Many of you saw the annual broadcast of the animated TV special Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, but did you know the guy known for the catchy song is actually a banjo-playing veterinarian with a degree from Auburn University?
And do you know that it was inspired by a Merle Haggard recording?
Well, I sure didn’t until being curious about the off-beat Christmas classic and doing my homework.
Turns out the song composed by Dallas resident Randy Brooks and recorded by Elmo Shropshire, a veterinarian in Marin County outside San Francisco, has sold more than 11 million copies to date.
Shropshire not only is regarded as a pioneer of California bluegrass but for many years has been fronting a group called Wild Blue. He was recognized with the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Northern California Bluegrass Society.
Between 1969 and 1972, he hosted an area radio program called The Great SF Bluegrass Experience.
Shropshire grew up in Lexington, Ky., in the horse racing world. His father was a well-known jockey named “Little” Elmo Shropshire. Eventually Shropshine attended Auburn University in Alabama where in 1964 he earned a degree from the School of Veterinary Medicine. He settled in the San Francisco area and became widely known as a competitive runner and lover of bluegrass music.
Fate crossed his path in 1978 with a songwriter who changed his life.
“I was playing up in Lake Tahoe (Nev.) with my bluegrass band,” Shropshire has related. “There was this big snowstorm, so the old band – the one we were taking over for – couldn’t get out, and they had to stay for the evening.
“That night, they came to see our show, and afterwards, this guy came up to me and said, ‘You know, I have a song I wrote that I think would be perfect for you.’ So we went back to his dressing room and he sang Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. His name was Randy Brooks. I heard it once and thought, ‘Wow, what a song!’ ”
Shropshire and his band started playing it, and they were amazed at the immediate reaction. So in the following spring of 1979 he invested $12,000 in a professional recording. Epic Records (now Sony) in 1985 picked it up and turned it into an international hit single.
Songwriter Brooks explained to reporter Audra Schroeder of the Dallas Observer that the song was inspired by a Christmas song of Merle Haggard’s called Grandma’s Christmas Card.
“This was a song about a grandma who was an artist, and every year the family would await her Christmas card,” Brooks recalled. “This was a period in country music where the trend was to have a beloved relative die in the last verse. You know, two verses about how great they were, and then they’re dead.
“And I thought that was where his song was going, and so that night I decided to write the song [Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer] the way I thought Merle might write it.”
The song, of course, has taken on a life of its own since the animated version was made in 2000. That’s Shropshire’s voice you hear as the narrator, as grandpa and, naturally, singing the song.
You can learn more about this unique song and unique veterinarian bluegrass musician at: https://www.facebook.com/GrandmaReindeer.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT BOGGUSS AND BERRY: Two good country shows at the Imperial Theatre that you don’t want to miss will be featuring stars Suzy Bogguss and John Berry.
Bogguss headlines the Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser True Music’s Southern Soul and Song series with a holiday theme show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, with tickets priced at $15, $23 and $28.
Berry will be back with his Christmas show at the Imperial at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21. Tickets are $22, $27, $30 and $35. An additional $20 will get you into a pre-show meeting with Berry at 5 p.m. to have photos taken with him and hear him perform an acoustic set.
Tickets for both shows can be bought at imperiatheatre.com, at the box office or reserved at (706) 722-8341.