A Nice Rendition of a Classic Christmas Carol

This blog entry is quite simple: it consists of one song that I would like you to hear. It is performed by a friend of mine, Jeff King. He’s playing, on mandolin, an old Christmas carol, “Go Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.”

Before he moved off to rural pastures Jeff was quite active musically in Cincinnati. During its glory days he played Friday afternoons at Sudsy Malone’s, and he also was also a frequent performer at Murphy’s— and, well, probably twenty other places. Among the artists he opened for at Bogart’s were Leo Kottke, America and John Prine.

Because of Jeff’s amazing technical ability on instruments plus his vast knowledge of musical theory, fellow musicians had a great deal of respect for him and were eager to learn from him. One example: Rob Hamrick, who at that time sang for Sleep Theater and is now with Tone Farmer, took lessons from Jeff, and if you’ve heard Tone Farmer—a band with a rich harmonic palette and sophisticated songcraft—you can see why Rob might have sought out Jeff as a teacher.

So who did Jeff King study under? More than any other musician, Michael Hedges had a deep and lasting influence on Jeff. Every time Hedges would play Bogart’s a wide-eyed Jeff King would, the next week, play me tapes he surreptitiously recorded at the show. Hedges had a penchant for bizarre tunings on acoustic guitar, and Jeff King had a penchant for hitting rewind and play over and over again on his bootleg cassette tapes until he figured out what the hell Hedges was doing. After Jeff began incorporating Hedges songs into his setlists, he led many folks from around the area to discover the extremely innovative guitarist.

Michael Hedges and Jeff King ending up becoming friends. One weekend Jeff and some buddies hung out with Hedges, and interestingly, there was no shop talk—no questions about what strings he used or any of that business. Surely that indicates that Hedges like Jeff’s company—a break from the business.

Every year Jeff King sends a video of his version of a Christmas carol for his buddies, and they’re always excellent, but this one stood out for me. Is there a whiff (or more than a whiff) of Michael Hedges in this video even though the performance is on mandolin rather than guitar? Definitely. And there’s also a solid arrangement that really brings out the mysterious melody that makes this Christmas carol so memorable.


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