Twenty-five years ago, at pretty much exactly this time of the year, Davit Souders got an idea.
A Tulsa-based vocalist and bandleader as well as a concert promoter and producer, Souders had grown up loving not only rock ‘n’ roll, but the rockin’ holiday music recorded by those acts. And because of that abiding love, as well as his own musical experience and connections with Tulsa rockers, he came up with the notion it might be fun to perform and record some seasonal tunes of his own.
“When I was just promoting [and not in a band],” he recalls, “I’d sit in with everybody from Brian Parton to Pit Bulls on Crack. I’d get the guest spot, and it felt really good. Then, in November of ’98, I suggested to somebody that I’d like to work in some Christmas music, and they said, ‘Okay, be at rehearsal Wednesday.’ And we were off and rolling.”
Today, that roll continues unabated, as Souders finds himself in demand as a performer every Yuletide season, along with an ever-evolving group that unofficially began a quarter of a century ago.
“As a kid, like a lot of people, I was fascinated by Elvis’s holiday music, and Bruce Springsteen’s, and the Eagles’ – all the stuff you’d hear during the holidays,” he says. “It just seemed cool to me. So the origin of all of this was the love of the season and the music. It just became a thing, to get together and record some holiday songs every year.”
It didn’t take long at all for the process to start attracting some of the town’s top talent. As Souders notes, “In ‘99, we had quite a lineup in the studio – Jeff Graham and Tex Montana; Greg Claus from the band Fanzine; Gerald Wood, the old bass player from my original band, Lynx; and Erv Felker from the band Difuser. I’d started the project with him.
“We were all crammed there in the studio, and Tex said, in her beautiful Texas drawl, ‘It’s like a galaxy of local stars.’ So the name of the group was born: Team Galaxy.”
With each succeeding year, in addition to recording (the group recently cut its third disc of seasonal tunes), Team Galaxy and its live shows became a bigger part of the holiday festivities in and around Tulsa. These days, the group is just about everywhere you’d care to look, including atop a float in the Tulsa Christmas Parade, which the band has participated in for a full decade.
“I think those are our best gigs, absolutely,” says Souders. “The crowd reaction is absolutely perfect for what we do. And the head of the Christmas parade, Paul Ross, and [parade creative director] Jessica Gullo always say, ‘You’re our favorite band.’ That’s just nice to hear. I always joke that they treat us like Sled Zeppelin.
“This year is going to be our tenth year of performing live on a moving float. It’s only moving five miles an hour, but because I jump around a lot, I always have to get my sea legs. And if you’ve ever wondered, ‘Can he swing that microphone Roger Daltrey-style off a moving float?’ the answer is, ‘Yes, I can.’”
In addition to the Tulsa Christmas Parade, set for Dec. 9, the band has been booked for a new event on Nov. 17. It’s Lights On, set for the Charley Young Event Park in Bixby. There will undoubtedly be others, including, Souders says, the band’s annual appearance on KTUL-TV, Channel 8 – another thing that Team Galaxy has been doing for a long time.
And over that stretch, there have also been plenty of small but sublime moments for the group’s originator.
“I’ve gone into the post office at Utica Square, and they’ve been playing our music,” he says. “I’ve gone to see Santa for my annual photo, and heard our music being played. As a musician, I’ve got to say that when you walk in someplace and your music’s playing, it’s just nice.
“Somewhere, I saw a list of Oklahoma musicians and their holiday music, and they had Garth and everyone on it, but they also included us. Those are the kinds of things that are just extra bonuses. I don’t want to overblow the holiday horn, but I do feel like we are part of the holiday soundtrack for Tulsa and the surrounding area.”
It’s only fitting that Souders, whose concept was brought to life by Team Galaxy, is the one Galaxian who’s been on board from the very beginning. However, as he points out, lots of other notable players have logged significant time with the group.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of the best musicians in Tulsa come through the ranks. Some stay for eight or nine years, some for two years or one year. Sometimes, other bands and projects prevent them from returning. But some come back. One of our guitarists, Andy Callis, is on his second tour of duty. He was with us for seven years, took a few years’ break, and has now been back with us for the past two or three years. Once you’re in Team Galaxy, you’re in for life.
“There was a band in town a few years ago called Ghosts. We played a show together, and one of their songs, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ they did as a tribute to Team Galaxy – and they actually played it better than the version we did.” He laughs. “So we ended up copying their version of them doing us.”
Although the band members don’t do much of that sort of copying, preferring to arrange their own material, they do occasionally perform covers that are faithful to the original recordings. Last year, for instance, they picked up Cheap Trick’s “I Want You for Christmas,” which is a rewritten version of the hit single “I Want You to Want Me.”
“In the past few years, we’ve adapted some known songs into holiday songs, and when they redid ‘I Want You to Want Me,’ it was perfect for us,” notes Souders. “[Cheap Trick’s] Robin Zander is one of my favorite singers, and the lyrics were really cleverly done. We debuted it last year, and people loved it.”
A year or two earlier, organizers of the Tulsa Christmas Parade had asked if the group could come up with a song based on a “Rockin’ Around Tulsa Town” advertising theme. Souders and veteran rocker Dart Steed adapted the lyrics from the famed J. Marks composition “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and, says Souders, the parade officials made sure to seek permission from Marks’ publishing company.
“J. Marks’ son runs it now. They sent him a copy – and he loved it. To me, that was like doing gospel music and getting approval from above. Tell me that the J. Marks family hasn’t heard every version of his holiday songs. His son approved ours, loved it and gave us his blessings.”
This year’s version of Team Galaxy, in addition to Souders and Callis, includes guitarist Scott Cooper, bassist David Cody and drummer Joseph Blank.
“Scott Cooper played with me in my band DDS,” says Souders. “He’s done a tour of duty or two with Team Galaxy, and he’s back in as of last year.”
While the members of the group have changed over the years, Souders says they all have at least one common denominator.
“The amazing aspect of it all, which is still true after 25 years, is that we approach it with the enthusiasm of kids waking up on Christmas morning,” he says. “That’s really the thing.”
Photo credit: Davit Souders (left) and Andy Callis perform at Tulsa’s Winterfest. Photo by Nick Whittaker