When it comes to thank-you gifts, Steve Lawson wraps his in green. The green of money. After donating $675,000, he figures he still hasn't...

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When it comes to thank-you gifts, Steve Lawson wraps his in green. The green of money.

After donating $675,000, he figures he still hasn’t paid back Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center for saving his toddler daughter’s life in 1981 when she got E. coli.

“After Alex recovered, my wife, Debbie, volunteered at Children’s and rocked the babies,” Lawson said. “The music is my way of thanking them.”

Lawson’s thanks built on what he knew best. The recording-studio owner and director produced a record album.

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This month, that gift, “Christmas in the Northwest,” celebrates its 20th anniversary with Volume 8, featuring popular bands with local roots, including Dave Matthews, Heart and Harvey Danger. Lawson of Issaquah remembers the first album well. He cold-called a local bank to ask for sponsorship. Songs were recorded in his studio between paying customers. He talked local musicians into volunteering.

One who didn’t have to be asked was Brenda Kutz White, a jingle singer working in Lawson’s studio at the time. She overheard a recording session for the first album and asked Lawson to listen to something she had written.

“I started crying when I heard it,” Lawson said. “The beauty, the structure and just the right amount of religion were in the song — that line, ‘A gift God wrapped in green.’ “

Christmas in the Northwest


Available at Amazon.com, Bartell Drugs, Borders Books and Music, IKEA, Made in Washington, Safeway, Silver Platters and Wal-Mart for $13.98 or go to www.christmasinthenorthwest.com. This year’s sponsor is RBC Dain Raucher.

“Christmas in the Northwest 20th Anniversary Holiday Special” 8 tonight, KING-TV; 8 p.m. Saturday, KONG-TV; 8 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, NWCN.

Appearances The group Late Tuesday will appear, 8 p.m. Thursday. Cover $7, The Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle.

IKEA Concert Series The group Late Tuesday will perform, noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, 600 S.W. 43rd St., Renton.

“Christmas in the Northwest” History

• Volume 1: Released 1985 on vinyl and cassette. Sold out. Launched the classic Brenda Kutz White song “Christmas in the Northwest.” Reissued and sold out again in 1986.

• Volume II: Released in 1987 with all-new songs. Top numbers were White’s “Till You Get the Chills” and Randy Hansen’s tribute to Jimi Hendrix with “Old Saint Nick.” Sold again in 1988.

• Volume III: Released in 1989 with all-new songs. Notable singers were Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Steve Miller, Paul Revere and the Raiders, David Lanz and Paul Speer. First year of vinyl albums, cassettes and compact discs.

• Best of Volumes I, II and III: Released in 1994. Included “(Just Another) Wet Seattle Christmas,” a humorous look at Seattle. Released on CD only.

• Volume 5: Released in 2002. Followed by new releases with new songs every year since.

White’s piece, “Christmas in the Northwest,” became the title song and one of the top holiday favorites on Seattle music stations.

That first album in 1985 became a local musical phenomenon and sold all 18,000 copies. Proceeds went to Children’s.

“I had no plan,” Lawson said. “But when it was over, I started working on the next one.”

Subsequent releases — Volume II was released in 1987 and Volume III in 1989 — included the same popular mix of traditional holiday classics and new pieces written and performed by Northwest artists.

The long list of singers and musicians contributing their talents reads like a Who’s Who of Northwest music, from rock to jazz to folk to children’s singers: Ann and Nancy Wilson, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Brothers Four, Steve Miller, Greta Matassa, Reilly and Maloney, Tickle Toon Typhoon, LeRoy Bell, the Seattle Men’s Chorus, Tony Cea, Walt Wagner.

After the 1994 release of the “Best of Volumes I, II and III” came a temporary hiatus. Lawson’s studios — first his own Bad Animals and then Studio X in partnership with Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart — had become the hottest production spot in the Seattle area. During the grunge era, they operated around the clock for groups such as Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and Alice in Chains. Lawson later worked for Paul Allen at Vulcan Northwest as director of studios and now runs his own voice-over business.

Three years ago he decided it was time to ramp up the Children’s Music Fund, the nonprofit organization he and his wife founded that produces “Christmas in the Northwest.” The Lawsons have released an album every year since 2002.

“I want to see how much we can grow the project, see just how much money we can raise,” he said.

Gary McGill, senior director of development at Children’s, says it has already made an impact.

“We’re elated with the project,” he said. “It has brought in more than a half-million dollars for the uncompensated-care fund, and that has made a huge difference for children and their families.”

Lawson’s daughter Alex, now 26, is equally committed to the project. She followed her father’s footsteps into radio — in 1973 Lawson was the youngest on-air personality at a hit Seattle top-40 station — then switched to promotion and event management.

“My wife asks if I’m crazy when I come up with some of my ideas,” Lawson said. “Now here’s Alex, right behind me, and we’re pulling off wacky ideas.”

Last year that included a television special featuring album songs and stars, filmed in Bremerton. They arranged to bring a local soldier home from Iraq as a surprise during the show. This year’s television special airs tonight on KING-TV.

Father and daughter handle distribution, track the sales, set up public appearances, find sponsors and encourage musicians to donate their time and talents. They make certain the albums going to Oregon carry the right barcode so those sales will benefit the Portland children’s hospital.

Sometimes the success surprises Lawson.

“We asked for 20,000 CDs and three weeks before Thanksgiving we were out of them,” he said.

White said the performers appreciate the opportunity to give.

“What could be more appropriate than doing something for children at Christmas?” she said.

This year’s younger performers, including Late Tuesday and Acoustic Christmas, told Lawson they grew up listening to early “Christmas in the Northwest” albums.

For Lawson, that’s a legacy in the making.

“I hope ‘Christmas in the Northwest’ celebrates its 100th anniversary,” he said.

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633