Is Christmas a time to be blue? We certainly hope not, but it can be a great time to play the best Christmas blues songs. Over the years, going as far back as Blind Lemon Jefferson, who tragically died in a snowstorm a few days before Christmas in 1929, blues men and women have sung about the holiday season while playing the blues. This Christmas, get out your sleigh, pray for a white Christmas, and enjoy the yule with some of the best blues Christmas songs ever.
Listen to our playlist of the best blues Christmas songs on Spotify, and scroll down for our list of the best blues Christmas songs.
Lightnin’ Hopkins: Merry Christmas
There is something incongruous about hearing a voice you normally associate with singing pained lyrics about heartbreak belting out lines about Santa Claus coming around, but Lightnin’ Hopkins’ tune about his woman returning is actually full of Christmas cheer. “Merry Christmas” was first released as a single in the first week of advent in December 1953 and remains a classic of blues music.
Jimmy Witherspoon: How I Hate To See Xmas Come Around
Jimmy Witherspoon, the great “blues shouter” who sang with jazz greats such as Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge, performs typically miserable blues lyrics in a song that is tied to the festive period. There’s no money to purchase the Christmas tree, he sang, sadly, in this 1948 classic. The singer was given fine musical support from Louis Speigner on guitar.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe: O Little Town Of Bethlehem
In September 1956, gospel great Sister Rosetta Tharpe cut a moving version of the 19th-century Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Who better than Tharpe, who was raised by her mother, a traveling evangelist with the Church Of God In Christ, to sing such a seminal religious Christmas song?
Little Johnny Taylor: Please Come Home for Christmas
This Stax Records gem from 1961 features the Arkansas-born blues singer Little Johnny singing “Please Come Home for Christmas,” a song that has been covered by everyone from Bon Jovi to Eagles. Taylor, who began his career as a gospel singer, died in 2002.
Chuck Berry: Spending Christmas
Chuck Berry’s most sentimental song, “Spending Christmas,” was recorded for Chess Records in Chicago in December 1964, and produced by label owners Phil and Leonard Chess. The song is nostalgic, with Berry singing about being far away from home, far away from loved ones, and dreaming of wrapping Christmas presents. Berry, backed by old friends from his St. Louis days, including Jules Blattner (guitar) and Brian Hamilton (saxophone), offers a reminder of how good he was at singing ballads. (For a more upbeat bit of Christmas music from Berry, be sure to check “Run Rudolph Run.”)
Charles Brown: Merry Christmas
“Merry Christmas” is probably the only song that has been covered by both Bruce Springsteen and Mae West, but the definitive version was released in 1947 by singer and pianist Charles Brown as part of Johnny Moore’s vocal group Three Blazers. Brown, whose delicate slow-paced style influenced blues performances for two decades, said he helped Lou Baxter with the composition. “I wrote the title ‘Merry Christmas Baby’, and I wrote the words, how I was going to sing it, and I mapped it out, played the piano, and I presented it to Johnny Moore. We didn’t know it was going to be a great big hit, but I thought it was unique.”
Albert King: Christmas (Comes But Once A Year)
Albert King took the song “Christmas (Comes But Once A Year),” which had been a hit for Amos Milburn in 1960, and gave it a makeover, playing some sizzling blues guitar. King, who was known as “The Velvet Bulldozer” because of his smooth singing and size (he was 6’ 6”), adds some funk and blues for Christmas time. (For something that’s got a little bit more swing and boogie, try “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.”)
Eric Clapton: Christmas Tears
“Christmas Tears” was blues legend Freddie King’s Christmas anthem, written and recorded in 1961. Grammy-winning Eric Clapton released his own Christmas album in 2018, after figuring out, as he put it, “how to play the blues lines in between the vocals of holiday songs.” His solo on “Christmas Tears” is eye-wateringly good. Clapton’s album, which also features a version of “Silent Night” that is worthy of inclusion among the best Christmas blues songs, was co-produced by Clapton with Simon Climie and features cover art designed by the legendary guitarist.
