Thank you for having us.

GROSS: This is so much fun for me. So, J.D., I want to ask you a little bit about your past because you grew up on a cattle farm...

MCPHERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...In Oklahoma. So describe it for us.

MCPHERSON: Hundred and sixty acres or thereabouts - an A-frame house that my dad built up on a hill, and southeast Oklahoma is really pretty mountainous, kind of Ozark-type landscape. Registered Brangus cattle, a 1940s Massey-Harris tractor, and nothing else to do but to obsess over music and draw pictures.

GROSS: Did you have to do things on the cattle ranch?

MCPHERSON: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: What did you have to do?

MCPHERSON: Well, you have to feed them, first of all - waking up at 5 in the morning before school and putting out a round bale or meal and salt mix for the cows and everything. That's an early day for a teenage kid.

GROSS: So you had to do that?

MCPHERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: And did you have to shovel anything?

MCPHERSON: No, there's plenty of room. You don't have to worry about it too much.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Laughter).

GROSS: OK.

MCPHERSON: Just watch where you're walking.

GROSS: My knowledge of, like, cattle is kind of like cattle-drive Westerns, like the TV series "Rawhide."

MCPHERSON: No.

GROSS: Nothing like that?

MCPHERSON: No. You just kind of call them, and they come up...

GROSS: Really? Like, you call them, and they come?

MCPHERSON: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: What's the cattle call?

MCPHERSON: Oh, I can't do it here because it's so loud. But it's kind of like, (imitating a whistle).

GROSS: Wow.

MCPHERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: So, I want to close with another - that is, I want you to close with another Christmas song. There's a song I love from the new album, your new album "Socks" that I'd like you to perform for us, and it's called "What's That Sound?" And I think everyone in the band is going to chime in on that one.

MCPHERSON: Yeah. Well, this one I think is probably getting down to the root of that anti-cynicism, uh, sentiment we were just speaking about. This is - this one's about all of those nice things that you can experience during that time of year.

GROSS: So this is J.D. McPherson and his band performing in our studio. And the song is "What's That Sound?" And it's also on their new Christmas album, which is called "Socks."

MCPHERSON: OK, here we go.

(Singing) What's that sound at the door I hear? I heard that same merry sound last year. Neighbors are caroling around the town, trying to spread a little bit of joy around. I hear that sound, I feel so fine. Sounds a little bit like Christmastime. What's that sound down the road I hear? I heard that same mighty sound last year. Parade drummers marching out two by two, rocking out the holiday boogaloo. What's that sound? It sounds like Christmastime.

(Singing) If you listen closely now, you'll hear it in the air. That's the sound of Christmas cheer. I hear it everywhere. What's that sound at the mall I hear? I heard that same busy sound last year. Shoppers are hopping and a-humming a tune. Happy holidays, and how do you do? What's that sound? It sounds like Christmastime. If you listen closely now, you'll hear it in the air. That's the sound of Christmas cheer. I hear it everywhere. What's that sound on the roof I hear? I heard that same pitter-pat last year. Jingling bells and big black boots, a rattling chimney and 32 hooves - I hear that sound, make me feel so fine. Sounds a little bit like Christmastime.

(Singing) What's that sound down the road I hear? I heard that same ringing bell last year. Ringing that thing like he's leading a band, trying to give a neighbor a helping hand. What's that sound? It sounds like Christmastime. What's that sound? It sounds like Christmastime. What's that sound? It sounds like Christmastime.

Ding, ding, ding.

GROSS: Oh, that was great. Thank you so much for performing for us in our studio. It's just been wonderful. I wish you all merry Christmas.

MCPHERSON: Thank you, Terry. Thanks for doing this.

GROSS: Thank you for doing this.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you so much.

MCPHERSON: Our pleasure.

GROSS: J.D. McPherson and his band, recorded on our show in 2018 after the release of their Christmas album, "Socks." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we get back to our series of some of our favorite interviews of the year. We'll hear from musician and singer Allison Russell, who performed in our studio. Some of her songs are about being abused by her adoptive father and how she healed from that trauma. Her latest album, "The Returner," is currently nominated for four Grammys, including Best Americana Album. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE MCKENNA'S "LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director is Audrey Bentham. Our engineer today is Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. Our co-host is Tonya Mosley. I'm Terry Gross and all of us at FRESH AIR wish you a merry Christmas.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE MCKENNA'S "LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.