Davin Stedman Christmas special: How a slow jam was born
by Davin Stedman
This is the story of how Bellingham produced what might yet become a Christmas R & B classic.
The Staxx Brothers first recorded “Slow Jam for Christmas” as a jingle in 2009. Myself and then members Michelle and Chris O’Connor circled around an old microphone and recorded a catchy idea I had just come up with on our first West Coast Tour.
Conceptually, the “Slow Jam for Christmas” hook was inspired by my then lack of financial resources. I had paid a price for my freedom as a writer and a musician. As Ray Charles once sang, I was busted. I remember being quite embarrassed that prior Christmas when my girlfriend bought me such a thoughtful present. I then winced like a dumb puppy, as I handed her a whack selection of gifts that I had clearly bought Christmas Eve from a nearby convenience store that stocks water pipes and mini crossbows. She said as much. We’re still together to this day, so even true love can overcome poverty and the narcissism of a lead singer who should have at least written his girl a good song.
It was on that tour, the one that so many of us caught swine flu, that I started singing in the back seat of my bandmate Angie’s three-to-a-seat Suburban, “All I could get you was a Slow Jam for Christmas.”
Now officially a Bellingham band, The Staxx Brothers will be all over the WB Channel this holiday season performing a brand new version of “Slow Jam for Christmas.” That’s thanks of course to the show’s founder, Conrad Denke, a gentleman that shot, directed, and produced “Slow Jam” at Victory Studios, a multi-million dollar facility that he owns. Thanks to Conrad, our little jingle is now an over the top music segment featured on his Band in Seattle Television Christmas Special.
Our big number also features members of Bellingham’s own Baby Cakes and many more friends that gathered at Northwest Sound in Bellingham and Victory Studios in Seattle to help Conrad and I craft something straight out of old Hollywood.
The segment even opens with a cute spin on my original Christmas gift failing. I portray a cash poor Santa Claus, and Baby Cakes’ lead singer, Stephanie Walbon, a disappointed, yet understanding Mrs. Claus.
But the journey from a jingle to a song and dance number that recalls Bing Crosby leading a Pentecostal congregation, was never a single leap. First I had to get Cornrows. Let’s take a detour back to 2010.
A year after recording “Slow Jam” as a jingle, I became thoroughly obsessed with writing and producing music videos. I decided it was time to combine a couple Christmas wishes: getting cornrows and recording a beloved Gospel classic.
As a half Puerto Rican with more than a trace of African and Taino blood, I always had this suspicion that I’d look good with cornrows. It was a look I always felt I could pull off. But after watching Chris Rock’s masterful documentary, Good Hair, I felt a social obligation to understand first hand, the painful process of getting braided up at a barbershop.
As for recording a Gospel song, “Slow Jam for Christmas” was the perfect vehicle. I just substituted “Cornrows” for “Slow Jam,” which made the song more about that hard to define line, between self indulgence and self love.
“Cornrows for Christmas,” the music video directed by Nakean Wickliff, blended footage of me getting some excruciatingly tight cornrows as I fought back tears with vodka, which Nakean matched up with the ecstatic sights and sounds of our own Gospel choir.
To create the soundtrack we gathered the faithful to record a heavily improvisational performance in a single take. When we started the session the song was still just a jingle. There we stood in circle at Scott Colburn’s Ballard studio, a converted old Finnish Lutheran Church where he had recorded Animal Collective’s Feels. We assembled the greatest singers I could among my good friends. My own father Bruce sang bass.
The hero of the entire Gospel experience was Coldnote lead singer Caine Watson. We had Caine reprise his role this year when he recorded at Bellingham’s Northwest Sound. This year we methodically arranged. In 2010 Caine led a glorious trial by fire. If you believe in such a thing as the Holy Ghost, you might have seen him that day.
I’ll never forget watching Caine take charge as choir director and arranger, as he turned this collection of musicians in ugly sweaters into a Gospel group that could have moved half of Harlem to its feet. If you have any doubts, just watch the video. It was like watching Babe Ruth lead The Bad News Bears to the Pennant. The performance was a miracle, and lo and behold, I did look good in cornrows.
Here in 2016, I stand upon the riches of that experience. But looking forward, this was also the year that Conrad Denke and his Band in Seattle family collaborated with the Bellingham music scene.
From September right up through December, I’ve been working with producer Dustin Crum at Northwest Sound to perfect a recording that Band in Seattle is going to have played on 107.7 The End and KEXP. Dustin worked tirelessly on the studio recording, capturing Stephanie Walbon’s heart stopping duet, and her fellow Baby Cake, Jeremiah Austin’s soaring trumpet. Rumor has it the hand claps are none other than his young daughter Emma.
Let’s also give thanks to a walk on role by Jeremiah’s adorable son Desmond on his plastic horn. The whole Christmas special has an extra special shot at going viral, because that kid and his toy horn stole the show at Victory Studios that day. Standing beside that fearless munchkin, I had a wide eyed grin. Desmond reminded me of my fellow Sorta Rican, Bruno Mars at age 4, in Honeymoon in Vegas. I got to be Santa, and I saw a little star being born.
For more information, see www.facebook.com/thestaxxbrothers/.
Published in the December 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine