In 1934, the “Yodeling Cowboy”, Gene Autry, made his first Western movie, becoming one of Hollywood’s newest sensations, the singing cowboy.
By 1946, despite a few years off to fly in the Army Air Corps during WWII, Autry had made more than 70 films and with his “Melody Ranch” radio show was regularly topping the popular charts.
He was the first performer to earn a Gold record and the first to sell out Madison Square Garden. So it was to no one’s surprise that he was given a place of honor riding ahead of Santa Clause and his reindeer in the 1946 Hollywood Christmas Parade.
But while waving to the crowds of kids and getting his horse Champion to regularly rear or bow, Autry noticed that all he heard were gleeful cries of “Here Comes Santa Claus”.
He went right home and wrote the first of what would become a whole herd of Christmas classics.
While cutting the demo for what would become the top selling record of 1947, Autry and his engineers mixed up some cocktails. Listening to the tinkle of the ice cubes in the drinks inspired him to add “Here Comes Santa Claus”’s signature sleigh bells.
Two years later, despite the fact that he didn’t think it was a very good song, Autry recorded the Christmas ditty that would spawn movies, TV specials and a thousand imitators, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”
“Rudolph” became the biggest selling song Columbia Records had ever recorded and continues to top the Christmas charts more than 60 years later.
As he moved on to become one of the first TV stars of the 1950’s, bought baseball teams and built museums honoring the American West and the country’s native peoples, Autry continued to release new songs at Christmas.
It’s become a Christmas tradition here at The Legion to post a selection of Christmas songs before the big day. And this year I’ve decided to honor the guy who wrote the first seasonal tunes I learned to sing.
Merry Christmas from The Legion –- by way of a Cowboy who knew how to keep Christmas.