Reggae Christmas
Recording Artist: Bryan Adams
Writers: Jim Vallance
Bryan Adams
Date Written: First draft, October 1978.  Completed 1984 / Vancouver Canada
Albums: Rock Christmas - Volume 7 (Polystar, Germany 1998)
Audio-1: Reggae Christmas / released version (1984)
  Bryan Adams: rhythm guitar, vocal
Keith Scott: rhythm guitar
Tommy Mandel: keyboards
Dave Taylor: bass
Mickey Curry: drums
  Produced by Bob Clearmountain and Bryan Adams.  Recorded and mixed by Bob Clearmountain at The Power Station, New York.
Audio-2: Reggae Christmas / demo (1978)
  Jim Vallance: rhythm guitar, vocal, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion
Tom Keenlyside: flute
Recorded and mixed by Jeff Tolman at Mushroom Studios, Vancouver.

I've lost the original "home demo" I did for Ringo in October 1978 (see story below), but this is version #2, recorded a few weeks later.
photo: Ringo Starr and
Harry Nillson >

In October 1978 I was producing BTO's "Rock And Roll Nights" album at Mushroom Studios in Vancouver, Canada.  One day the studio manager came in to the control room and said, "I need a favour. Can you take a couple of days off?" When I asked why, he was reluctant to offer a reason ... then he said, "Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson are coming in to do a recording".

I'm a HUGE Beatle fan, so I said, "Sure we'll take a few days off -- on one condition. I get to meet Ringo!"

So, on October 10, 1978 (coincidentally, John Lennon's 38th birthday) I was instructed to come by at 2:00 in the afternoon. When I arrived at the studio there was a limousine parked out front.  I knew it was Ringo’s, and my heart started beating a little faster.

After a short wait in the studio lobby I was ushered into the control room, and there he was -- Ringo Starr -- my musical hero since the age of eleven!

above: 45 vinyl picture sleeve for the Bryan Adams release of "Reggae Christmas".
Click to view
lyric manuscript
Introductions were made and I was warmly greeted. They thanked me for making the studio available.

"What brings you to Canada?", I asked.

Ringo explained that, for tax reasons he wasn't able to record in the USA, so he and Harry had come up to Vancouver -- a short flight from Los Angeles. They were recording a Christmas song they written.

I didn't stay long. In fact I was about to say "nice to meet you" and make an exit when I heard Ringo mentioned they were stuck for a B-side. So I blurted out, "Hey, I'll write you a B-side!".  Ringo laughed and said, "Alright, have a go then."

I hurried home and stayed up all night, writing and recording "Reggae Christmas". The next morning I returned to the studio and announced, "I've got a B-side for you!"

I don't think they beleived me, but they put my tape in the cassette machine and played it over the control room monitors. When it was done they said, "This is really good, leave it with us."

Long story short, Ringo and Harry didn't record "Reggae Christmas" ... but they did write a song of their own called "Ringo Reggae". 

I admit I was a bit miffed, but I was much too intimidated to say anything. To make matters worse, this is the period when, years later, Ringo confessed he'd had a serious problem with drugs and alcohol. Both he and Harry appeared to be "out-of-it", so I dojubt I would have had much success suggesting they had "lifted" my Reggae idea. Oh well.
Then my son asked, "Where's John?".
Fast-forward 18 years. Ringo was back in Vancouver rehearsing for his 1997 All-Star tour. Bryan Adams, who knows Ringo, took my son and I around to say "hello".

This time it was an entirely different experience. Ringo was warm and pleasant, plus he was wonderful with my young son.

As a toddler my son had watched videos of "A Hard Days Night" and "Help" as often as "Pinocchio" and "Little Mermaid," so he was very aware of the Beatles. I just stood there with a big grin on my face, watching my seven-year-old deep in conversation with one of my idols.

Then I heard my son ask, "Where's Paul?", and Ringo said, "I think he's at his farm in Scotland." Then it was, "Where's George?", and Ringo said, "Oh, he's in Los Angeles."

