GREENFIELD — The son of the man who made “Jingle Bell Rock” a Christmas classic is bringing his father’s iconic music to the H.J. Ricks Center for the Arts in Greenfield.
Rob Helms and The Jingle Bell Rockin’ Tribute Band take the stage Dec. 17 with a show that is sure to get listeners in the holiday spirit.
Helms, whose father Bobby Helms recorded “Jingle Bell Rock” in 1957 at the age of 19, is happy to carry on his late father’s legacy.
“I got a text earlier this month from a buddy in Nashville, Tenn. who said ‘I just heard your dad on the radio. They’re already playing his song,’” Helms said proudly.
His father spent a good portion of his life living in Nashville but was born in Bloomington. He would spend his latter years in Martinsville, where his son was raised and still lives today.
This weekend, Martinsville will pay tribute to the late singer with the Bobby Helms Jingle Bell Rock Christmas Music Spectacular, with music provided by his son’s Jingle Bell Rockin’ Tribute Band. The Dec. 3 event coincides with the city’s tree lighting and other holiday events.
Helms said celebrating his father’s musical legacy is a great way to honor his dad, who passed away in 1997 at the age of 63.
The elder Helms was able to savor the success of his holiday hit song for a full four decades, witnessing the song climb the music charts and make a splash on radio air waves year after year.
The Christmas classic hit a resurgence just last year, when it climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “It’s bigger now than it’s ever been,” said his son, who played drums for his dad for years, including on his hit Christmas album.
He now plays drums for his dad’s tribute band, which Helms put together two years ago.
The 10-piece ensemble features five singers, lead guitar, bass, drums, piano and saxophone.
Helms said he’s especially proud to share the stage with his nephew Michael McCartney — Bobby Helms’ grandson — who provides lead vocals.
“Michael sounds just like him. To have his grandson in the band, he’d be so proud of that,” he said of his dad.
The band has toured multiple cities each year, including Martinsville and Nashville, Ind. Helms said he’s proud to bring the tribute show to the Ricks Centre in Greenfield this year.
As a music promoter who has booked regional and national acts, Helms said the community should take a lot of pride in the historic theater.
“You have something really special there in Greenfield,” he said. “That theater is such a cool venue. It’s a nice little place with a really nice stage and (sound system) with dressing rooms and all brand-new seating. It’s very professionally done,” he said.
“I love the vibe it gives when you pull up and see the marquee all lit up,” said Helms, who was enchanted by the charming downtown while putting up concert posters earlier this month.
He hopes a number of people make the time to attend the Jingle Bell Rock concert Dec. 17.
The show will feature not only the hit holiday song but a number of other Christmas tunes, he said.
His dad’s official website, bobbyhelms.com, says “Jingle Bell Rock” has been one of the most-played holiday tunes since its initial release in 1957.
According to the website: “Helms began his career as part of a country duo, singing with his brother Freddy, who accompanied him on the guitar. ‘The Helms Brothers’ became a regional attraction and were asked to appear on the Hayloft Frolic television show in Bloomington.
After his television debut, Helms was asked to sing background vocals for an Ernest Tubb session, which gave him the connections he needed to earn a recording contract of his own. Helms then began a very successful solo country career as his debut country single, ‘Fraulein,’ hit number one on the country charts in April of 1957, and his second number one hit, ‘My Special Angel’ was released in October of the same year.
‘Jingle Bell Rock’ was Helms’ next recording, released two days before Christmas in 1957. The song quickly rose to number six on the charts, and continued to reappear in the pop song rankings four out of the following five years, confirming the song’s status as a true Christmas classic.
Helms continued to tour and record for the next three decades, but never again saw as great of success as he had with ‘Jingle Bell Rock.’ He has since been recognized for his pioneering contributions to the genre of country music by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.”
Helms said his dad loved performing right up ‘til the end.
“He died of emphysema, so he was singing with oxygen, but it’s what he loved to do,” he said.
The Jingle Bell Rockin’ Tribute Band will perform at the Ricks Centre at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17. Doors open at 4 pm.
Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
For advance tickets, stop by the Greenfield Music Center at 1215 E. Main St. or visit JBRtribute.com.