East Dallas resident Randy Brooks, who wrote "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," these days tells the back story of his iconic Christmas song.

 East Dallas resident Randy Brooks, who wrote "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," these days tells the back story of his iconic Christmas song.

DMN Archives/2009

Like Santa, December is Randy Brooks' busiest month. 

But unlike Santa, Brooks is spreading holiday cheer in the form of song. You know, that song he wrote about one of Santa's reindeers trampling a senior citizen on Christmas Eve. 

"Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" was released in 1979 and Brooks, an East Dallas resident, is still telling back stories and cashing royalty checks. 

Grandma’s Famous Holiday Mishap

Brooks will perform Dec. 11 at the Allen Public Library where he'll tell the story of a novelty song that grew from comedy relief to holiday classic. 

His gig in Allen is similar to his other shows. He books retirement homes, private dinners and clubs nationwide. Because Elmo and Patsy Shropshire, a bluegrass husband-wife act, actually sang the hit, Brooks is basically a cover artist to his own work, which is OK with Brooks. 

He said a woman at a retirement home found his business card and called to book him. 

"The lady asked, 'What exactly do you do? Well, I tell the story behind my songs before I sing them.' " he said. "And the lady said, 'Oh, we wouldn't want you to sing. We just want to know whatever prompted you to write such a morbid song and how you ever got it played on the radio.' 

"OK, I'll charge you for that." 

Brooks acknowledges that the song's lyrics weren't kind to Grandma. At one point, the Gray Panthers, a senior citizens activist group, thought Grandma's demise was in bad taste. 

"The song really didn't give you much hope," he said. "It never used the word 'dead.' But all the 'family's dressed in black,' so it seems pretty grim."

The origin of the iconic song is legend. 

Drawing from his personal experiences, Brooks wrote the song and provided it to the Shropshires while they performed at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe in 1978. The Shropshires liked it, recorded it and self-released it in San Francisco. The song gained popularity on country and top-40 radio stations. It picked up steam in the mid-1980s when MTV put in its music video rotation. That spawned an animated TV show, toys, greeting cards, ring tones and record sales in the millions. 

The royalties are a nice supplement to Brooks, an American Airlines retiree. He took a break from his busy December to take on a few questions:

Q: What does the song mean to you today? 

A: "It's a song I've heard so much. It takes me just a second, to say, 'Oh yeah, that's 'Grandma.' It's always a thrill to hear it still being played. Of course, it doesn't get near the air time it used to."

Q: Looking back at what you know today, would you change any of the lyrics?

A: "Gosh, given the success it's had, I don't think so. I think I'd stick with exactly what I had there." 

Q: What kind of reaction have you gotten from kids who've heard the song? 

A: "I never, never intended it as a kids song. In fact, I would've never even intended for kids to hear it because of the line 'You can say there's no such thing as Santa.' But kids started listening to it on the radio and liking it. And when they started making a cartoon, and they make all these toys that play the song, and those are sold to kids, so I guess it's OK. 

Q: You've said before that Merle Haggard's style was an inspiration? Has Haggard acknowledged the song? 

A: "When it first came out ... I went to Lake Tahoe and whatever casino or showroom he was playing at, I sent a record backstage and a T-shirt to him and I believe an article quoting that he was the inspiration behind it. But I never heard anything from him." 

Q: What was your reaction when you first heard the song played on the radio? 

A: "I was really thrilled, but I also thought, 'Well gosh, that's not the straight Merle Haggard parody that I envisioned. But when the royalty checks start coming in every six weeks, I said 'That's exactly the way that song should have been recorded.' My delivery of it is much more serious. At least until the audience gets into and starts singing along, it's hard for me not to smile and have fun with it. 

Q: Has any one example hammered home what a special song you wrote? 

A: "One really memorable evening for me is when Elmo and Patsy were playing at College Station at a club. I went in to hear them down there. I guess I didn't realize how popular the song had become. But here were all these A&M college kids in this bar singing along with them. And then when they came to the line 'should we open up her gifts or send them back,' and the whole bar shouted "send them back!" -- I'd never heard that before, because that wasn't on their original record. They re-recorded the song and put the 'send them back' in there after people starting doing that in the clubs. But I thought, 'Oh, man, this is really fun. This thing is taking off.' "

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