During this time of the year, just about anything can trigger that sudden and precious lightening of the heart known as the Christmas spirit. It can be as simple as glimpsing a window display in a mall store, hearing a holiday song you loved as a child, driving by a “living nativity scene” in a church’s snow-dusted front yard, or even stumbling across A Charlie Brown Christmas for the umpteenth time as you flip through the television channels.
For Tulsa’s Davit Souders – live-music promoter, producer and performer, as well as the host of Z104.5’s long-running Homegroan radio show – the spirit returned in the late ‘90s, ushered in on a rock ‘n’ roll beat.
“Christmas has always spoken very loudly to me, the feeling in the air and everything,” he says. “Then, in December of ’95, my mother passed away, not long after her birthday. It’s hard to lose a parent anytime, let alone at that time of year, and for a few years, I wasn’t feeling the holiday like I have my whole life. I wasn’t trying to be grumpy. But that feeling inside, that holiday spirit, was not there.”
At the time, Souders knew just about every rock act in the area, thanks to his work in booking and promoting shows for Cain’s Ballroom as well as his own Tulsa club, Ikon. Those performers in turn knew him as a rock ‘n’ roll vocalist, notably with the ‘80s band Lynx. Armed with that knowledge, they’d often ask him to do a song or two when they played one of his venues.
“I sat in as a guest performer with everyone from Brian Parton to Pit Bulls on Crack – and that’s quite a variety,” he notes with a laugh. “It was nice to sit in, but I really started missing having my spot in the band, instead of being the guest. So in ’98, I mentioned to my good friend Erv Felker, from the band Difuser, that I’d really like to start playing music again. And Erv said, ‘Okay. Be at rehearsal on Wednesday.’”
The invitation just happened to come as the Christmas season was approaching. It was, according to Souders, the perfect time to go in the studio and record some holiday tunes.
“Like a lot of people, I’d been fascinated with holiday music as a kid,” he recalls. “Elvis’ holiday music, and then Bruce Springsteen’s versions and Robert Plant – he and the Honeydrippers appeared on Saturday Night Live in, like, December of ’84, and Paul Shaefer was in the band, and Brian Setzer, and they did ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town,’ with fake snow.
“So as long as I can remember, doing holiday music seemed really cool to me. It had always been in the back of my mind. So we said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and I remember that when we started getting into it, the spirit just flooded back into me like nobody’s business. It was a holiday epiphany, you might say. I’m not trying to be too cheesy, but I felt like running through the streets like Jimmy Stewart [in the classic holiday film It’s A Wonderful Life].”
Officially, that first band was named DDS, for Dave, Difuser and the Tulsa-based guitarist Sparquis, all of whom contributed to the project.
“We went into the studio and recorded about four or five holiday songs,” says Souders. “We knew we wanted it to be energetic and fun, and right off the bat it just hit. I was hooked.”
The next year around the holidays, Souders and Difuser recorded a couple more Yuletide rockers. Then, in 2000, as he remembers it, he decided to “go for broke” and hand-pick a group of Tulsa’s most prominent rockers to bring into the studio. Felker, Jeff Graham and Greg Klaus, of the band Fanzine, played guitars; Gerald Wood, who’d been the bassist for Souders’ former group Lynx, played bass, Billy Berkenbile was on drums, and Tex Montana added her vocals and guitar to the mix, which featured Souders as lead singer.
In the time-honored tradition of musicians kidding one other about their importance, they started comparing themselves to the group of international superstars that had created the famous Quincy Jones-produced charity record “We Are the World” back in 1985.
“Quincy Jones had put a sign up [in the studio] that said, ‘Check your egos at the door.’ Our running joke was, ‘Check your snowshoes at the door,’ because there was ice on the ground and it was cold,” remembers Souders. “Tex Montana made a joke about how it was like a galaxy of Tulsa stars, and I thought, ‘Galaxy . . . Team Galaxy.’ That’s where the name came from.” (Team Galaxy, a French-Canadian animated series that ran on the Cartoon Network, didn’t begin airing until several years later.)
Sporting its newly christened name, Souders’ Team Galaxy began appearing annually on his radio show, spreading from there to local television. “Since 2004 or 2005, we’ve been on Channel 8; they’ve declared us their official holiday band,” he notes.
At about the same time, Souders began distributing CDs from the group – first as limited-edition giveaways containing a few songs, and then as commercial full-length holiday discs, beginning with 2004’s The Sled Chronicles and continuing with 2011’s The Acoustic Chronicles. By the time this story appears, a third one will also be available at online music stores and in Tulsa at Dwelling Spaces, Ida Red and Starship. Those CDs, Souders says, along with downloads from the discs, have sold “surprisingly well” across the country and in Mexico, Canada and Europe.
As has been the case the past few years, Team Galaxy also has a number of live seasonal gigs in Tulsa, including River Lights at River Parks on Dec. 7 and BOK Center’s Winterfest on Dec. 21. At 10 p.m. Dec. 15, this year’s version of the band appears on the annual Homegroan holiday broadcast.
Although the group’s lineup has changed through the years, Souders still attracts top area musicians to Team Galaxy. This year, the aggregation includes veteran keyboardist and engineer Hank Charles, bassist Dave Taube (formerly with Bunnies of Doom), former Lynx drummer Chris Cobb and guitarists Jeff Graham (who first came aboard in 2000) and Andy Callis. Callis is a frequent collaborator with Tony Romanello, who’s been a Team Galaxy member since the very early 2000s. This year, however, Romanello, with a new second child, is taking some time off. According to Souders, the well-known vocalist and guitarist has already committed to being a part of the Team in 2014.
“For me,” Souders says, “it’s cool to bring in people from my past and my present – from the whole history of my music in Tulsa. As the years have gone by and we’ve changed, some of Tulsa’s best musicians have been on board. It’s quite an impressive list of people who’ve come and gone through it, and I’m humbled by their participation in the project.”
It’s those musicians, he adds, who are responsible for reinfusing him with the holiday spirit, a process that began a decade and a half ago, when he was wondering if he’d ever feel it again.
“I didn’t know if it would ever come back,” he says. “But it’s been on full speed ever since. Christmas once again speaks very loudly to me.”