Five Questions for Elmo Shropshire — ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’ Singer

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If you listen to Christmas music, then you probably know Elmo Shropshire’s voice.

The 87-year-old is the lead singer of one of the most well-known novelty Christmas songs in America: “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

Released in 1979, the song topped the Billboard U.S. Christmas Hits list in 1983 and has been a Christmastime staple on radio stations across the country ever since.

NewBostonPost conducted an email interview with Shropshire about his hit Christmas song and his life since he released it. It’s below.


1.  In your most famous song, a tipsy grandmother gets run over by a reindeer and apparently dies.  Have you gotten complaints?  Any memorable ones?

In 1980, the song had been played a few times on KSFO radio to mixed reviews. Based on this sparse airplay, The Boardinghouse, a popular San Francisco club, was booked me to warm up for Asleep At The Wheel. When I arrived there were 40-50 people with picket signs saying “stay away from this show!,” this song is “ageist” “sexist” and “violent against women!” As I walked in, a woman kept waving a sign in front of me that read, “ what’s so funny about a dead Grandma!” A group called The Gray Panthers picketed my performance and called me at home telling me to cease and desist singing the song. After it had sold a few million copies I tried to make peace, by offering them a donation, but they said they would not accept any funds that had come from the sale of that song. 


2.  While you’re known for your music, you worked as a veterinarian for many years. What inspired that passion for animals in you — and did you ever treat a reindeer?

I was raised on a farm in Kentucky and was a member of the 4 H and Future Farmers of America. My projects for these clubs included laying hens, turkeys, milk cows and hogs, which I used to ride. At the age of 10, I graduated from riding hogs to thoroughbred race horses. I was exercise boy for the 1956 Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner, Needles. When I grew to big to be a jockey I studied to become a veterinarian so I could be around animals as a vocation.


3. You’re also an elite runner and are the top-ranked mile runner in the world for men ages 85 to 89. What’s your running routine look like these days, and do you listen to music while you run, and if so, what do you have playing?

I was a mid to back-of-the-pack runner in my 60s when I started running. Olympian and coaching savant Jeff Galloway turned things around for me with a run/walk/ run schedule. Typical training day; Walk 5 minutes, then jog 15 seconds, walk 15 seconds for 2-3 miles. Do this Tuesday and Thursday and go 4-6 miles on Saturday. When racing The Mile, I run the whole way, however for a 5K I run for a minute and walk for 15 seconds. Using the 60/15 run/walk method I ran 27:19 (8:48 pace)for a 5K last year. It was the best time in the world for the 85-89 division in 2022. The greatest benefits of running come from the physical and psychological boost; the endorphins that make you high without any downside. Thinking you’re going to jog for 15 seconds makes it easier to get out the door than thinking you’re going to run for 5 miles! 

Listening to music makes jogging/running more enjoyable and inspirational. I rarely listen, but when I do it’s Earl Scruggs, Mark O’Connor, Eric Clapton, Eagles, Randy Newman, Green Day.


4. There’s a debate over when people should start listening to Christmas music. Some say after Halloween, others after Thanksgiving, some say closer to December 25 and during the Christmas season afterward, and some listen to it year-round. What do you think?

I occasionally preface a performance of the  Grandma song with “Here’s the one that pays the rent!” Hence, I receive requests to sing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer all year round, and I happily oblige! 


5.  Other than your hit Christmas song, what are some of your favorite Christmas songs?  Also:  Describe how people react when they find out you’re the guy who sings “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

Playing with Holiday Express, a New Jersey charity organization, has opened me up to some powerful Christmas songs like Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means to Me,” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and I have a tendency to play “The Christmas Song” on guitar all year long.

Every time I play Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer people inevitably compliment me by saying “You sound just like the real guy!”

I never take this to mean I sound good, as some of my favorite quotes written about my voice by music critics are; “it has a menacing hillbilly vibe,” and “it sounds like Santa has a light grip on his throat when he’s singing.”


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