By Ray Shasho
In 1966 the Belleview- Ocala, Florida rock band, The Royal Guardsmen struck superstardom with their release of a catchy tune about a funny- looking dog with a big black nose and his military campaign against the notorious World War I German flying ace Baron von Richthofen also known as “The Red Baron.” With eighty combat victories under the Baron’s belt, a Superhero Beagle flies into the sky piloting his doghouse to seek revenge. After The Red Baron shoots down our hero, he regroups with a new battle plan devised by The Great Pumpkin and challenged the Baron to a real dog fight. Snoopy fired once and he fired twice and that Bloody Red Baron went spinning out of sight.
The Royal Guardsmen band name was invented after lead vocalist/ left handed guitarist Barry Winslow auditioned for the band on his Vox Royal Guardsman amplifier. The original Guardsmen featured Barry Winslow on lead vocals and guitars, Tom Richards on guitars, (Richards died in 1979, Pat Waddell replaced him) Bill Balough on bass, Bill Taylor on keyboards, John Burdett on drums and Chris Nunley on vocals.
Their Top #2 Billboard hit “Snoopy VS. The Red Baron” sold over a million copies and earned the band a gold record. It remained as a bestselling hit on the charts for a solid 12 weeks. The song was penned by Producer Phil Gernhard and songwriter Dick Holler. The Guardsmen recorded the song at Charles Fuller Production studio in Tampa, Florida and it was released on Laurie Records. Although Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and United Features Syndicate sued The Royal Guardsmen for using Snoopy without their consent, a deal was compromised and the Guardsmen were allowed to continue to write additional Snoopy tunes… and they did.
“Beaglemania” was back and the band released “The Return of The Red Baron,” “Snoopy’s Christmas” (topped the seasonal charts and went platinum) and “Snoopy for President.” The Guardsmen had minimal success with non Snoopy arrangements such as “Any Wednesday,” “I Say Love,” “Airplane Song” (My Airplane) and their re-released first single/ Top 40 hit “Baby Let’s Wait.”
The Royal Guardsmen have shared the stage with rock legends The Who, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Tommy James and the Shondells and The Beach Boys to name just a few.
To celebrate their 40th anniversary of “Snoopy VS. The Red Baron,” The Royal Guardsmen reformed and for kicks played at a high school reunion in Florida. Later that year they opened for the Commodores in Clearwater on the fourth of July and also performed on a Carnival Legend cruise.
In 2006, The Royal Guardsmen released “Snoopy VS. Osama.” The song was reintroduced with a few lyric modifications by Winslow and Burdett after Bin Laden was killed.
Today original lead vocalist/ guitarist Barry Winslow and drummer John Burdett are not part of The Guardsman. But original lead Beagle, Barry Winslow says never say never and there’s always a possibility for another full scale reunion.
BARRY WINSLOW is a successful Indie Gospel artist and lives in Missouri. In 1985, Barry received a platinum award for his collaboration on “A Child’s Gift of Lullabyes” project.
Barry’s first solo effort was called “Transition.” It’s a beautifully composed album with lyrics of hope and inspiration and enjoyable listening. Barry’s voice is superlative on tracks like “Nothing Without You.” Singing songs of praise with kind of a Bob Seeger/Don Henley flare.
Barry enjoys riding around on his Euro sidecar motorcycle. A perfect ride for joyriding around town with perhaps a certain Beagle during the holidays.
I got the chance to chat with songwriter/guitarist/head Beagle Barry Winslow last week. Here’s my interview with the Top 40 music icon and just a really cool guy.
How’s it going Barry?
“I’m hanging in there trying to dodge the sleet and the freezing rain but other than that we’re good.”
You’re currently not with the Guardsmen is that right?
“A while back we regrouped to do this little get together, we did several gigs you know. The rest of the guys went back together and I haven’t heard of any concerts or anything else but I’m doing my thing and John’s doing his and together we’re doing a couple of musical things.”
Yea, I noticed on your website that there is some kind of contractual issue going on?
“That’s exactly what it was all about, they were supposed to sign us up for like three years but it just didn't work out..”
I see this over and over again, when the original lead singer is not with the band anymore because of all the issues. Then the group tries to sell themselves with the original brand name.
