Holiday Music is a collaborative studio project that we create every December. The idea is to have people drop by the studio and make up stuff or add to things already going on. Sometimes we do Holiday covers and sometimes we write originals, but the theme is on the Holiday season.

This is our third release. It began as a project with Barry Phipps, Tim Joyce and Mark Janka, but has become much more expansive every year. I think we lost count, but I believe we had about twenty four people play on this year's project.

The bulk of this record was written and / or arranged, recorded, mixed, mastered and manufactured between December 17 - 22nd, 2003. We ran a multitasked and efficient environment. We had all instruments miked up and ready to go to be able to quickly record whoever showed up. We had recording going on in the studio, arranging and practicing happening in the lobby, Janka with a cd player and headphones working on lyrics to working tracks, the printer chugging out the cover art work, people cutting and scoring and assembling and addressing envelopes all at the same time. I was writing the CD credits on my laptop during the mastering session at Blaise's studio. We also recorded an additional five songs that we didn't have time to flush out before the mastering session. Tom Rough gave us two great songs that called for additional instrumentation, so we'll be putting these extra tracks on next year's cd.

We did a run of 200 discs. All will be given away. If you played on this project and want more copies then let us know. If you want to participate in next year's project then let us know, as well. The more the merrier!



Mark Janka, Tim Joyce and Tony Bianchi: Members of the Lesser Birds of Paradise. They have a new record coming out in the Spring called "String of Bees" on the Cataphonic label. It's a beautiful record.

Barry Phipps, Mark Greenberg, John Upchurch: Ex members of The Coctails. Mark runs Mayfair Recordings, an ultra-hip jingle house and plays with Kelly Hogan, Eleventh Dream Day and others. Barry is an engineer, musician and DJ. John writes and records super great children's songs with Mark.

Pramod Tummala: Member of Melochrome. Just recorded a wonderful record called Morning Recordings. Runs Loose thread Records.

Kelly Hogan: Legendary performer and recording artist on Bloodshot Records. Has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure music and a cool dog.

Joe & Amanda Ziemba: Members of The Like Young on Parasol Records. Buy "Art Contest" if you like great music.

Lindsay Anderson: Member of L'Altra and is currently recording a solo project called Sola with Bill Lowman.

Bill Lowman: Super awesome bass player. Plays with Lindsay Anderson, is a member of Bosco & Jorge, and plays with Smog and Aluminum Group.

Charles Kim: My new favorite session cat. Plays in Sinister Luck Ensemble and teaches theory at Old Town School of Folk Music. His new band is called Grand Lunar.

Max Crawford: Plays with Kelly Hogan, Archer Prewitt, The Sea & Cake, former Poi Dog Pondering member. Writes brilliant string arrangements at a modest price.

Fred Lomberg-Holm: The best damn cello man ever. Has played on every record recorded in Chicago since 1990.

Thax Douglas: A Chicago landmark. Writes poetry on the fly and reads between bands at hip shows. Host of "Thax After Dark".

John Byce: One of those guys who can play two instruments at the same time. Plays in a great band called Branches.

Chris Forte: An amazing guitarist who fronts his own band caleed Forte. They just released an album called Soul Farmer. Get one today.

Joe Wood: Played in a band with Barry Phipps called The Metronomes. As a child, Joe built small bombs and once blew up a neighbors garage in Countryside, IL. (I am not making this up).

Carlos Mendoza: Amazing session drummer who plays on many a recording at North Branch. He recently graduated with a degree in music and is looking for a teaching job. Anyone know of an opening?

Tom Rough: Member of The February Four and member of the newly formed group The Monday Evening Recording Club of America.

Clark Hayes: Member of Boom Hank and engineer at North Branch Studio.

Giselle Simon: Lead singer of the all girl bubble gum pop band Sugar Buzz.


Below are some notes on the recording sessions for this year's Holiday Music cd (from my perspective).

-Barry Phipps

01 HOLIDAY MUG This started with me writing the wurlitzer line to a click, playing drums to that, writing the change, playing drums to that, showing the parts to Mark Janka. Mark added guitar. We scrapped the recording and re-recorded guitar and drums live. I put the Wurlitzer over it. Mark Greenberg added bass and sleigh bells. Tim Joyce added omnichord through a Line Six delay. Mark Janka tried to put lyrics that he had written in the lobby to it called "Holiday Office Party". It didn't work. We shelved the song and moved on. Later, we came back to the song and I came up with a stupid line about a mug I had bought for my wife that had my face on it (it's on the cover of the cd. That was me in 1988.) We stretched the lyrics out and Janka sang along. I talked my lovely wife Giselle into singing the last line. Joe Wood showed up and laid down some baritone guitar as I was mixing it late at night before the 10am mastering session the next morning.