John Lee Hooker: Blues for Christmas
John Lee Hooker has one of the most mournful voices in popular music and the singer-guitarist composed the bleak song “Blues for Christmas,” which included the lines “blues for Christmas/blue as I can be/I’m sitting here drinkin’/trying to drink my baby back.” The song was recorded in Detroit in 1949, in the era when Hooker was recording for the famous Chess label. “Blues for Christmas” features Jimmy Miller on trumpet, Johnny Hooks on tenor saxophone and Tom Whitehead on drums in the moody, slow blues lament for better festive times.
BB King: Christmas Love
BB King’s chart-topping 2001 album, A Christmas Celebration Of Hope, contained festive classics such as “Please Come Home For Christmas,” but one of the real highlights of the album is his own composition, “Christmas Love.” The instrumental track showed that, even at the age of 76, he had lost none of the skill that had made him one of the world’s most brilliant guitarists.
Canned Heat: Christmas Blues
In late 1967, LA blues band Canned Heat were recording their album Boogie with Canned Heat with Dr John, when they added on the recording of a couple of singles with novelty band Alvin and the Chipmunks. The festive song “Christmas Blues” was the B-side to “The Chipmunk Song,” which peaked at No. 31 on the Billboard charts in December 1968. “Christmas Blues,” a straight blues boogie in the early Canned Heat style, was produced by Skip Taylor and co-written by singer Bob Hite, bassist Larry Taylor, guitarists Alan Wilson and Henry Vestine, and drummer Adolfo De La Parra.
Otis Redding: White Christmas
Otis Redding’s graceful, bluesy version of “White Christmas” was produced by acclaimed songwriter and guitarist Steve Cropper – a founding member of Booker T. & the MGs – who co-wrote Redding’s iconic hit “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Redding’s version of Irving Belin’s classic festive song “White Christmas” was released as a single in October 1968 by ATCO Records, with “Merry Christmas, Baby” on the B side. This version was all the more poignant for being released in the wake of the death of Redding, who had been killed the previous December at the age of 26 in a plane crash.
James Brown: Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto
James Brown delivered his own funky Christmas sound on “Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto,” the opening track on his on his 1968 festive album A Soulful Christmas. The song was co-written by Charles Bobbit, Hank Ballard, and Brown’s musical director Pee Wee Ellis, who later worked with Van Morrison, and who plays tenor saxophone on the track. In the song, Brown, who dressed up as Father Christmas for the cover of the original album, urges Santa to head for the ghetto and “fill every stocking you find.”
Clarence Carter: Back Door Santa
Clarence Carter, a soul singer from Montgomery, Alabama, who has been blind since birth, had a minor hit in 1968 with the raunchy two-minute seasonal record called “Back Door Santa,” complete with several knowing “ho, ho, hos” as he sings “I make all the little girls happy/While the boys go out to play.” The words are set to a funky, Muscle Shoals backing rhythm. “Back Door Santa” was later covered by B.B. King, while Run-DMC sampled the song on “Christmas in Hollis” in 1987. The Black Crowes recorded their cover of Carter’s risqué gem in 2005, during a day off from their residency at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, distributing it as a Christmas treat to friends. It was finally released commercially in 2020.
Sheryl Crow: Blue Christmas
The heartbreak song “Blue Christmas,” written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, was made famous by Elvis Presley in 1957. In 2008, on her album Home For Christmas, Sheryl Crow sings a maudlin and emotional version of this classic, helped by some fine organ playing from Booker T.
Louis Jordan: May Every Day Be Christmas
In June 1951, two years after renewing his contract with Decca Records and shortly after recovering from laryngitis, Jordan recorded a series of singles in New York using a big band that used both black and white musicians. One of them was his own charming composition “May Every Day Be Christmas.” His own regular Tympany Five band – which include Aaron Izenhall on trumpet and Bill Jennings on electric guitar – was supplemented by a host of marvelous jazz and blues musicians, including Oliver Nelson on alto saxophone. Nelson also acted as an arranger for the session, which showed off Jordan’s smooth vocals on an upbeat, optimistic festive treat.
Looking for more? Discover the best Christmas songs of all time.