“It burn’s me up too brother because I wanted to do this really bad. The camaraderie with all the guys and everything after all those years, we started out being friends and have always been friends. Little did we know that we’d be in a band you know?”
“I guess it was amazing we did the three or four gigs that we did. We had a cruise that we did about an hour and a half show on a cruise ship that was really awesome. We went out to Vegas after all these years and we did the same old rock and roll stuff we always have and made a bunch of old gray hairs pretty happy. There were some new youngens there too I guess because of “Snoopy’s Christmas.” The song has bridged the gap and time zone and everything else, it’s amazing. Forty four years later the thing is still rockin’ man.”
So how’s Snoopy doing these days?
“He’s tired man. He’s grown up now, John and I put together a little thing called “Snoopy VS. Osama” and we always preempted it. Well now, Snoopy’s grown up and so is Charlie, Snoopy is working in the Motor Pool pulling wrenches and Charlie is driving a Bradley. It was the natural evolution of things (laughing).”
You are an Idie Gospel Artist now?
“Yes, I’m really proud about it and absolutely love doing it. You know Ray I really thought, me doing this stuff you’ve got to be kidding me. I’m telling you, God’s got to be real… he’s just got to be real. Because take a bum like me man, a crazy person and turn me around and get me these songs to do… it just blew me away.”
When did you first make the transition into Christian music?
“Actually it was back in the 80’s but like a lot of people I ignored it. I’m an aircraft mechanic; I’ve been pulling wrenches on helicopters for the last ten years till I retired. I stayed completely out of music for like fifteen years and all of a sudden a real close friend of mine over in Nashville was opening up this little bitty church and he said can you play an alter chord for me. I said if I knew one I’d probably try to do that. I didn’t own any equipment; I sold everything I owned when I quit clubbing. Well, he handed me an old guitar that had a curved neck on it and felt like barbed wire on a two by six and they gave me a Ray Boltz album and said see if you could do the alter. I said this is Christian music? I didn’t know, so I did it like unplugged and I saw the reaction first of all to the anointing and the music itself, it had nothing to do with me and that was fantastic in my book… I loved it. I’ve never been one of those oh dig me …look at me, never been that way. To see this all take place right in front of my eyes… I thought this is incredible! And plus I could feel it, it had meat to it.”
“About three or four days later a whole bunch of these songs began popping into my head and I started writing them down and I’d no sooner get done with one and another one would show up. So I went over to a friend of mine who had a little studio and lay down some tracks and got some demos roughed out and took them downtown to a friend of mine at one of the Nashville studios down there… one of the engineers. Then a full blown atheist heard them and paid for the session. And I was just blown away! I never wanted to go to a label with it, I just let him handle it and it’s on the Indie charts now. It’s been selling well through CD Baby, they’ve been a blessing to me and they handle everything you know.”
I really enjoyed “Nothing Without You” from the ‘Transition’ album. It’s such a cool tune. I always liked your voice back in the 60’s but man your voice has really matured, you sound amazing.
“I’m really honored you said that because it’s the first time I’ve been able to sing anything the way it’s supposed to come out. It’s just me man and that’s the thing I really love about this whole thing, I’m really pleased with it to no end.”
“When I look back on it now since I knew that he called me, I look back and realize why I was spared so many times, I could have died 150 times between now and then so he wasn’t through with me brother. And even at this age I’m a lot closer to a hundred than twenty. I guess he wants me to do something else before I cash in. I was real thick headed but he (God) finally got to me.”
I’m going to switch gears to the 60’s and The Royal Guardsmen. I heard you had a lot of fun on those bus tours and especially hanging out with Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs and Tommy James and The Shondells.
“Oh yea, Butch Gerace the bass player, he and I were always getting in trouble. We were real good at playing Black Jack and one night we played a little long and whatever money we’d win we’d split it and the bus had left. So we spent most of our winnings in a cab trying to catch the bus. The cab driver was happy though, he made a pretty good chunk. But we did catch the bus.”
Where did you play Black Jack?
