I originally wrote this piece back in December 2017 for the Christmas issue of The Collegian. I did not know how to conduct an interview, had not asked editorial for permission or advice, and never delivered the printed copy I promised to Mr. DeBoy. Whoops. Please enjoy.

What you’re about to read is something a little different. I’ll just start by saying that I spent a lot of time writing a list of all of my favorite holiday-related things. I was in the process of tying that list together with some thoughts on “Justice League," some jokes about what’s been going on in my life and a nice heartfelt holiday message, when I had the idea to try to get in touch with David DeBoy, a television, film and voice actor from Baltimore who’s appeared in the “quintessential” pieces of Maryland media (“The Wire,” a John Waters movie, a Bethesda Elder Scrolls game, etc). Most importantly, for this article at least, DeBoy also happens to be the man behind my favorite Christmas song from back home, “Crabs for Christmas."

I figured it would be neat to see if DeBoy would give a short comment about his song for my list, so I did a quick Google search, found his contact information and shot off an email, not really expecting to hear back. But a few hours later, Mr. DeBoy emailed back and said he’d be willing to talk to me about his song. We scheduled a time for a call, and I worked up a few light questions, figuring that we’d talk for maybe 15 minutes tops, but boy oh boy, that was not the way things went. I’d never really done an interview before this and wasn’t exactly sure what to do, but Mr. DeBoy took my nervously stuttered out questions and transformed them into almost a full hour of stories about his career and the creation of “Crabs for Christmas." I think it’s all pretty neat, and I’m excited to share it with you. So, before we start, hop onto YouTube, search “Crabs for Christmas," and enjoy that masterpiece as you read just how it came to be.

I began the interview by asking Mr. DeBoy how he got involved in acting and performing in the first place. He explained that it had always been something that was a part of his life. As a kid, he’d put on plays in the backyard with his brothers and charged the neighbor kids to see their slapstick routines, usually cribbed from “The Three Stooges." On top of these backyard performances and various appearances in school plays, DeBoy grew up with multiple relatives on his mother’s side who were artists and performers, so the performing arts were always a part of his life. When it came time to go to college, he decided not to go for a major in theater because it just didn’t seem practical. “And besides,” he said, “I figured I already knew how to act.” DeBoy instead decided to go for a degree in communications at Towson State, where he became involved in both the radio and television programs the school offered. Towson’s program was small and needed people to fill positions, so he gained experience all across the board. After college, he went on to work at “pretty much every television station in Baltimore" and spent some time at WBAL-TV working as the operations director. After a while working behind the scenes, he decided that he wanted to start performing again, so he took a night job at a community theater and worked on booking commercial gigs on TV and radio during the day. This period of frequent freelance work positioned DeBoy to take a job, of all places, an amusement park.

“I was doing jingles," said DeBoy, “kind of weird ones.” Businesses would call him to sing their commercial jingles, but with some sort of novelty twist, like, “Sing this one as a cow.” Doing these jingles led to DeBoy’s realization that he enjoyed the process of singing along to recorded tracks and, as a result, he got connected with someone at The Enchanted Forest, a now-defunct amusement park outside of Baltimore. DeBoy was hired to write the music for an audio animatronic show that the park was developing. As he worked alongside a musician named Brent Hardesty to write and record the music for the show, the two had so much fun that they decided to work together on a personal project once the job was done. What they decided to produce, as with DeBoy’s major, came down to DeBoy’s desire for practicality. He figured that a Christmas song would probably sell well, a Baltimore-themed Christmas song would sell even better and a Baltimore-themed Christmas song about crabs would sell best of all. “So I came up with the name ‘Crabs for Christmas’ before I even wrote the song.” The two got to work, with DeBoy humming out a melody while Hardesty sat at the piano, fleshing out those hums and turning them into a full song. When they were finished, a colleague who produced commercials agreed to do the production work on the song for free. DeBoy assembled a group of his friends to act as back-up singers and spent just a day in the studio, recording his goofy Christmas carol about a guy who misses the Christmas traditions and steamed crabs from his beloved hometown of Baltimore. DeBoy brought the finished 16-track master tape up to New Jersey and had 10,000 vinyl singles pressed, figuring that those 10,000 would probably last him a couple years, at least. He lugged the boxes up into his apartment and set to work calling local stations, trying to get them to put “Crabs for Christmas” on the air. Back in the day, most stations in the Baltimore area were small, family-run affairs, so the trick was just calling around until he could get a station manager, “usually a local boy who I knew," to agree to let him come in and play the single. A few of the stations really liked it but expressed a concern to DeBoy. He explained, “At the time, you didn’t really hear that ‘baltimorese’ accent on the radio … and the stations were afraid that people would think they were being made fun of. But it was all just poking fun in love.”

Some of the stations agreed to pick up the single, and when the 1981 Christmas season rolled around, some of the area’s AM stations added “Crabs for Christmas” to their rotation. Sure enough, it caught on. People loved it. DeBoy said, “They’d hear it while they were on the way to work in the morning and then call the FM stations to request it while they were at the office.” DeBoy got hooked up with a distributor, and within the year he had sold not only all 10,000 of his singles but also an additional 2,000 that he had pressed. “I was amazed,” he said. “I’d figured it would be on the air for the year, if I got lucky.” Now, almost 40 years later, “Crabs for Christmas” is still around. Every year, most of the radio stations in and around Baltimore still put it into their Christmas music rotation, and over the years DeBoy has performed his song for various TV specials, in parades, at monument dedications and even once accompanied by opera singers. In my opinion, it’s stuck around mostly because it captures a feeling that I think many of us can relate to at this time of year: missing your home around the holidays. When I moved out here for college, it was tough being so far from home, knowing that a lot of our family traditions were happening without me. Ridiculous as it is, I think “Crabs for Christmas” condenses at least the feeling of the things that I miss about Christmas in Maryland and allows me to enjoy them with all the new friends I’ve made, all the way out here in Walla Walla. So, as I close this article, the last one I’ll write in 2017, I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to share this song with all of you, as well. Thanks for reading, good luck with finals, be safe as you head home and have a wonderful holiday season. See you next year!

Crabs for Christmas: An Oral History of a Baltimore Christmas Classic