Writing Christmas songs is a little intimidating, even for a seasoned songwriter such as me. There’s a lot of tradition involved here and folks have their favorites: songs that have stood the test of time; familiar, beloved songs telling familiar, beloved stories. Every year we spiral back to journey with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, shepherds and angels and magi.
And even though we know these stories so well there is still plenty of mystery to go around. For a number of years now I’ve found myself returning again and again to the rich treasury of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. I wrote the first of these twelve songs more than twenty years ago, and I wrote five of them this year. I imagine I’ll have a few new ones by the time you and I cross paths again.
I know that these days folks like to cherry pick a few songs off of an album but my hope is that you’ll start at the beginning of Songmaker’s Christmas and listen right on through to the end. Each song is a different flavor, a different color, a different note, and they string together to create a full and satisfying experience.
About Garrison Doles -
I tour nationally doing concerts in churches and coffeehouses and festivals and in people’s homes. I’m very blessed to be married to the internationally celebrated author, artist and minister, Jan Richardson, and she and I have a wonderful time leading retreats and conferences all around the country.
More about Garrison -
A savory musical feast of original soul songs. Garrison Doles knows how to put the flavors together; tangy and sweet, salty and tart and satisfying. He entertains with grace and presence, commanding the stage with powerful vocal and instrumental skills. Funny, tender, jangly, cool and inspiring.
If you call yourself a performing songwriter, then you ought to hold up both ends of the deal. Garrison truly does. He writes powerful songs of all kinds - moving, funny, profound, romantic, light-hearted - and he delivers them with immense skill and unforgettable style and grace. It’s an inspired marriage of artist and material, and it always results in an exciting and entertaining journey for the audience. What Garrison Doles brings is so deep and wide that only your heart is big enough to hold it.
Legendary Crosby, Stills and Nash producer Steve Gursky says:
“Garrison Doles is one of the most talented songwriters and performers I’ve ever worked with. He really knows how to put words and music together in a way that makes the story come alive. And he totally fills the role of performing songwriter. Great singer, guitar wizard and truly entertaining storyteller. Never pass up a chance to see this master at work.”
The complex voicings of a thumping, smoky, jangling guitar and a haunting harmonica set the stage for original stories, laughing and real and profound, told in textured, powerful and tender vocals.
From my website -
Garrison Doles is a broken shard of sea glass that washed up on the beach. Shattered and jagged and tossing in the ocean, tumbling against the sandpaper bottom until it rolled out smooth and hard and not quite transparent.
It took a lot of hard work and determination to develop a world class drinking problem. Afternoons hustling nine-ball at pool tables in the corners of 7th Avenue strip joints. Nights picking out home-made songs on his battered Martin D-28 in saloons from Key West to St. Augustine. “I wasn’t gettin’ a lot of vegetables back then. Unless you count Marlboros and Jack Daniels.”
Coconut Grove wasn’t a bad place to start out. Coffee houses where Joni met David Crosby and began her long run. Where Jimmy Buffet worked the kinks out and legends like Michael Smith and Gamble Rogers and Steve Goodman traded forty minute sets in rooms with audiences of fifty or sixty or maybe a hundred on a big Saturday night. “I’d see Fred Neil and Vince Martin on a tiny stage in a tight spotlight and think that was just where I wanted to spend my whole life. I didn’t know anything. I thought there were places like that all over the world. I barely got to play any of those joints at all and then they were gone and I found myself working dark, smoky bars; playing for people who showed up to drink and get lucky and to definitely not listen to original, acoustic soul songs. I did that for about fifteen years before I figured out it wasn’t what I’d signed up for and that it was killing me. So I quit.”
He quit playing in bars, quit drinking, quit smoking. Moved to Orlando and got a real job. Got married, had a kid and got divorced. Got himself involved in some local drama - he was co-founder of Theatre Downtown, a way-off-off-Broadway style theatre that’s been around for about twenty years now, where he has produced, acted, directed, designed and written for the theatrical stage. He can’t seem to stay out of trouble. And he just keeps on writing songs and somehow the audiences find him.
Garrison has recently won major songwriting competitions in North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts and he’s on the move, touring nationally and performing at all the best festivals, coffeehouses and house concerts.
He is a true singer/songwriter - a songmaker and a storymaker. Listening to these songs is like running the pad of your thumb around the edge of that smooth, green sea glass. You can sense the raggedness beneath the surface. You can feel the textures of life’s abrasion, the swirling imprints of the forces that polish us down to our essential selves and there is a comfort in that and a complex sort of pleasure.
And this story from Steve Gursky -
What I can tell you about Garrison Doles
I first met Garrison Doles in Miami. I’d just gone through a pretty intense period,engineering a Kenny Loggins record and I was mostly just hanging around in the lobby at Criteria Studios a lot and hoping nobody would come along too soon and offer me another gig. Tom Dowd wandered down from his office looking for coffee and mentioned that if I wasn’t doing anything I might want to step into Studio C, cause there was some kid in there trading songs with Bobby Caldwell and it sounded like he was holding his own. Bobby had just had his big hit go to number one and he was under contract for two more records but not moving too fast, like maybe his muse was taking some time off. I thought it was probably a good thing that he had somebody putting him through his paces.
Looked like most of Criteria was hanging around in C, with Garrison in a folding chair in the middle of the studio, hunched over that beat up old D28. One of his simple, haunting ballads was in the air and nobody moved or even seemed to be breathing. When he came to the end of the song he looked up and was kind of surprised to see all these people standing around. He reached over and grabbed that lit Marlboro that was always stuck in the head strings of his guitar and took a hit and blew it out, saying “let’s go get a beer.” So we did.
I found out he was scratching out some kind of a living hustling nineball in the afternoons at the pool tables in strip joints on 7th Avenue, and playing bars in Coconut Grove and Islamorada and Hallandale at night. He wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating, smoked too much, drank too much. He was writing a lot though, he was always working on honing these powerful songs till they were sharp enough to shave with and then taking them into some smoky bar and trying to win over a crowd that really just came in to drink and get laid. I hated to see his stuff getting wasted like that cause he’s always been such a great player and such a great songwriter but back then it just seemed like there was nowhere for him to go and no way to get there. I was able to bring him in, from time to time, to fix somebody’s lyrics or tighten up the structure but he never got any credit for any of that and he hardly ever even got paid.
I got called out to L.A. to produce a Crosby, Stills and Nash album and ended up moving here permanently. But any time I get back to the east coast or really anywhere in the country where Garrison’s playing, I always gather up a few folks and take them out to see him do that thing he does. He plays a lot of private house concerts and some of the cooler listening rooms and every now and then he breaks out on to a bigger stage. His show is always a rare and wonderful event, just him and his guitar and harmonica. People just know something special’s going on - a lot of laughing and crying and being real still in the moment. It’s like in these years of traveling and writing and playing he’s settled deeper into the mastery of performance, the mystery of songmaking. The turn of phrase, the pulling tempo beneath the dragging beat, the telling of that small important moment of your life. Each song, each story, is its own time and place and then you find they’ve worked together to describe a larger time and place, like DNA or quantum mechanics. But I think I’ve gone too far now, for sure.
reprinted by permission