It’s a memory that has been passed down through the years from parent to parent, but Greg Sczebel is still reminded of the time he almost received a lump of coal in his Christmas stocking.
He was four years old and his mother was pregnant with his younger sister.
“My mom put up the tree and decorated it. She was a perfectionist about it. She’d usually just let me put the candy canes up. Anyway, my dad and I were wrestling on the ground and we knocked the Christmas tree over.”
Sweeping up pine needles and putting broken ornaments away may have not been the perfect way to start the holidays, but since he was a boy, Sczebel has loved Christmas. And it’s obvious when listening to the Salmon Arm pop/soul artist’s latest single, Perfect (Merry Little Christmas).
The song talks about finding the perfect tree (perhaps an homage to that early memory) and evokes other warm and toasty images about the holiday season. And not long ago, the song shot up the charts like a star adorning one of those decked-out spruces.
Perfect climbed to the number four position on the iTunes Holiday Charts two days after it was released to Canadian radio and online retailers in early November. The song sat comfortably –– for one day –– right in between singles by Justin Bieber and Michael Bublé.
The song was actually recorded a year ago in L.A and was originally intended to be used for a commercial for Payless Shoes.
“The premise was this girl walking down the street in New York looking for the perfect shoes. I wanted to preserve the awe and wonder of Christmas time and the moments that make it special,” said Sczebel, adding that when the single didn’t end up being used for the commercial, he decided to wait to release it.
And he’s glad he did.
“We’ve had a great response on radio across Canada, and the success from downloading, I didn’t expect that at all. It went through Facebook and Twitter, and the next day it went to number 11. We’ve been telling friends and so forth to get the song back up the charts.”
Fans can help push the song up the ranks again by going to iTunes and downloading the song for 99 cents.
Currently touring with country star Paul Brandt on keyboards and backing vocals, Sczebel is about to spread his Christmas spirit around the Okanagan.
He stops by Vernon next week to give a concert at the Powerhouse Theatre, and says the show will be chock ‘a’ block with holiday tunes, plus some of his original material.
And it will be a bit of a change from the countrified Christmas music he has been serving with Brandt, whom he first appeared with as a special guest performer on CMT’s Paul Brandt’s Christmas in Banff in 2006, joining his band two years later.
“I am not particularly a country artist but I appreciate it, and touring with Paul has been a blast. We’ve gone from Ontario to Edmonton to Abbotsford on this tour and we’re looking at touring together again in the spring,” said Sczebel, adding he’s had to learn to balance his time between touring with Brandt and his own career.
“I did not set out to be a touring musician, my goal has been to do my own music. It’s great working with Paul as he’s so supportive about what I do and helps me expand my platform.”
Sczebel has done pretty well at that on his own too. A two-time Juno award winner for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year, his funky, soul sound, heard at many Canada Day events here in Vernon, has reached a broad audience.
His last CD, Love & The Lack Thereof, culminated in a number of hit singles, including Causin’ a Commotion heard on radio across the country.
Sczebel also swept the B.C. Interior Music Awards this year, losing only one of the nine categories he was nominated for to Vernon’s Andrew Allen.
Besides digital downloads, Sczebel attributes a lot of his success to the accessibility fans now have to the musicians.
“There used to be an artist/fan gap before. (Musicians) were untouchable. Now to stay relevant, you have to open up the forum and stay in tune with fans. Facebook gives a whole new dynamic to music we never had before. Ask any artist, without fans, you don’t have anything.”
Between splitting his time at home in Salmon Arm and on the road, Sczebel makes a number of visits to Nashville and L.A. every year to work with producers and write songs.
“It’s like if you want to get into software, you have to go to Silicon Valley. If you want to get into music, you go to Nashville, L.A., or maybe New York. If you get out of the scene for a year, you can be out completely,” he said. “Canada will always be my home, but I think at this definitive point of my career, I have to spend more time down there, and get my songs cut by other artists. Canada still has great opportunities and has shown me so much support though.”
Sczebel has also been in talks about his next album, and plans to head to Nashville after the holidays to do some more writing.
“I was in Nashville in September and have been writing for a while. I’m going back in January and will be doing some demos, writing and recording, so we’ll see what happens in a year from now,” he said.
Besides his earliest childhood memory, The Morning Star asked Greg Sczebel to share some of his other Christmas memories. Here’s how he responded:
MS: What is a gift that you received that you still use?
GS: I got some Aveda aftershave a few years ago. I can’t remember exactly when, but it still smells good.
MS: What Christmas movies get you in the holiday spirit?
GS: A Charlie Brown Christmas and White Christmas. It’s a great story and the writing is great. I am a big sucker for musicals.
MS: What does your family usually have on the table for Christmas dinner?
GS: It’s pretty traditional, but my dad’s family, his dad is Ukrainian, so we usually have things like perogies and garlic sausage on Christmas Eve.
Sczebel’s Simply Having A Wonderful Christmastime features his band, including Vernon drummer Dan Oldfield, and special guest artists, Raquel Warchol and Jon Buller. Doors to the Powerhouse Theatre open Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. with music starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17 in advance at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca, or $20 at the door with a non-perishable item for the local food bank.