02 HOLIDAY GET TOGETHER This started with Tim Joyce making up a piano melody with John Byce playing celeste and drums at the same time. We cut it live and did several takes. Each take was completely different, as it was still being written during tracking. I think we picked take three. Fred Lomberg-Holm added cello and noted that the tune somewhat resembled Pachabel's Canon. Charles Kim added pedal steel. Tom Rough added his Moog synthesizer. Joe and Amanda added vocals, followed by Tim and Mark Janka adding more vocals. Bill Lowman put bass on last.

03 CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE This is based on a Charles Kim arrangement of the Vince Guaraldi classic. I saw Charles play it with John Byce and Tim Joyce at a benefit show for WLUW radio and thought it would be nice for the project. Charles and Tim started recording it, but then Carlos Mendoza showed up and sat down at the drum kit. They ran through it once then we recorded it. Lindsay Anderson and Bill Lowman showed up and we tracked Bill on bass (one take... while he was learning it) and then Charles took the helm of the controls and showed Lindsay the vocal arrangement. Charles also sang a version which was great. Charles added melodica and celeste. Lindsay re - tracked her vocal and it was completed in about two hours.

04 STICKY THE CHRISTMAS TREE'S CAROL This is a song written by my good friend Tom Zieziul. He wrote a children's book in 1973 called "Sticky - The Christmas Tree No Body Wanted". This is a carol based on the book. I had the sheet music for it but couldn't read it, so I had no idea what it sounded like, but I knew it would be good. When Chris Forte showed up, I handed the sheet music to him and sent him and Tim Joyce to the lobby to work up an arrangement. They came back in after I finished recording another song. We tracked Tim on bass and Chris on guitar and they nailed it on the first take. Tim threw down the vocal. Chris Forte laid down his solo (one take) and Tom Rough added melodica. Chris, Tom and Mark Janka recorded the background vocals and it was done in about one hour. There are extra verses to this song, but we were not singing around a campfire, so we picked our favorite verses and dropped the ones that were nice but did not significantly advance the story!

05 WHITE CHRISTMAS During these sessions, I got to play a show with my old band mates from the Coctails at Shubas. We played a few Christmas songs, including this arrangement of White Christmas in which Kelly Hogan joined us. I talked Mark, John and Kelly into dropping by the studio to record the version. This was cut early in the morning the day after the show with Mark on drums and me on bass (tracked by Brian Faber). Mark added celeste, sleigh bells and piano. Later, Kelly dropped by with her dog Auggie and put the vocal down. John showed up at about 11pm and added saw and banjo.

06 PRETTY PAPER This Willie Nelson tune is really good, but he recorded it with an over the top 60's Nashville production that is decked out with huge vocal choirs and string sections. We tried to do a version closer to what his demo might have sounded like (there is a cd that we have been listening to of Willie's demos that is really great). We worked it up and cut it live, vocals and all. Faber tracked it and picked his favorite take, which was take 10. It took about two hours to learn it, practice it and record it, just like the old days...

07 THE HOLIDAYS PUT ME IN A WISTFUL BAG This is an exquisite corpse type arrangement, similar to the way "Holiday Get Together" developed. This started with me writing the baritone guitar part. I added some "ba ba bas". Pramod Tummala showed up and wrote the guitar chords for the middle part, added piano and drums. Tim added dulcimer, piano and stacked up some more vocals. Fred Lomberg-Holm added cello. Tony Bianchi showed up, played ukelele for 5 minutes, ate some pizza then left. Clark Hayes played some bass. Max Crawford dropped by to pick up some gear he left at the studio, so I handed him headphones and he played along without having heard the song before and hit it in one take. Charles Kim played pedal steel. Joe and Amanda added some more vocals.

08 RED SANTA This song started as an instrumental, but became a fitting backing track to Thax's poem. We recorded the basic tracks of Pramod's omnichord, Barry's bass and Mark Greenberg's drums back in August. We picked it back up in December with Joe and Amanda's vocals. Thax showed up during the end of our Dec. 21st session and read his piece over the backing track, which synched up in tone and length really well.

09 DISTANCE AND WEATHER This started with me writing on celeste. Janka showed up and put the guitar chords down. I added bass. Mark Greenberg played drums and piano. Fred played cello. Mark wrote some lyrics on the fly and sang it. Tim added harmonies.



I knew I would screw something up on the cd artwork. That's what happens when you type something up one hour before it's printed.

On track 03, Vince Guaraldi's name is spelled wrong, and the credit should be extended to (Guaraldi - Mendelson) to include the lyricist.

On track 07, it should be Clark Hayes: Bass, not Bass: Clark Hayes

On track 08, Mark Greenberg did not play Piano

On track 09, Mark Greenberg played Piano, Drums and Sleigh Bells.



The cover photos were taken by friend Andrew Collings. Andy has a portrait studio set up in his studio with a high end digital camera. We were able to take the photos quickly, open them up in Photoshop to crop them and adjust the color and then start printing the covers immediately.

There is a funny story behind the mug. Ask me about it sometime and I will be happy to tell it.


If anyone discovers any errors to these notes or have any other questions, please email me at

Happy Holidays!