I suddenly realized where this was heading, and I froze. Then my son asked, "Where's John?". Ringo paused for a moment, and before he could say anything my son whispered in a quiet little voice: "He's dead, isn't he!"

Everyone stopped breathing. I was hoping a trap door would open under my feet and rescue me from that moment -- but Ringo was very gracious. "Yes, John's underground ... or maybe he's up in the sky," and he pointed at the ceiling. Someone changed the subject and the vibe lightened up again, but it was one of those moments. Children can be too honest sometimes.

I met Ringo on a third occasion in L.A. in the summer of 1999. My friend Mark Hudson was producing Ringo’s "Vertical Man" album, around the same Mark and I were writing songs for Australian singer Marie Wilson. One day Ringo dropped by Mark’s studio to say hello, along with his wife Barbara  ...  and again he couldn't have been more pleasant!
left to right:  John Lennon, Anne Murray, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper, Micky Dolenz
I crossed paths with Harry Nilsson one more time ... sort of.

Harry and John Lennon were best friends.  In fact they spent quite a bit of time misbehaving together in the mid-70s during the "Lost Weekend" period that most Lennon or Nilsson fans would know about (Alice Cooper told me some very funny stories about hanging out with Lennon, Nilsson, Bernie Taupin and Brian Wilson around this time). 

About a year after John died, Harry got involved with the NCBH (National Coalition To Ban Handguns).  To help raise funds, Harry asked Ringo, Paul and George to autograph twenty Sgt. Pepper album jackets, which were then sold for $1,000 each.  Several of them were made available through "Beatle Fan" magazine, which I subscribed to at the time, so I was able to purchase one of the albums.  It came with a short hand-written note from Harry: "Enjoy your autographed album - H".

Sadly, Harry Nilsson died on January 15, 1994 of a heart attack, speculated to be the result of many years of sustance abuse.

Harry's list of musical accomplishments includes singing the theme to the movie Midnight Cowboy (Everybody's Talkin'); composing the soundtrack to the animated movie The Point (with its hit single "Me and My Arrow"); and singing the #1 hit "Without You" (later covered by Heart).
One day in 1984 Bryan Adams phoned me from a recording studio in New York, where he was cutting my song "Reggae Christmas". Mid-session he decided the song needed a middle "bridge" section.  I agreed.  It's the only time we ever did this, but we actually wrote part of the song over the phone.
On December 8, 1980 I was back at Mushroom Studios producing the Vancouver band "Rage". I was in the control room, sitting in the same chair Ringo had been sitting in when I'd met him two years earlier. 

Rage's drummer, Kenny Esau, was watching the football game on television in the lobby while we recorded guitars in the studio. It's one of those moments you never forget: Kenny came into the control room and repeated what he'd just read on a "news banner" scrolling across the bottom of the television:  "John Lennon, dead at 40".
Lyrics: Every year I get the same fear
Christmas come I wanna pack my bags and flee
I wanna get away from New York
I wanna find a better place to be

So we're havin' a Reggae Christmas - down in Jamaica
We'll be havin' a good time too - Oooo
Hey mon - we're havin' a Reggae Christmas
Merry Christmas and a reggae New Year to you

Christmas is nice in Germany
If you like bein' up to your knees in snow (oh no)
It's just as cold up in Canada - I've got to find another place to go

So we're havin' a Reggae Christmas - down in Jamaica
We'll be havin' a good time too - Oooo
Hey mon - we're havin' a Reggae Christmas
Merry Christmas and a reggae New Year to you

It's a long way down to Kingston town
But I'll get there someday I know
Gonna meet my friends down in Kingston town
The good times gonna roll
Ya those good times gonna roll

So we're havin' a Reggae Christmas - down in Jamaica
We'll be havin' a good time too - Oooo
Hey mon - we're havin' a Reggae Christmas
Merry Christmas and a reggae New Year to you