“WHAT’S SO FUNNY ABOUT A DEAD GRANDMA!?!” read one of the protesters’ signs.
It was 1979 and Novato’s “Doc Elmo” Shropshire was trying to make his way through the front door of the San Francisco club The Boarding House to perform as protesters, calling themselves the “Gray Panthers,” stood outside picketing. Many of them in their advancing years, the protesters were furious with Elmo, calling him “Sexist,” “Ageist” and promoting “Violence against women.”
So, how did a friendly and unassuming veterinarian/singer from Novato get all these elderly people so riled up?
Well, his novelty song, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” had recently hit the airwaves and people all over America were singing along en masse. (As of today, “Grandma” has sold over 10 Million copies and has topped the Billboard Holiday Charts every year for over the last 25.)
Elmo, who was raised in Kentucky and sounds a bit like Ross Perot on a slower speed, chuckles. “It was funny,” he says. “It made the news. All three TV stations came down and covered it.”
Elmo first visited Marin on vacation in 1968 when he was 30 years old. He says, “When I got here I had never seen anything as beautiful in my life, especially when I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County.” He instantly fell in love with Sausalito.
“I thought, ‘No matter what it takes, I want to live here’” he remembers. “I had a fantastic job working on the race track in New York but I wanted to live (in Marin) so badly that I gave it all up. I took my state board in California so I could stay…” He moved to Sausalito and opened a veterinary clinic on Arguello and Geary in the City, then later moved to Novato where he lives today.
Before “Grandma”, Elmo was playing music in the Seventies at places like The Sweetwater in Mill Valley with his bluegrass band The Homestead Act.
“It was pretty much straight bluegrass music,” he says of his pre-Grandma career, “But whenever I sang straight bluegrass songs — morose stuff about mothers and fathers molding in their graves — everybody wouldn’t take me very seriously and they used to chuckle a little bit. That’s what got me singing funny songs.”
Today, you’re likely to find Elmo still busy recording novelty and comedy records. He’s partnered with former school teacher Rita Abrams, famous for her international ’70s hit song “Mill Valley”. On the day I met him in a studio on East Francisco in San Rafael, Elmo was focusing intensely on the right melody for a song on A Redneck Christmas, his new CD with Rita, due out soon.
Elmo’s fondest memories of Marin involve restaurants and clubs. He says:
“I used to love the LION’S SHARE. I was a huge fan of the Kingston Trio, and John Stewart used to play at the Lion’s Share, and I felt so lucky to be able to see him right there where I lived. He sang a song called “Cody” which at the time was the greatest song I ever heard. I wasn’t even a musician at that point, but going to the Lion’s Share made me want to be one.”
He says ofin Corte Madera: “ Although I wasn’t much of a drinker, the lure of waitresses at the Peppermill would draw me in there from time to time, to order a beer. I would sit there for an hour or so trying to get up the nerve to make some kind of connection with those lovely and provocatively dressed hostesses. I could never think of anything to say to them other than ‘I’ll have a beer’ then leave a larger tip than I could afford, and finally walk out, vowing that next time I went in there, I was going to think of something to say to one of those girls.”