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If you haven't visited Bongobells recently, you're missing out on some very interesting finds (a Nelson Eddy Christmas album? Who knew?). Many of these finds will be reviewed here over the next several weeks. This is the first.

Released in 1968 on the Viva label, not much else is known about the Midnight String Quartet other than a one sentence line on the back cover:

"The Midnight String Quartet has now arrived at a position of great prominence among the successful instrumental groups of the world."


To understand all of this a bit further, let's take a closer look at the Viva label and the person behind it - a legendary record producer who got his nickname from chewing tobacco.

By the age of 15, Snuff Garrett was already working in the music industry as a producer's assistant. Two years later, he was a disk jockey in Lubbock, Texas, hosted an "American Bandstand" type TV show for a time, and moved west to Hollywood to begin work with Liberty Records.

One of Garrett's first job was to help the then shining stars of Liberty Records produce snappy songs while being able to hear the lyrics incredibly well. If your stars names were Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, it was especially true! It's hard to imagine but Ross Bagdasarian's Chipmunks kept Liberty solvent for a brief time.

By 1961, Garrett was head of A&R at Liberty. He hired a young producer named Phil Spector to produce songs in New York City while he helped produce major stars in Los Angeles such as Johnny Burdette and Bobby Vee. Several years later, Snuff hired a then unknown Leon Russell to help him with a new band whose first seven singles landed in the top ten. Can you believe it was Gary Lewis & The Playboys? Oh laaaadyyyy...

Around 1966, Garrett wanted to leave Liberty and begin his own label. Helping him was Jimmy Bowen, another legendary producer. They formed Viva Records and began to search for artists, songwriters, producers, ANYTHING that would help keep pace with the music world in the mid-1960s.

Hiring groups like The Midnight String Quartet didn't help.

This album is well-produced, well-arranged, and isn't annoying at all - a nice surprise. At first glance, I thought it would all begin to sound alike (and at times it creeps up to that point). But enter a well placed harpsichord, piano, jingle bells, and it doesn't sound bland at all.

There is one track that rises just a bit over all of them. The only original track on the album - "Christmas Rhapsody" is saved for last. Written by Snuff and Glen Hardin, it's a pleasant tune and quite lush. I couldn't help but wonder if there were words to this one and what would this have sounded like as a pop tune.

This is yet another album to play quietly in the background over Christmas dinner or a family get together. You can't do any worse.

Thanks to the lack of success on the charts, Viva met with little success and eventually Snuff sold the label to Warner Brothers in 1971. Garrett was working less and less in the music business by this time. His last big success was producing several hit Sonny & Cher albums in the mid-1970s when the world only thought of Sonny & Cher as TV variety show hosts.

Snuff Garrett is now retired and living in Arizona. We salute you Snuff!

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...