New Audio: JOVM Mainstays Black Pumas Tackle a Poignant Lou Rawls Christmas Tune

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spilled a copious amount of virtual ink covering the multi-Grammy Award-nominated Austin, TX-based soul act and JOVM mainstays, Black Pumas. Led by Grammy Award-winning producer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada and San Fernando Valley-born singer/songwriter and guitarist Eric Burton, the acclaimed act can trace their origins back to 2017.

Burton, who grew up singing in church and in musical theater, started busking at the Santa Monica pier, where he brought in a few hundred dollars and day and honing his performance skills. He then traveled through the Western states before deciding to settle down in Austin, setting up a busking spot on 6th Street and Congress, a prime location in the city’s downtown neighborhood for maximum exposure.Meanwhile, Quesada was looking to collaborate with someone new. He reached out to friends in Los Angeles and London — but nothing seemed to fit. Serendipitously, a mutual friend recommended Burton to Quesada, telling the Grammy Award-winning songwriter, guitarist and producer that Burton was the best singer he had ever heard. The two musicians connected but Burton took a while to respond. “My friends were like ‘Dude, you’re a mad man, you need to hit that guy back!’” Burton recalls. When Burton did call Quesada, he sang to him over the phone. “I loved his energy, his vibe, and I knew it would be incredible on record,” Quesada says. “From the moment I heard him on the phone, I was all about it.”

Back in 2019, the duo along with a talented cast of collaborators recorded and released their breakthrough full-length debut, which was supported with a relentless touring schedule across both North America and Europe that included three different stops in town: The Knitting Factory, in May 2019Mercury Lounge, in July 2019; and Brooklyn Bowl in September 2019. Additionally, the JOVM mainstays began to make the rounds of the nationally televised talk show circuit, playing  Jimmy Kimmel LiveThe Ellen Show and a lengthy list of others.

Last year, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays released a deluxe version of their breakthrough debut which features new artwork, previously unpublished in-studio and live performance photos, a bonus 7 inch featuring three previously unreleased originals, live, in-studio versions of “Colors,” “October 33,” and “Confines;” a live version of “Know You Better,” recorded at C-Boys Heart & Soul, the Austin club, where the band first made a name for themselves;the band’s attention-grabbing covers of The Beatles‘ “Eleanor Rigby,” Death’s “Politicians in My Eyes,” Bobby “Blue” Bland‘s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” and Tracy Chapman‘s “Fast Car.”

Black Pumas are currently touring Europe. And after a couple of weeks off, the JOVM mainstays will embark on a West Coast tour to end the year. 2022 sees the band playing Nashville and a couple of North American festivals. They make stops in South America before returning to the states for Boston Calling next March. Next June and July, the band returns to Europe. As always those tour dates are below — and if they’re in a town near you, I’d suggest you get a ticket and catch Black Pumas.

Initially only available as part of Spotify Holiday Singles, the Austin-based JOVM mainstays’ cover of Lou Rawls‘ “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas” is finally available everywhere for the first time.

Buried on the B-side of Rawls’ 1967 Christmas-themed album Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho!, “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas” was written by James Alexander, whose credits include Sam Cooke’s “Lost and Lookin’,” the R&B standard “I Like It Like That” recorded by everyone from Ray Charles to Van Morrison, Ben Raleigh’s “Laughing on the Outside,” “Faith Can Move Mountains,” “Tell Laura I Love Her” and “Wonderful, Wonderful,” a string of tunes for Lesley Gore, Rawls’ own “Dead End Street” and “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing,” jazz standard “Midnight Mood” and incredibly the theme song for Scooby Doo, “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” The original is a slow-burning, minor-key funky bit of soul with profound and much-needed message: Christmas can’t be Christmas without peace, love and happiness for all.

The Black Pumas cover speeds the tempo up a bit and features a series of subtle changes — Burton keeps to his slightly higher register, the horns are replaced with the band’s incredible backing singles, the keys are a bit punchier and placed a bit more forward in the mix. The end result is a cover that the JOVM mainstays make their own while being faithful to the original’s spirit, feel and time period. It’s a difficult balance that the band has made seemingly effortless.

“We were really attracted to the message, the lyrics, the arrangement, the feeling,” Black Pumas’ frontman Eric Burton explains. “It’s a message that needs to be heard right now. I was a little nervous about singing in Lou Rawls’ low register, so I sang it an octave higher and it was nice to arrange vocals with the ladies [backup singers Lauren Cervantes and Angela Miller] as well to put our own spin on it.”

Producer/bandleader Adrian Quesada adds, “A Christmas song isn’t exactly something that we set out to do, but this Lou Rawls song is amazing. It was produced by one of my favorite arrangers and producers, David Axelrod. On that side of it I was drawn to it initially and I confirmed with Eric. I think we were both attracted to the message too, it touches on a message that I think is poignant to today’s times, that Christmas isn’t really Christmas until everyone has peace and happiness.”

Tour Dates

11/16/21 – Lille, France @ Aérone SOLD OUT

11/17/21 – Nantes, Pays de la Loire @ Stéréolux SOLD OUT

11/18/21 – Paris, France @ L’Olympia

11/20/21 – Madrid, Spain @ La Riviera SOLD OUT

12/4/21 – Key West, FL @ Coast is Clear Music & Arts Fest

12/8/21 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater

12/9/21 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater

12/10/21 – Seattle, WA @ Paramount Theatre

12/12/21 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot

12/15/21 – San Francisco, CA @ The Masonic

12/16/21 – San Francisco, CA @ The Masonic

12/17/21 – Los Angeles, CA @ YouTube Theater

12/18/21 – Las Vegas, NV @ House of Blues Las Vegas

2/4/22 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium SOLD OUT

2/5/22 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium

2/26/22 – 2/27/22 – Tempe, AZ @ Innings Festival

3/2/22 – 3/5/22 – Cancún, Mexico @ My Morning Jacket’s One Big Holiday

3/19/22 – 3/20/22 – Mexico City, CDMX @ Vive Latino

3/25/22 – 3/27/22 – São Paulo, SP @ Lollapalooza Brasil

3/25/22 – 3/27/22 – Bogotá, Colombia @ Estereo Picnic

3/27/22 – 3/29/22 – Boston, MA @ Boston Calling

6/18/22 – Oslo, Norway @ Rockefeller Music Hall

6/19/22 – Stockholm, Sweden @ Berns  

6/21/22 – Hamburg, Germany @ Fabrik

6/22/22 – Dortmund, DE @ FZW

6/29/22 – Roskilde, Denmark @ Roskilde Festival

6/30/22 – Barcelona, Spain @ Vida Festival

7/8/22 – 7/10/22 – Trenčín, Slovakia @ Pohoda Festival

7/8/22 – Madrid, Spain @ Mad Cool Festival