Plenty of people have Christmas Eve traditions.
Growing up, Carolyn Sills would watch the James Stewart classic It’s a Wonderful Life with her father on the night before Christmas. By her estimation, she’s seen the movie in its entirety more than 20 times.
Those repeated viewings eventually resulted in Sills being inspired in the fall of 2007 to write a song named after Stewart’s character, George Bailey.
“My friend Dennis Pierce of Silent Stereo Records asked if I would be interested in recording a Christmas single with him,” the singer/bassist recalls. “We had worked together previously on a vinyl 45 for my Brooklyn-based trio Boss Tweed and had a great time working together. He has excellent vintage equipment and records on all analog gear, which I’m a big fan of.
“We were both into the Phil Spector Christmas catalog and wondered if it was possible to write a song in that style or the style of Brenda Lee’s famous Christmas hits. I started thinking of more generic ideas to write about at first – snow, gingerbread men – but as usual, it’s best to write about what you know. Once I got the idea in my head on the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, I wrote the song that afternoon.”
Sills says that Wonderful Life was so ingrained in her mind that once she had the idea for the song, the lyrics for “George Bailey” came pretty easily.
“I wrote the bass line first, which lead to the melody, and we built the song from there,” she explains. “I recorded the backing vocals after everything else was done, and it was a new experience to do so many harmonies with myself.
“The biggest challenge was probably capturing the right vocal sound,” Sills adds. “We tried out a few mikes and setups to get a more 1950s sound. I really focused on my enunciation, especially within the harmonies, since the lyrics are so important.”
Sills and company recorded the song in Jersey City, N.J., a few days after writing it. First available last December via her Web site, “George Bailey” was recently released digitally on Avatar Records and can be purchased via iTunes.
— By Chris M. Junior
Carolyn Sills on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Dec. 10: Mesa Arts Center — Mesa, Ariz.
* Dec. 16: Rodeo Bar — New York
* Dec. 17: Empire City Casino — Yonkers, N.Y.