Austin-based Singer/Songwriter Patricia Vonne Does Her Holiday Album In Celebration of A Family Tradition
Eight albums in, multi-talented musician/actress Patricia Vonne is back with a new recording. This time it’s her holiday celebration, “My Favorite Holiday (on her label Bandolera Records). This award-notable filmmaker and two-time SXSW best female vocalist winner released the full album on November 19th, building an audience with its many music videos which can be seen on YouTube.
Vonne’s ode to this special time of the year features 10 original songs and one cover. Joining her in an all-star cast are Rubén Blades, David Grissom, Alex Ruiz, Rosie Flores, Stephen Ferrone on drums (Tom Petty) and Carmine Rojas on bass (David Bowie).
For the San Antonio native, Christmas meant gathering with her parents and nine siblings (including hit film director Robert Rodriguez.) Recalls the statuesque performer, “As children, we would perform ‘Haul Out the Holly’ and other Christmas favorites with big candy canes and perform for our family and friends. Another family favorite was the singing of ‘Carol of the Bells,’ which I included on this album to invite the world into our family through music. My sisters recorded from four different cities in three states. I am thrilled to share their voices and this song with the world.”
The album opener, “Santa’s On His Way,” is a pop-flavored kick-off featuring lush piano and orchestral arrangements by Scott Plunkett of Chris Isaak’s band. Originally intended as a one-off single, Vonne says it inspired the full-length album project with producer Rick Del Castillo at the helm. The title track displays Vonne celebrating her inner Brenda Lee with an ebullient pop arrangement featuring Johnny Reno blowing red-hot saxophone. Powered by drummer Thommy Price (Billy Idol, Joan Jett), the ferocious rocker “Old Man Santa!” reveals Vonne’s rocker roots:
“Old man Santa’s cruisin’ down the hillUsed to drive a Chevy now he rides a Coupe de Ville…Bag full of goodies, guitar on his back.”
The smoky rockabilly number “Santa’s On A Rampage,” features Vonne’s San Antonio sister-in-arms, Rosie Flores (one third of Texicana Mamas with Vonne and Stephanie Urbina Jones) and longtime Chris Isaak sidekick Rowland Salley on bass.
As to less upbeat realities that are also part of the seasonal package, “Alone On Christmas Day” — co-written by Austin ace guitar-slinger David Grissom — envisions the holiday among the homeless. Inspired by Vonne’s own volunteer work with the homeless, the song has what she calls “a Tom Petty feel,” enhanced by Petty’s drummer Stephen Ferrone and David Bowie bassist Carmine Rojas.
Born Patricia Vonne Rodriguez, the 50-something celebrates her Hispanic heritage by adding a bilingual vocal and musical flavor to “My Favorite Holiday” with a song like “Nochebuena.” Co-writers Del Castillo and Alex Ruiz touch upon the divine, the miracle of God and salvation. “Las Posadas” is inspired by Joseph and Mary’s night journey to Bethlehem, and the classic Spanish passion play it inspired. On the track, Vonne is joined by salsa and Latin jazz giant Rubén Blades and the pair put a cumbia spin on the ancient tale. “Cumbia Navidad” is an ebullient, multi-lingual celebration of a San Antonio Christmas. Vonne wrote it to perform at her beloved Holiday River Parade which features floats carrying scores of entertainers (including, in 2019, Vonne herself).
Vonne has always felt doubly blessed because her birthday falls six days before Christmas, and she wants to share that spirit with listeners. With “My Favorite Holiday,” San Antonio’s native daughter brings a gift to the Alamo City and the world.
Q: How do you craft a Christmas song? Where do you begin?
Patricia Vonne Rodriguez: On my Christmas album I started with titles and chose themes like the spanish song “Nochebuena” (Christmas Eve.) “My Favorite Holiday” was inspired by Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”. “Las Posadas” is a popular theme that has many renditions and I wrote my own inviting Ruben Blades as a duet. (Las Posadas is a passion play of the Nativity Journey)
I wove elements from the film “It’s A Wonderful Life” into the first track, “Santa’s On His Way,” mentioning “Bailey Park” and “every time you hear a bell ring an angel gets his wings. And on “Alone On Christmas Day” I chose to write about those that don’t have a family to go home to. That song was based on an incredible community in Austin that helps mitigate homelessness and it’s called Community First Village. I volunteered there and brought the idea to David Grissom to write the song with me. I then reached out to Stephen Ferrone (Tom Petty’s drummer for 20 years) and Carmine Rojas (David Bowie’s bass player) and they generously came on board for this great cause.
Q: What determined which musicians played on what songs?
PVR: I had just met Tommy Price in my hometown of San Antonio when I actually had the two last perfect songs for him to play. He’s a legendary ferocious drummer and his style and muscle totally matched the barn-burning energy of “Old Man Santa” and “Santa’s On A Rampage.”
I chose Stephen Ferrone for “Alone on Christmas Day” because David Grissom and I wrote it with a Tom Petty feel. I had met both Ferrone and Carmine Rojas at the Legendary China Club in NYC when I was an 18-year-old coat check girl. So getting them together on a special song is truly a gift to the world. ‘
For “Las Posadas” which is a nativity story celebrated all over Latin America and beyond, Rubén Blades was the perfect choice to sing with me. He surprised me by contributing lyrics in the solo and singing my name. I melted to the floor and wept.
Q: Is there anything special a Christmas song must have?
PVR: Spirit, and a catchy melody would be very cool to get you in the mood. Q: What are your favorite holiday songs?
I absolutely love “Santa Bring My Baby Back” to me because of its ebullience and joy. “With my baby far away, what good is mistletoe “ makes me dance and sing along.
I adore Washington Square Park because it reminds me of those in the service that can’t be home for Christmas. It really is a touching song because not everyone has families to go home to and this song brings this sentiment home.
I love “We Need a Little Christmas “ by Jerry Herman because we used to sing it as a family when I was little. That led us to sing “ Carol of the Bells” with my sisters as a tradition which is why I am thrilled it is on the album for the world to share.
I also love “ Washington Square Park” by Chris Isaak and The Ronettes’ “Sleigh Ride.”
Q: Who are your inspirations in music and life?
PVR: My parents inspire me every day. My dad was a door-to-door salesman for 39 years and my mom worked the night shift as a nurse in order to be home when we got home from school. They sacrificed everything for us.
Musically, everyone from The Stray Cats, Johnny Reno and the Sax Maniacs, Tom Petty, Cruzados, Lone Justice, Pat Benatar, and Rubén Blades!
Q: Recently the legendary Mexican music star Vicente Fernandez died. Do you want to comment on that?
PVR: He was “El Rey de Canción de Mariachi!” He was the music and voice of Mexico that will never be forgotten. He was Elvis, Sinatra and Tony Bennett rolled into one. He will be sorely missed.