Back in the mid-1990s, a guy named Art Good – a jazz DJ and promoter – organized a Christmas tour, and asked me to join. Peter White was on guitar, Freddie Ravel on piano, and Paul Taylor on sax. Most of these guys started off as sidemen with other bands — Al Jarreau, Earth Wind and Fire, Al Stewart.
Peter White played guitar on the Al Stewart song “The Year of the Cat,” which I liked to call “The Year I Got Fat.”
I agreed to do the tour, but was a reluctant participant. I didn’t know a lot of Christmas music. I didn’t know any of the guys in the band. I wasn’t looking forward to being away from the Slim Shack for the month of December.
When the tour started, I was just counting off the days, like a convict waiting for his release.
I didn’t really get into the swing of things until about halfway through the tour, when we did a concert at the Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon. It looks like a haunted castle, and was featured in the horror movie The Shining with Jack Nicholson. Heeeeere’s Johnny!
The snowdrifts outside were six feet tall. The fireplace inside was big enough to cook a moose. The interior of the lodge was stone and wood; the band was set-up on a small stage, and folks were gathered around.
The fire was roaring, the eggnog was pouring, the lights were twinkling, and we started playing Christmas songs. Peter White was the ringleader. It was a magical show, if I do say so myself. We closed with “White Christmas”; people started singing along, it began to snow, and I thought Bing Crosby was gonna walk out on stage and start crooning,
“May your legs be hairy and white, and may all your Christmases be white!”
The Christmas Spirit. It hit me right between the eyes that night. Bing! When I finished the tour, I decided to do a Christmas CD.
I recorded the first Slim Christmas CD, All I Want for Christmas, in the home studio at the Slim Shack. It was the first time I’d had my own studio, and I was loving it. Being able to record any time, day or night was luxurious.
The first person I asked to play on the first Slim Christmas CD was Herb Alpert. I loved the albums he did with the Tijuana Brass. I played trumpet along with those records when I was a kid, and thought it would be great to have Herb play on a song or two. I got a rejection letter in the mail. It was a “Thanks, but no thanks” letter. I got Randy Brecker from the Brecker Brothers to play instead. He did a great job on “Christmas Time Is Here.”
I asked Peter White to play guitar on “White Christmas”– what else?
I sent the song to Peter in LA, and he sent back his guitar tracks. They sounded great. Except I kept hearing an alarm going off in the intro of the song … beep-beep-beep-beep. I thought maybe I was going crazy — well, crazier — until I played Peter’s guitar track all by itself.
You could hear his electronic watch beeping, clear as day. There was nothing I could do to get rid of it. So, if you’re listening to “White Christmas” and you hear an alarm beeping, don’t get alarmed.
A few years later, when I decided to do a second Slim Christmas CD, I knew exactly what I wanted to call it. Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve was always the Big Deal with the Slim Family. My uncle Oscar threw the best Christmas Eve parties.
I had a title for the CD, now what? I didn’t have a home studio anymore — I had moved. I was still living in Baltimore, Maryland, but I was in this wonderful apartment in an old mansion in Roland Park with three bowling alleys off to the side.
But no studio.
I called up my true blue amigo Marc Antoine. He has a really nice studio in his house in Madrid. He invited me over. It was an overnight flight. I didn’t sleep a wink. I have a hard time sleeping on airplanes; I’m afraid I might nod off and my sleep apnea will cause some nasty turbulence.
Marc picked me up at the airport, and we drove right to a coffee shop in his small village outside Madrid. It was nine in the morning. He ordered two Liquore d’Hierbas.
Liquore d’Hierbas is a strong, boozy beverage made from herbs. What kind of herbs? I didn’t know, and didn’t want to know.
The bartender put a couple pieces of ice in a brandy snifter and poured what looked like antifreeze over the cubes. I took a sip. It tasted like cough syrup, smelled like old hedge-clippings, and had a punch like Muhammad Ali.
It knocked me out. The rest of the day was a haze.
The next morning, I woke up in the guest bedroom at Marc’s house. I felt great. There was no blood, no bullet holes or knife wounds. I still had most of my money. All was good. I walked downstairs to the basement studio.
The sound that was coming out of the speakers brought tears to my eyes. Or maybe it was the pounding in my head that made me weepy. Either way, it was soon obvious that Marc had been working all night on guitar parts. What a wonderful present. It was like waking up on Christmas morning.
Except it was July and 100 degrees outside. Madrid was in the middle of a heat wave.
Now all I needed was a woman to do the duet with.
I flew back to Baltimore. I was in the kitchen, cooking and listening to Christmas music, when I heard a gal’s voice coming from my speakers. She sounded great, kinda girlish, reminded me of Ella Fitzgerald, with a hint of Rickie Lee Jones.
I looked at the CD; it was an old Christmas compilation that had a song of mine—“All I Want for Christmas”–on it. I had never listened to the CD. I looked at the credits to see who the girl singer was. Antonia Bennett. I did some digging on the Internet, and found out who she was. Her Dad was a singer, a guy named Tony Bennett.
I reached out to Antonia’s manager. He put me in touch with her. I called Antonia and told her what I wanted. I wanted to do the duet, but I wanted to sing the part that’s usually sung by the woman, and I wanted her to sing the part that’s usually sung by the man. She liked my Big Idea.
