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The Journal Gazette


  • Andrew Laverghetta | Laverghetta Photography
    Rob Martinez has been collecting Christmas music for decades and owns thousands of recordings.
December 01, 2016 1:03 AM

Christmas music love runs deep

'Rudolph' on steam whistle? Collector's got it, and lots more

Steve Warden | The Journal Gazette

Who needs to hear Bing Crosby croon “White Christmas” for the umpteenth time when you’ve got “Joy to the World” on kazoos? Or why sleepwalk through another rendition of Lawrence Welk’s holiday favorites when comedian Steve Martin hilariously explains what Christmas means to him as Paul Simon and Billy Joel softly sing “Silver Bells” in the background? And while the familiar barking dogs’ version of “Jingle Bells” might be fun the first time, do you really need to hear it again an hour later?

For roughly five weeks each year, shopping malls, elevators and some assorted radio stations play wall-to-wall Christmas music. “Deck the Halls.” “Little Drummer Boy.” “Silent Night.” That kind of fa-la-la-la-la.

Rob Martinez, however, has options. Boy, does he have options.

With more than 2,300 holiday albums and 37,000 songs, Martinez, 47, is both collector of and expert on Christmas music. He figures that if he played his entire collection, it would take three months before he had to repeat a track.

Married “to a generous woman for 19 years” and a stay-at-home dad to their three children, Martinez praises his family’s understanding that he, in search of a rare find, thumbs through records and CDs at garage sales and discount stores and patiently mines the internet.

“They love it,” he says. “They know my obsession. They know I spend a good part of the day at the computer, working on this stuff, transferring old vinyl albums over.”

Just as each passion, each obsession, has its genesis, Martinez points to his high school Christmas vacation in 1985 as his beginning. There was something about Christmas music that he loved. Couldn’t get enough of. So he found a radio station on the dial that played the traditional stuff and recorded it on his boom box. There was Crosby, certainly, and Johnny Mathis, and the Ray Conniff Singers off their popular “Here We Come A-Caroling” album.

“When I was done, I had 21/2 hours of Christmas music,” he says. “From there, I started raiding my parents’ Christmas albums. I started going to garage sales and record stores and CD stores and started collecting this stuff. It kind of mushroomed from there.”

Chances are if it’s about Christmas and been recorded, Martinez owns it, from Elvis to Elmo and Patsy (“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”), from Bing to swing, from the Beach Boys to Boyz II Men.

“I started doing the novelty thing,” he says. “I started getting all the Spike Jones stuff. I started getting all the ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic stuff that was out there. And then I started looking for unusual Christmas music. Music played on bagpipes; people playing musical glasses, power saws. I actually have factory steam whistles in my collection. Hearing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ on a factory steam whistle is a religious experience.”

It was ’85 when a United Kingdom compilation album called “Now – The Christmas Album” was released. The second cut off the record is the group Wizzard playing “I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday.”

For Martinez, it just about is. Rare is the day, whether it’s December or July or March, when he doesn’t listen to a Christmas song.

“The majority of music I listen to every day is Christmas music,” he says.

Because it is the gift-giving season, Martinez openly shares his wealth. He not only hands out Christmas CDs for family and friends, he delves deep into his collection for two holiday radio specials on WBOI 89.1 FM, where he is also a volunteer producer.

This year’s “The Nights Before Christmas” shows will be from 9 to 11 p.m. Dec. 14 and 8 to 11 p.m. Dec. 16. This is the sixth year in which he has hosted his Christmas radio specials.

“I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point in time I looked around with all this Christmas music and thought, ‘Hey, I’m doing something useful here,’ ” Martinez says. “I’m preserving this stuff. ... I want to introduce people to songs.”

Whether he spins Snoop Dogg’s “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto” off the “Christmas on Death Row” album remains to be seen. It’s probably a safe bet, however, he’ll let listeners hear Nat King Cole sing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

“That stuff, to me, is the classic Christmas stuff,” he says of the standards. “That’s the stuff that gets played over and over and over and over again on Christmas radio. And it’s like, ‘Please! Please change it up! We don’t need to hear the same 60 or 75 songs every single Christmas.’ ”

As for Martinez, he has options – 37,000 of them.

stwarden@jg.net