PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Chart-topping artists have performed Christmas songs for decades.
Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Tom Petty are among such performers to lend their contributions to the musical lexicon of the season.
The Eagles were no exception during their extended Miami stay in the late 1970s with the release of "Please Come Home for Christmas," recorded at the defunct Bayshore Recording Studios in Coconut Grove.
CHRISTMAS IN MIAMI
The origin of the song's place in Miami history begins with producer Bill Szymczyk, who was living in Colorado in 1974 when he decided to move.
"I was tired of snow, for one thing," he told Local10.com in a telephone interview from his North Carolina home.
A former U.S. Navy sonar technician, the Michigan-born Szymczyk by then had also grown tired of traveling from coast to coast for work.
"So I looked at a map and saw Miami," Szymczyk said.
It was there that Szymczyk went to work with the Eagles at Criteria Studios (now The Hit Factory Criteria Miami) in North Miami.
Szymczyk was already familiar with the band after taking over for producer Glyn Johns during the making of "On the Border." The group recorded portions of its next two albums in Los Angeles, but by the mid-1970s the lineup of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Randy Meisner (who left the band in 1977) and Joe Walsh was almost exclusively recording in South Florida.
While producing what would become the Grammy Award-winning record "Hotel California" at Criteria, Szymczyk was building his own recording studio.
The converted motel at 2665 S. Bayshore Drive opened in 1976. Unlike other recording studios of the time, Bayshore had a "home-like" feel to it and was less formal than those in cities like New York, former studio manager Harriet Dellacasa-Wadro told Local10.com in a telephone interview.
"With Bayshore, it was like being in somebody's house with the most incredible studio," she said. "You know, it was a lovely, lovely state of the art studio, and so that was the atmosphere that prevailed there."
Several artists strolled through Bayshore, including Jimmy Buffett (who recorded "Son of a Son of a Sailor" there) and other "B-list bands," Szymczyk said, but there was arguably none more synonymous with Szymczyk's musical workshop than the Eagles.
After the success of "Hotel California," Asylum Records was eager for a follow-up album. True to its name, "The Long Run" was released in September 1979 -- almost three full years after the release of "Hotel California."
"That's how come we got to do the Christmas single," Szymczyk said.
Struggling to come up with enough songs to fill what was then expected to be a double album, the Eagles were being routinely hounded by the record company for a progress report in 1978.
"The record label was bugging us because 'The Long Run' was at this point 6.8 months behind schedule, (so the band thought), 'Well, maybe if we give them a Christmas single they'll get off our back,'" Szymczyk said.
It was Henley who suggested "Please Come Home for Christmas." He had been a fan of the original 1960 recording by Charles Brown.
"So he said, 'Well, let's do that,'" Szymczyk said.
In the span of a few days, the Eagles -- now with Timothy B. Schmit in Meisner's place -- went to work with Henley performing the lead vocals and playing the drums, Frey playing the piano and lending his vocals, Felder and Walsh strumming their guitars and Schmit manning the bass guitar.
Released as a single in November 1978 -- along with the B-side, "Funky New Year" ("which is hysterical," Szymczyk noted) -- "Please Come Home for Christmas" might have been the most collaborative effort by the Eagles during that period in the band's history.
"You know, we knocked it out in a matter of two (or) three days, gave it to the label and then they indeed did get off our back until we were finished," Szymczyk said.
"Please Come Home for Christmas" spent eight weeks on the Billboard Top 100 chart, checking in at No. 78 on Dec. 9, 1978, and rising all the way to No. 20 two weeks later. It was the first Christmas song to reach the top 20 on the chart since 1963.
The song peaked at No. 18 during the first two weeks of January 1979.
To this day, the song remains as familiar to listeners of classic rock as "Desperado" or "Hotel California," particularly during this time of year.
"I'll be wandering through Target or something like that and hear it," Szymczyk said.
The record cover even offers a slice of picturesque Miami Beach. It depicts the members of the band lounging poolside at a rented house on Star Island.
LIFE AFTER BAYSHORE
All good things come to an end. Such was true for the Eagles and Bayshore Recording Studios.
First, the Eagles disbanded in 1980 amid strained relations between Frey and Felder that were made public on stage during a performance.
"There were times when they were quarrelling and there were times when we couldn't really get them together in the studio at the same time," Dellacasa-Wadro recalled.
When the band wasn't quarrelling, the group could often be seen enjoying the South Florida sunshine at nearby Peacock Park, Dellacasa-Wadro said.
But that fun in the sun seemed to be a temporary escape from the division that ultimately led to the band's breakup.
"We would have one group come in and do their parts and then, you know, have the other group come in and do their parts," Dellacasa-Wadro said.
Then in 1982, Bayshore Recording Studios closed to make way for the Grand Bay Hotel, which has since been demolished. A condominium is now being built in its place.
Szymczyk filed a lawsuit after the owner sold the property to the hotel developers with several years remaining on his lease.
In the end, he was able "to make a few bucks out of it."
"But I was still, regardless, very, very sorry to see the studio go," Szymczyk said.
Dellacasa-Wadro stuck around for a short to help Szymczyk with his company, Pandora Productions, but she eventually left the business and moved to central Florida, where she resides today.
"By the time that Bayshore was coming to an end … I think I was kind of burning out, to be honest with you," Dellacasa-Wadro said.
Szymczyk remained in Miami until 1990, when he moved to North Carolina with his family. He is now "putting the 'retired' in semi-retired," he said.
Gone are the days of the self-built music studios of the recording industry, replaced instead by the home studios of the 21st century. Digital downloads have overtaken traditional album sales and forced a seismic shift in the way record labels turn a profit. The playground for musical creativity that was once the recording studio is now mostly vacant.
For Szymczyk and other studio-bred producers like him, maybe that's just as well.
"I'm very happy I was born when I was," he said when asked about the direction of today's industry.