Grandma got run over by a reindeer Walking home from our house Christmas Eve. You can say there’s no such thing as Santa, But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.
Patrick Phillips: Elmo Shropshire, AKA Dr. Elmo, is best known for his recording of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Consistently the most requested holiday song of the past two decades, “Grandma” has secured its place in American pop culture and made Dr. Elmo the king of comedy carols. It’s a pleasure to welcome Dr. Elmo into the program. Happy holidays, Dr. Elmo! Welcome in.
Dr. Elmo: Happy holidays to you, Patrick! It’s my pleasure.
Patrick: This song has literally spanned generations. I remember hearing it for the very first time as a kid and realizing how genius it was even then. How did this song actually come about?
Dr. Elmo: A friend of mine named Randy Brooks actually wrote it. I was doing some funny songs at the time because I wasn’t able to sing serious songs very well. I did a show once and was singing some of my funny songs and he came up to me and he said, “I have this song that my band doesn’t want me to play, but I think it would be perfect for you.” I said, “What is it?” and I handed him a guitar and he sang, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” I thought, “Yup. That’s pretty interesting. One of the more original takes on Christmas.”
Patrick: A lot of people may also not know that the song was actually picketed by the Gray Panthers during a local performance. What were they upset about, Dr. Elmo?
Dr. Elmo: They said the song was ageist, sexist, and violent against women. They called me up first and said, “We want you to stop singing this song,” and that’s when it was first starting to get popular on radio. I thought, “Wow. I thought I had a hit and now I’m going to have to stop singing it.” Because I didn’t really know who it was. For all I knew, it could have been a government agency, like the FBI or somebody.
Patrick: Then, you cut a video for the song and that airs on MTV. It ends up that that video has surpassed Bing Cosby’s “White Christmas” on the Billboard charts. Did you ever have any idea when you were recording the song for the very first time, Dr. Elmo, that it would end up being so embedded in pop culture?
Dr. Elmo: No. I thought it would be funny for maybe the first one or two times and then that would be it. The first year. A lot of people called. I thought it was more out of interest. People would say, “Have you heard that Christmas song where Grandma gets killed at Christmas?” And other people would say, “No. How can we? Where is it?” Then, they would call up the radio station and ask for it. I think they were just interested to see what it was all about. I thought that would happen once and then it would be over with, but pretty amazing; it’s been going on for thirty-something years now.
Patrick: Your song is now what most people associate their whole childhood and Christmas with. It’s incredible that this song has literally spanned all those generations. What do you feel is the key to all of your success at this point?
Dr. Elmo: It’s hard for me to define how people feel about that song because Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, whenever I hear those songs, I get warm all over. It’s hard for me to imagine why that would happen for somebody with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Unless it’s me that’s getting royalty checks. But there are a lot of people who heard that when they were young, and they thought it was maybe something that appealed to the younger generation because it wasn’t exactly their parents’ taste in music and that was a way for them to rebel a little bit against their parents’ taste in Christmas music. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I’m really happy that a lot of people have embraced it as being a part of their Christmas experience.
Patrick: When you were growing up, Dr. Elmo, was there a song that was something that you grew up with that was similar or that stands out to you as being something that you remember and that makes you feel good when it comes to Christmas?
Dr. Elmo: Yes. As far as Christmas, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” (“The Christmas Song”)—I love that song and I play it all the time on the guitar, all year long, just because it’s such a beautiful song and has such beautiful chord changes. But of course I’ve never sang it on stage because I thought it might not be good for the song.
Patrick: Sure. I know that you have a great love of animals as well, and I also heard that you keep quite fit and that you run a lot. You’ve got something coming up here that you do every year for Christmas, is that right?
Dr. Elmo: Yes. I usually run quite a bit during the year to stay quite fit. I recently won a race down in San Diego. They have a National Masters cross country race, and people come from all over the country to go to it. I’ve never considered myself to be a national class runner, but some friends of mine on my running team wanted me to go down there because we needed five people on a team in order to have a team. So, I was the fifth guy. I went down there and I got lucky and I won the race. I was a National Masters Champion for 75-year-olds.
Patrick: Oh, that’s incredible. Wow. I also realized that you don’t just do Christmas albums, that you also did a Halloween album that was out. Can you tell me a little bit about how you go about, when you create an album, how you come up with the material, and how it becomes so synonymous with Dr. Elmo?
Dr. Elmo: I now have a co-writer that I write most of my material with. We just get together and bounce ideas off of each other. For instance, one of my Halloween songs is called “Redneck Dracula.” We just sat down and we were thinking, “What would be a litany of American horrors that might scare Dracula, and so we picked a country Western bar. We talk about redneck Dracula where he’s trying to drink blood out of the veins of some woman in there and there’s no blood in her veins but just barbecue sauce. He gets thrown off the mechanical bull and it makes him sick. We just thought that might be a little funny take on Halloween, to put Dracula in a redneck bar.
Patrick: I love it. Fantastic. I know that you sing sometimes on these radio shows. Would you be willing to sing a little bit of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” for us?
Dr. Elmo: Would be a pleasure! “Grandma got run over by a reindeer / Walking home from our house Christmas Eve. / You can say there’s no such thing as Santa, / But as for me and Patrick, we believe.”
Patrick: I love it. Dr. Elmo, a merry, merry Christmas to you, and best of luck.
Dr. Elmo: Merry Christmas to you, Patrick. Really a pleasure to be on with you.
Patrick: Folks, Dr. Elmo, you can find more about him and his albums and his upcoming events on his website at DrElmo.com.