And to celebrate, free CDs for my entire readership!
Wow, has it really been that long?
For those unfamiliar with my story, you’re only reading this now because of this album. It’s what “put me on the map” in 1995. Before that, I was just your typical anonymous closet musician with a bunch of random instruments I collected and noodled on for my own amusement. Starting in 1990, when not at work (the aerospace day job), I spent pretty much every waking minute on this project for almost a full five years. It took extraordinary, long-term discipline and (as one friend noted) pathological devotion. It was my “Everest” – hanging on the walls just staring me in the face. Believe it or not, I did it solely for my own amusement and catharsis. I think that’s why it’s stood the test of time; I was only out to please and entertain myself – I never quite imagined releasing it for strangers to listen to! It was my wife Jaci who insisted I do so (due to the time investment and her obvious sacrifice). Well, as with everything you’ve seen me do since, I don’t exactly skimp. (Luckily, I had barely a hundred instruments then!) I did send out a few demos and concept proposals to labels and industry contacts, but of course they just laughed. Fortunately, my supportive parents volunteered to fund the first pressing of my “vision” – 2 individual CDs and full-color 50-page booklets – which was, frankly, an astronomical proposition. But we did it; that’s how the Miners roll.
The last mint unopened set from 1995.
There was little chance then for self-released albums; no distributors and few stores would give me the time of day. I got lucky via a very popular local radio host who I sent a copy and fan letter to. (For the emotional story, see “Best Christmas Eve’s Eve Ever.” A shout out to guitarists Doug Johnson, John Schneider and Ben Elder who also played it on their local radio shows that first season) By Christmas, every Borders store throughout Southern California was calling me at home to get stock. I couldn’t believe it when I ran out of my first 1000 and did another run. NPR got hold of it and started playing various tracks and still does to this day.
Meanwhile, a Delos Records employee had picked up a copy at Borders, and – for no reason I can fathom – the Classical audiophile label wanted it. Mind you, I recorded it inside a homemade 4×4 “mattress foam cubicle” in a bedroom with an cheap AKG mic on an ADAT and Mackie mixer. Amazingly, they took it “as is,” without cutting or changing anything (like putting on their obligatory church-drenched reverb) – it helped that I paid for and owned my own physical product. But they did insist that the artist appear on the cover, so that’s where the infamous “Seinfeld puffy shirt” covers came from (they were my original Jaci-directed book themed “centerfolds” with the archlutes).
Delos got me a nice CNN in-home interview that was played for a week nationwide and in Canada and Mexico, and requested an EPK (promotional video). That’s when we did the “Bring a Torch” video (nearly 50,000 views to date) and our elaborate “Jingle Bell Rock” elves video (a select few friends have been traumatized by that). I got a bit more coverage and sales, but the 3 years with Delos was an expensive, exasperating lesson in how the music industry works – or in my case, doesn’t (buy me a beer and I’ll tell you about it someday…).
They also asked if I could do live appearances. (I can’t tell you how many professionals thought it would be simple for me to gather a few musicians, and take them and 100 rare instruments on the road). I did manage to put together a show with these ten instruments at right, with friend Dave Marchant (of The Magic If) playing a couple of them in duets, and for the next couple years with a double-bassist added.
So, A Christmas Collection debuted on my own “Miner Music” imprint for a year, then was on Delos for three, then reverted back to MM, then after the Tenth Anniversary I re-packaged it in one big sleeve as my second Harp Guitar Music release.
And now, 25 years later? For me, it has become an out-of-body experience. I remember “having done it,” but the “math doesn’t add up.” I honestly have no idea how I did it or could have done it – as technically and artistically it shouldn’t really have been possible (and not just the raw hours. Half of those instruments – in case it’s not obvious – I taught myself to play in a week or two, then arrange, record, hang back on the wall and next!).
But I’m sure glad I did. It was and remains unprecedented. People around the world play it every year (and many say they even play it throughout the year!). Reviews were always glowing to raves, and I still get the occasional out-of-the-blue fan letter – and now, young musicians who recognize me with “Hey, my parents have those CDs!” There were many years when I couldn’t listen to it, hearing every blemish and missed opportunity. But I’ve come to relish my reunion with it each season. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia, but for me, now – it all works. It’s joyous, entertaining, occasionally beautiful (and dare I say, “magical,” my private goal), and often humorous enough to still crack me up. It especially blows my mind when I remember that each tune was basically a “quick one-time experiment.” There were no do-overs, no cut songs, no abandoned instruments. I just had to commit to my first idea for each unfamiliar instrument and pray that the fantasy in my head might somehow materialize. The final 27 tracks were an unexpected string of happy accidents. The last “World Music” segment? C’mon! Jaci made me do that. I said “I’m not playing a Christmas Carol on the koto. Or sitar, or oud… are you crazy?!” Again, I did it just for our own amusement, but once the first one worked (South America), I was on roll. Those ended up being the favorites for many.
Digital music was first a buzzkill but slowly resolved itself with iTunes sales, Pandora, SoundExchange and a few other outfits that actually pay artists. And my “perennial” theme didn’t hurt any! Still, I never imagined it’d still be going strong 25 years later.
So, thank you to everyone who has listened, enjoyed, bought, played or shared. I wouldn’t be here without A Christmas Collection, and that wouldn’t have succeeded without you.
FREE COPIES: I don’t know how many of you still even own CD players or have family and friends that do – but any of my friends, colleagues and readers are welcome to request complimentary copies of the whole 13-ounce package in any quantity. I’m serious. I still have a good thousand sets in the warehouse. If you’re a teacher with a roster of students or boss with a hundred employees, just ask. As this special celebration year happens to hit amid this terrible pandemic, I would love nothing better than to see these in the hands of anyone who could use a boost, and I encourage you to likewise share them with anyone on or off your Holiday list. Just PayPal me the postage (firstname.lastname@example.org) per this chart. Or send a check. (International friends – same offer, except I can only ship to an address in the States.)
1 copy Media Mail (slow): $3.50
1 copy Priority Mail Flat Rate: $9
15 copies Priority Mail Flat Rate: $16
24 copies Priority Mail Flat Rate: $22.50
(can quote other quantities via Media Mail)
It’s the least I can do. 25 years later, it truly remains for me the Gift that Keeps on Giving. See you at 50!
And over the years, I’ve edited some of my original booklet essays as I learned more about these instruments.