Randy Brooks’ name may not ring a bell with many people, but every December, his holiday classic rings in their ears.
It’s not “Silent Night” or “Silver Bells,” but the song ranked number one on Billboard Magazine’s chart of holiday hits from 1983 to 1985, surpassing “White Christmas” for the spot.
It’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” a song Brooks wrote in the 1970s as a joke. Since then, the song has received air time on radio stations throughout the nation, has been translated into Finnish and has earned two gold records, one for selling half-a-million albums and one for selling half-a-million singles.
Brooks says the royalties he receives for record sales and radio air play have enabled him to work part-time for the past 15 years. He receives approximately 5 to 6 cents each time a record sells or the song is played.
“It’s really been a nice cushion,” Brooks says. “If I’m only to have one song, I couldn’t be any luckier than to have it be a Christmas song.”
Brooks lives with wife Marti and daughters 4-year-old Kristi and 7-year-old Libby, who attends school at St. Thomas Aquinas. He works for American Airlines’ frequent flyer program.
For a couple of weeks each year, the “Grandma” song generates excitement around his house, he says. When the holidays approach, radio stations and occasionally a newspaper or magazine call him for interviews.
Brooks says it was a fluke the song was recorded at all.
Brooks and his former band Young Country, for which he played bass, had finished a gig at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, Nev., during the holiday season in 1978. They were on their way home to Dallas when their van broke down, so they had to stay an extra night while the van was repaired.
The musical duo Elmo and Patsy was performing at the hotel that night, and they invited Young Country to join them on stage. After hearing Young Country perform “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” Elmo and Patsy asked to record it.
A record was cut in 1979 and Gene Nelson, a disc jockey in San Francisco and the emcee at the last Beatles concert in Candlestick Park, aired “Grandma” that year for the first time.
The song made its Dallas debut soon thereafter on KVIL.
“It made me laugh so hard,” says KVIL disc jockey Larry Dixon. “Every phone line in the building was lit. Half the people loved it, and half the people hated it.
“It’s warped, but it’s done in a light way. For some listeners, it’s just not Christmas until they hear ‘Grandma.’”
Epic Records picked up the song in 1984 after its success on Billboard’s holiday singles chart.
Once on the Epic label, the song’s fame skyrocketed, Brooks says.
“It was just a lucky set of circumstances,” he says.
Brooks was the jokester in Young Country and often wrote novelty songs as comic relief for the band.
“Grandma” took Brooks one night to write, but once finished, the song took on a life of its own, he says.
Children are easily hooked on the song, he says, generating a fresh audience for it year after year. But Brooks didn’t intend the song for children.
“I thought it was a song for adults in a bar,” Brooks says.
For his child audience, Brooks wrote a song for the B side of the “Grandma” single called “Percy the Puny Poinsettia.” “Percy” is sometimes played on the radio, Brooks says, but it hasn’t caught on with the public like “Grandma.”
Brooks says he would like to see “Grandma” animated, but he doesn’t own the publishing rights to the song. He gave them to Elmo and Patsy, who have made a music video for “Grandma.” But the couple is now separated and can’t agree on what to do with the song, Brooks says.
Brooks says he wishes he’d kept the rights to his song, but he credits Elmo and Patsy for their hard work promoting “Grandma” over the years.
“I knew nothing about publishing, the business part of music,” he says. “I’ve learned from this experience.”
Brooks currently is working on the movie “Gay TV,” an independent project of East Dallas residents Jon Paul Buchmeyer and Pamela Buchmeyer-Aymond. Brooks wrote the movie’s theme song, which will play during the opening credits.
He also is a member of Rosewood Junction, a country oldies act, which entertained the corporate sponsors of World Cup. The group doesn’t play much, Brooks says, but sometimes comes together for shows.
Music has always played a significant part in Brooks’ life.
His father was a church organist and choir director when Brooks was growing up. Brooks sang his first church solo when he was 7 years old.
In high school, Brooks and his brother, Ronnie, put together a band, and in college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Brooks was a campus disc jockey.
“It’s fun to create,” Brooks says. “There’s something special about hearing people put their voices together on their instruments together. The sum is greater than its parts.”
In 1969, Brooks moved to Dallas to be a singing waiter at The Country Dinner Playhouse, which was located at Abrams and Forest. For years, he made his living performing lounge acts.
Today, his two daughters keep him busy, and he only writes songs when approached by someone interested in his talent, he says.
But he remains passionate about music and says he is more interested in the entertainment industry than current events. He’s more likely to pick up a copy of People magazine than Newsweek, he says.
“I’m real entertainment-oriented, whether I’m entertaining or being entertained,” Brooks says.
“There’s enough people arguing with each other. We need people who just want to help other people enjoy life.”