The moment Steve Perry sang the “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” lyrics, Please have snow and mistletoe / And presents under the tree, he found himself standing in his grandmother’s kitchen. A kid again, he was looking into the living room, where the Christmas tree was always on the right-hand side by the window with tinsel on it, and the table was filled to the brim with food.
“I was singing that line, and I was sort of thrown into that place again in the lyric,” Perry tells American Songwriter. “The next thing I know, I opened my eyes to look at the page, and I realized, ‘Oh, my God, I was really there.’ It felt like I was really there. It freaked me out.”
By May and June of 2021, Perry began tapping back into the memories and nostalgia and that childhood wonderment and fantasy around Christmas and started recording his versions of eight-holiday classics on The Season.
“Last Christmas, for me, was a very empty, spiritless Christmas, full of anxiety and I honestly couldn’t access childhood joys,” shares Perry. “I honestly couldn’t hear the music that used to bring those memories to my heart, because what was going on was more important to even be able to get near any Christmas spirit.”
At first fiddling around with one Christmas song from his home studio in San Diego with keyboardist Dallas Kruse, the project quickly snowballed into an album. “The songs just started to show up,” says Perry. “This project started out for me to try to catch some spirit of Christmas myself, and I ended up getting in touch with these songs again.”
Perry jokingly adds, “Plus, I ordered so many Christmas lights and had wreaths everywhere, so when you turned off all the lights in the studio… it was Christmas.”
Offering more jazz than standard renditions of “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Silver Bells,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” Perry also reminisces on the excitement of the New Year with a tender version of “Auld Lang Syne” and jazzier “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”
“Each one of them had a different requirement,” says Perry. “They came to me with such a reverence that there were times I wasn’t sure if I should even try to sing the songs because they’re so timelessly charged with the original emotion.”
He adds, “To this day, they still play the original Nat King Cole version of ‘The Christmas Song.’ They’ll play the Bing Crosby version of ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ or Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.’ Although they have been re-recorded by everybody, those are the definitive versions and those versions are not new, so I wanted to be very careful to pay reverence to them and not step out too much.”
On “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Perry adds a subtle twist with lyrics of oh, I want to be home with you… beside you but remained mostly faithful throughout the eight tracks.
Recollecting the smells, the sights, and sounds of his childhood Christmases, for Perry, who grew up in California with a working mother and spent most of his time at his grandmother’s home since his parents had split, choosing the eight songs on The Season was simple because they were part of the soundtrack of those days.
“When I was a child, these [songs] are the ones that meant the most to me, that had Christmas trees on my mind,” shares Perry. “I could smell turkey cooking. It brought me back to growing up in my grandmother’s house, and she’s cooking turkey, and there’s a tree in the corner with tinsel on it—nobody puts tinsel on trees anymore, but I love it.”
That’s the gift of music, Christmas in particular, says Perry, and its ability to transport you to those moments again. Perry remembers the poignant words of one of his favorite singers, the late Levi Stubbs, lead vocalist of the Four Tops—and the baritone voice of carnivorous plant Audrey II in the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors—once shared with him about the power of a song.
“He said, ‘People hear the song like they first heard it, every time they hear it,’” remembers Perry, who says Stubbs’ spoke the words in his famous Little Shop of Horrors voice. “He really sounded just like that when he spoke.” Perry adds, “It’s interesting the way you first hear these Christmas songs as a child. For me, it’s how I’ll always hear them emotionally, so it was a challenge to be sure that I paid reverence and tribute to that.”