"Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" was meant to be a gag gift. The joke was on Elmo Shropshire.
Dr. Elmo Shropshire recorded the song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” in 1979. He was 35 and had a veterinary practice. He never imagined the song would get much traction.
"I wasn't very full-time music," he said. "I was still working at my veterinary hospital. So, I didn't have any expectations at all. And I thought it would just be a fun thing to do. And I could give it to a few of my friends for a gag Christmas gift. And that’s what I did."
The song was written by Randy Brooks. They met while playing at the same venue.
"We had a job playing at Hyatt Lake Tahoe," Shropshire said. "And the day we arrived, there was a big snowstorm. And Randy was in the band that had just finished there but they couldn’t leave because of the snowstorm. And they came to see our show that night. After the show, he said, he said I have a song that I think would be great for you. But my band never wants me to play it. So I sat down and sang “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” with a guitar."
The song was played by a San Franscisco radio station after they got 50 listener requests for it.
"And I my first thought was, 'wow, he's playing my song, but I sound terrible'" he said. "And then December 26 came along, and the bottom dropped out. And I thought, 'Well, that was fun. But I guess it's over now.' And a lot of people called in and said that they hated it. And not to play it anymore. And then some other people called and said, 'we heard there was a song where grandma gets killed at Christmas. We like we want to hear it.'"
Decades later, his song has sold over 12 million copies and continues to grow bigger with each passing Christmas.
Hayley Lemery, A Reporter's Notebook
The Man Behind the Song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”
As a third-year journalism student, I never imagined I’d interview the man who sang the Christmas staple “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” He was a dear friend of my grandfather.
My grandfather, who died in 2018, had told me stories about Elmo Shropshire. They went to high school, college and veterinary school together. After Shropshire made money on the song, he sold his veterinary practice in San Francisco. It surprised me that he was willing to give up all that effort and investment.
“I loved being a veterinarian,” Shropshire told me. “I take care of friends’ animals once in a while now, but I really had the bug to play music. I didn't start playing at all until I was about 35 and I felt like I had a lot of catch up to do. I still have that feeling,” he said.
In his 30s, Shropshire began going to watch a bluegrass band perform when he left his veterinarian hospital for the night. The band took notice of him and invited him over one night after a show.
“I was just mesmerized at how great they were. And they said, you know, if you love the music so much you should try to learn how to play,” Shropshire said. And that’s how his music career began.
In between seeing patients at the veterinarian hospital, he started playing the banjo. He joined other fans of the bluegrass group, and they created a band of their own, but nobody wanted to sing.
“I started trying to sing and I hated the way I sounded, so I would sing just out of necessity. And at some point, I took some singing lessons,” Shropshire said. Before he knew it, he had sold his practice to pursue music.
Another surprising thing about Shropshire is that he is a competitive runner. Ten years ago, he was asked to join a running club and enter in the USA Masters 5k Cross Country Championships in San Diego.
“They said you don’t have to win, all you have to do is finish,” Shropshire said. And he won first place for his age group.
By the age of 83, he had run in 22 races. He says he won a gold medal in the World Masters Athletics Championships in Brazil. At 85, he is still running.
Even though this interview was about him, I was touched that he brought up my grandfather. He said that my grandfather was the true athlete in high school.
“He was a monster,” Shropshire said.
Elmo Shropshire is a jack of many trades so who knows what’ll come next for him. Whatever it is, I’m sure he won’t disappoint.