I booked a studio on 57th Street in New York, a vintage analog studio where Ella Fitzgerald had recorded. The engineer set up two microphones facing each other. Antonio sang looking at me, and I sang looking at her, the way they used to back in the old days.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
We only did a few takes. I could have stayed there for another hour or ten. Antonia has a wonderful voice, and beautiful blue eyes and long red wavy hair.
The engineer told us he had what he needed, and loved what we did. He suggested Antonia and I go out for a drink, and come back when he was done doing what engineers do. Antonia and I went to the Trattoria dell’Arte, an Italian place down the street, across from the old Motown offices and Carnegie Hall. We had a few drinks, had a chat, and went back to the studio.
We listened to the song. It sounded better than I ever could have imagined.
Antonia and I walked outside, and said our goodbyes. I hailed her a cab, and then drove back to Baltimore.
I decided to do a video for the title track. I borrowed Oscar’s Dean Martin dolls. He had two Dino Dolls, you pressed a button on the base, and they would sing and dance.
Batu and I drove from Baltimore to Ocean City, Maryland. It was late July, the dead of summer. My friend Clubby Clubb had a house on the bay with a big fireplace. We started a raging fire in that fireplace, and started filming the “Christmas Eve” video right in front. We did dozens of takes.
Batu was in almost every shot.
I had on a white velvet tux jacket. I was drenched in sweat. Batu was panting like crazy. It was hot as hell outside and in. I was hoping and praying that Oscar’s Dino dolls wouldn’t catch fire.
The video took all day, but we got the footage we needed.
I put the video on YouTube in October, 2008. It got 20,000 hits in the first few days.
Probably because Batu was singing in the video.
Who doesn’t love a singing dog?
Slim Man Cooks Salmoriglio Sauce
One of the Slim Exes didn’t like anything that was fried or sautéed. She didn’t like anything that had butter in it. She loved salmon, though. She ate salmon so often that she started to get an orange glow to her skin, and she became really good at swimming upstream.
It was a challenge trying to cook for her. But I was determined to find a sauce that would go with salmon, and that would meet all her requirements.
I created this sauce last night, and it is so good. The Slim Ex would have loved it. Too bad we broke up before I perfected it.
Salmoriglio sauce is a Sicilian sauce usually used on grilled swordfish. It is a simple sauce that I managed to Slimmify. The sauce calls for white wine, but in an intense moment of inspiration, I thought it would be great to use moscato instead of white wine.
Moscato is a slightly sweet Italian white wine that you can buy sparkling or flat. I used a sparkling moscato that worked so well in this sauce that I’m giving myself a gold star. And it is not expensive! Plus, you use a ¼ cup or so for this sauce, and you and your funny little honey can drink the rest. Party time!
If you don’t have moscato, or would prefer something drier, use a dry white wine or Prosecco—an inexpensive Italian sparkling white wine.
I used Meyer lemons, which are absolutely delicious. They are sweeter and milder than normal lemons. If you can’t find Meyer lemons, use a ripe, soft regular lemon. But I strongly suggest you seek out the Meyer lemons.
The sweetness of the wine and the tartness of the lemon worked so well together.
I used this sauce on baked grouper and on some seared sea bass. I used a half-pound of each. I cooked both fish at the same time, to do a little taste test. They were both delish.
For the grouper, I put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a small glass baking dish. I rubbed the olive oil over the grouper, and salted and peppered both sides. I put a thin circular slice of Meyer lemon and a sprig of fresh oregano in the bottom of the dish. I placed the piece of grouper on top of the Meyer lemon and the oregano sprig.
I took a couple tablespoons of moscato and added it to the bottom of the dish, and squeezed a little Meyer lemon juice into the dish—not directly on the fish—to add a little moisture while it was baking.
I baked the grouper for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. It was a thick piece—about 3 inches, so it took a while. When it was done, I took it out of the oven, and spooned a little sauce over the fish. Delizioso!
For the sea bass, I cut it into 3 smaller pieces, each about 3 inches square.
I salted and peppered the top side. I sprinkled a LITTLE bit of brown sugar on top.
I put a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.
When the butter started to bubble, I put the salted/peppered/sugared side down first, and cooked it for 3 minutes. As it was cooking, I sprinkled the tops of each piece with a little salt, pepper and brown sugar.
After 3 minutes, I used some tongs to turn over the sea bass, and seared it on the other side for 3 minutes. Before you turn the fish over, swirl the butter and olive oil in the bottom of the pan, so you’re not placing the fish in a dry pan.
When it was done, I spooned a little salmoriglio sauce over top. Wow. She was a-so nice!
You can use this sauce over grilled fish as well. Baked, seared, grilled—this sauce goes well with them all! You can also use this sauce on red snapper, salmon, or any thick firm-fleshed fish you like.
I roasted some beets to go along with this dish. I just cleaned them, peeled them, cut them in quarters, added a little olive oil, some salt and pepper, and roasted them in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.
Slim Salmoriglio Sauce
¼ cup of moscato wine (plus a few tablespoons for the baking dish—if you’re baking)
3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice (remove all seeds!)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
A couple sprigs of fresh oregano (to place under the fish, if you’re baking, plus a few for garnish)
A few circular slices of Meyer lemon (one to place under the fish if you’re baking, plus a few for garnish)
Here we go…
Put the first 5 ingredients in a small bowl and whisk.
Put a small saucepan over high heat.
Add the Slim Salmoriglio sauce to the pan.
When it starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Spoon a little over baked grouper or salmon, grilled swordfish, or seared sea bass.
Use whatever fish you like!