Dick Holler Snoopy Interview
How did you write Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron?
The original version I wrote in 1962 was just called ‘The Red Baron.’ I remember writing it in a small garage next to our house at 3435 Ontario St. in Baton Rouge. I’d been influenced by Johnny Horton, who was very big at the time with hits such as ‘Sink The Bismarck’ and ‘The Battle of New Orleans.’ So I was simply writing a song in that style about my childhood idol Manfred Von Richthofen. It had no mention of Snoopy.
How did it become ‘Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron?’
Unbeknownst to me, in 1966 producer Phil Gernhard, who had earlier produced Stay by Maurice Williams, started seeing The Peanuts comic strips featuring the Snoopy and The Red Baron. Also the movie The Blue Max with Georg Peppard was a box office hit, so the timing was right. He wrote lyrics to a 3rd and 4th verse to my music and gave it to a group he’d been working with The Royal Guardsmen from Ocala Florida. They were exceptionally good considering most of them were still in their teens.
Were you surprised at its success?
Well, in 1966 I was a single dad raising two kids in a 2-room apartment, working at a music and sporting goods store and playing piano bar at night in Goldsboro, North Carolina when Phil called to say my song had entered the charts at number 30 (the 3rd highest entry of 1966, even entering higher than The Monkees, ‘I’m A Believer), I thought it was my recording.
Let’s go back, I’d recorded a proper single of my song The Red Baron at Cosimo’s in New Orleans in 1962. Ironically, that same session my group ‘Dick Holler and The Holidays’ also recorded ‘Double Shot Of My Baby’s Love’ written by my bass man Don Smith and Cyril Vetter (the song also has been noted as one of Bruce Springsteen's favourites). Our original version was only a hit on the East coast;however, The Swinging Medallions covered our original and it went Top 20 on the Billboard charts in 1966.
So now Phil calls to tell me the Red Baron song was starting to get airplay. However, I was completely in the dark about him re-writing and re-recording the song with the Royal Guardsmen. At the time, I couldn't really object; within the next 5 weeks it sold over a million records. Number 1 in Australia, number 2 in America, top 10 in England etc. There was no turning back. The Royal Guardsmen's arrangement really gave the song a great feel. I owe a lot of the success of the song to them.
How did the success of the song change your life?
Well, I went from working 2-jobs 'just getting by' to being on the front page of the newspaper. It was very similar to the story in the Tom Hanks movie ‘That thing You Do.’ I had to move to St. Petersburg, Florida to help Phil write more Snoopy songs. Fortunately, this allowed me to be a full time writer in the traditional sense. I’d drive my kids Rick and David to school then go to the office to write songs. Phil and I had a two-room office located at 6747 First Avenue South in St. Petersburg. Having to write follow-ups, it was 24/7 writing Snoopy songs; 4 albums in all. The Royal Guardsmen coined it best, ‘Beaglemania.’
And later in your career?
In June of 1968 I was in New York with Phil recording when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. We were depressed like everyone else in the country. We flew back to St. Petersburg and the next day I wrote Abraham, Martin and John in all of 25 minutes. It just came out in one spill. I can’t explain it. All I can say is that it expressed the sadness I was feeling because Bobby was gone. That coupled with the fact we’d only lost Martin Luther King Jr. a few months earlier.
What are you most proud of?
Well I guess having my songs recorded and performed by artists I really love and respect. On a personal level, it probably was when I'd learned Bob Dylan had been performing Abraham, Martin and John on an early 80’s concert tour. It doesn’t get better than that.
How do you feel about the new Peanuts Movie?
I think it's great. Hopefully it will generate more interest in the original Snoopy song. Some fans were disappointed it’s not featured in the film, but they forget - Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron was never in The Peanuts 60’s television specials. The song and the Peanuts comic strip were of two different camps. However, we did have a good working relationship with Charles Shulz, who also provided his artwork for The Royal Guardsmen’s 3rd and 4th albums.
So you have a new single out:
Yes, Dick Holler (feat. The Holler Family) Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron 2015. At a family reunion in Berkeley California, my son David, suggested all the kids and grandkids hop into a nearby studio and make a party of it. Nothing heavy, no rehearsal, only a few takes and that was it. To be honest, the end result was far better than I had anticipated. So much that my son David, who’s also in the music business, took the vocal tracks back to Switzerland where he lives, and had it properly mixed and mastered. I’m really pleased with it.
Let’s face it, I’m not going to live forever, so I thought this was great way to ‘time-capsule’ a ‘once in a life time experience’ with my family. Listening to the new version we did, I realize the Hollers’ are pretty good singers. I guess it runs in the family. My father was a choir director and my sister Peggy sang in the Robert Shaw Choral. Go figure.
And the beat goes on…