christmas with the shieks

northside shieks

northside shieks. back row: willie eames, coralee, robby cosenza, lee carroll, smith donaldson. front row: ray smith, mike tevis. herald-leader staff photo by matt goins.

When it came time to ring in the holidays, the roots music specialists of Northside Sheiks turned their interpretive skills to two classic holiday recordings – the first Elvis Presley holiday set, 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album, and producer Phil Spector’s 1963 compendium, A Christmas Gift for You (released in later editions as simply Phil Spector’s Christmas Album). This weekend, the Sheiks – an all-star outfit of local musicians that have been playing mid-week sets of early blues and R&B music over the past two years – will offer complete performances of each record, along with other seasonal delights.

“With Christmas shows, you can always run the risk of super-cheesiness,” said Sheiks co-vocalist and co-founder Ray Smith. “But we thought Elvis’ first Christmas album and the Phil Spector Christmas record were pieces of real musical history. So we decided to use those as our focal points.”

The Sheiks – drummer Robby Cosenza, bassist Smith Donaldson, guitarist Willie Eames, keyboardist Lee Carroll and Smith on harmonica, guitar and percussion – take on Elvis’ Christmas Album tonight with help from longtime Lexington roots and rockabilly artist Mike Tevis. That material seems to fit right in with the kind of formative Americana music the band thrives on. But the Spector record – a lavishly produced soul-pop record that featured Darlene Love, The Crystals and The Ronettes – might seem a touch removed from that rootsy base.

“We do a lot of R&B, a lot of Little Willie John stuff, in Northside Sheiks,” Smith said. “Spector represents later R&B and pop, you could say, but I think it’s still in the wheelhouse. We do a pretty soulful brand of music, so it’s not too much of a stretch, really.”

Fellow local faves Coralee and Warren Byrom (on vocals and trumpet, respectively) will augment the Sheiks lineup for the Spector show on Saturday.

“Northside Sheiks is a really fun band because everybody really tries to dig deep into early blues and soul. We circle everything around that style and really tried to be true to it.”

Northside Sheiks perform at 8 p.m. Dec.13 and 14 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N.Broadway. Admission is $10 each evening. Call (859) 281-1116 or got to

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