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, having suffered a heart attack, blues men and women have sung about the holiday season while playing the blues – as the best Christmas blues songs prove.
Listen to the Have Yourself A Blues Christmas playlist right now, and scroll down to read our Top 10 best Christmas blues 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’ tale of his woman returning on Christmas Day is actually full of cheer. ‘Merry Christmas’ was first released as a single in the first week of advent in December 1953 and remains a blues classic.
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.
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.
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.
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 travelling 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.
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 to the holiday season.
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.
Follow the Christmas playlist for the best Christmas songs of all time.