Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Hey Pa, let's make a Chirstmas Album!"

Christmas with the Cartwrights

Direct from 1963 we bring you one of the most bizarre Christmas albums ever recorded; Christmas on the Ponderosa. If you're reading this blog you probably don't need an introduction to Bonanza, the the television western which ran from 1959-1973. The series was a standout during a time when Westerns predominated the television landscape and was in the top 5 rated TV programs for 9 of the 14 seasons it aired (reaching number # 1 for 3 of those seasons). It was a merchandising powerhouse that spawned Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouses, comic books, action figures, lunch boxes, assorted toys and even a Ponderosa theme park in Lake Tahoe, NV. After the original series ended, there were three TV movies and a short-lived "prequel" series.

With dialogue intermixed with songs, this album plays like a recording of a Bonanza Christmas Variety Show (which unfortunately does not exist). Original cast members, Lorne Greene (patriarch Ben Cartwright), Dan Blocker (middle son Hoss) and Michael Landon (youngest son Little Joe), lend their voices to song and dialogue. Pernell Roberts, who played eldest son Adam. did not take part in the recording session (Ben explains that "he's in St Joe and won't be home until after New Year's") fortunately, they flashback to last year's Christmas party where Adam sang The New Born King (and insert a previously recorded song). Assorted actors playing friends and neighbors join in the party along with The Ken Darby Singers to add some professional voices to the mix (FYI Ken Darby was an Oscar and Grammy Award winning composer, arranger and conductor who wrote the Elvis Presley hit Love Me Tender).

If you're a fan of Bonanza (such as yours truly; among the traits I inherited from my Dad is a love of this show), this album is a must-have. There are some Christmas standards (Hark! The Herald Angles Sing; Deck the Halls; Oh Come, All Ye Faithful and Jingle Bells) as well as some not-so traditional tunes (Lorne Greene performs Stuck In The Chimney with a Swedish accent and Michael Landon tells how Santa Got Lost in Texas). Fortunately, it's still in circulation and a CD can be ordered from Amazon for a mere $6.98. Go out and buy it immediately.

Now, as an added blog bonus, here's a mid-60's recording of the great Johnny Cash performing the theme from Bonanza.


  1. Great post! I grew up on the Canadian prairies in the 50s and 60s, and Bonanza was a big favourite in our farm family. We bought this LP, the other one, and Pernell Roberts' folk songs album (which stands up well today - people ask who the singer is when I play my CD of it at work).

    Also loved the Monkees when I outgrew Bonanza, after Pernell Roberts left.

    Thanks for the nostalgic memory. Who was your favourite Cartwright?

  2. Hi Jan,

    Thanks for the kind words. My favorite Cartwright? That's a tough question, but if I had to pick I guess I'd have to say Hoss. I wish they'd release Bonanza on DVD (entire seasons -not just the same few episodes that are in the public domain)

  3. I vote for Hop Sing although I did like Hoss' self deprecating sense of humor.

    Tell me that he had a few lines at least on the recording ??

  4. I went through phases but I'd have to pick Hoss, overall. Remember when Guy Williams appeared semi-regularly as a Cartwright cousin? I think that was in response to Pernell Roberts somewhat legendary walkouts and eventual defection.

  5. Bic - I think Hop Sing is mentioned, but I don't believe he actually participated on the album.
    Fear not, I do believe he had a solo album titles "Hop Sing Sings"

    Steve - Of the four singing Cartwrights - Pernell Roberts had the best voice. I suspect he didn't want to participate in the album so they used a previous recording. I understand that Roberts resented having to wear his toupee on the show (which the producers insisted on since in real life he was only 13 years younger than his "Pa" Lorne Greene.)

    There's a great line in the movie "Tin Men" where Jackie Gayle's character is making fun of Bonanza "You’ve got a fifty-year-old father with three forty-seven-year-old sons. You know why they get along so good, because they’re all the same age".