“Anywhere, hotel rooms… wherever we could… on the bus we didn’t care. We had Keith and the Wild Kingdom with us on that tour too. It was a tour that Laurie records set up just to match everybody with all the so-called novelty stuff. You know Sam had “Little Red Riding Hood” and all that stuff. Tommy was I guess the only legit guy there. A lot of nights we’d swap top billing depending on where we were going so everybody would have a shot at it. But it was a lot of fun we spent over a month plus on that bus. The main thing was I got to meet people and that was my whole thing about being with this big tour. We’d go do our thing have fun with that but I wanted to go meet the fans plus see the other bands we were running into. I ran into Hendrix…Jimi Hendrix man and just a super nice guy very congenial. I was impressed… very impressed.”
What were some of the other bands that you played with?
“We played gigs with The Who. We opened up for them in Melbourne, Florida in the semi round down there. It was awesome man they were fun… fun people. I thought we were loud! The Who were perfectly audible from outside the parking lot. Everybody used their equipment, I think there was one band ahead of us and then we came on and then they came on after us.”
The Royal Guardsman split up around late 1969 right around when album rock was starting to take over the airwaves. A lot of bands that made their bread and butter off Top 40 radio airplay dissolved at that time because they couldn’t evolve into that transformation. Tommy James did it with “Crimson and Clover.” But you guys had a shot with “Abraham Martin and John?”
“I realized when I did the demo on “Abraham Martin and John” and just fell in love with the song and it was a song for the times. Phil Gerhard our producer said yea, you can have the song. Man, I drove back to Ocala just absolutely beaming. I was a whopping 19 years old and thought now is the time to really do something. And he ended up giving it to Dion. God Bless Dion but I was done at that point, I said I had enough. And the rest of the band I think felt the same way and they were tired of it so we all went our separate ways for a year or two and I mainly relaxed for that first year and now what do I want to do in the real world and the music kept tugging on me. Anyway, I ended up doing everything from selling cars to pulling wrenches on airplanes. There were a couple of times that I was tempted to go back and I was offered a couple of things but I got to thinking about it and I didn’t want to go through that hoop again. There was no way to progress from that point. But I’d never dreamed that I’d be doing Christian music.”
When “Snoopy VS. The Red Baron” was released and became so successful the band got sued by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and United Features Syndicate.
"The story that I got was that Gerhard had sent them a copy for their approval and somebody just blew it off the desk or didn’t bother to look at it, as if Charles Schulz could really care. Okay that’s the way they want to do, I guess that’s how big wheels want to do it. Anyway once the thing took off and I guess Schulz’s attorneys started smelling money they said “We must talk about this now." I have to blame Phil for that one because he didn’t get a legitimate release for it. But they got kind of crazy and made us do this thing called
“Squeaky VS. The Black Knight” up in Canada, it was the same thing just until they could get the lawyers settled down and then it became the “Snoopy VS. The Red Baron” thing.”
I noticed on The Guardsmen website it talks about “Burned By A Beagle” what’s that all about?
“I guess they’ve done some kind of documentary thing and the way I see the title of it kind of leeds me to believe that they're dissenting the dog. If it wasn’t for Snoopy we would still be kids out of high school probably still be scratching our tails and trying to figure out what we’re going to do.”
Yea, why would you say anything derogatory about the thing that made you so famous?
“I thought it was really kind of in poor taste so to speak because I said you know you guys are not The Beatles man let’s face it. The dog is what put us where we were and if you don’t appreciate that I feel sorry for you. I’m tickled to death every time I look up and see that gold record hanging up there. This thing that they’re doing I really don’t know, I have no idea but I think they showed it at a theater there in Ocala if I’m not mistaken. But it’s a documentary thing and I guess they had Dick Holler to say a few words who was actually the writer on the material Phil just stuck his name on it. But Dick Holler was really the writer for all that stuff. I don’t think it’s what the title implies. I think their intention was to try to build something and let everybody know what’s going on. I love the dog man and grateful we had the shot. At 17 years old I could barely put my drawers on and I’m thinking we’re out here amongst the biggies; we’re doing night after night of twenty five to thirty thousand people in these coliseums.”
Those were fun times weren’t they Barry?
“Aw, it was incredible I’ll never forget them. I think the most people we ever played in front of was in Seattle in the round and they said there were like forty two thousand paid attendance. The stage rotates real slowly and then it stops and goes the other way. But it was so weird because the vocal from the people was so loud it was overpowering the monitors and now I know how it must feel at a football stadium down on the field.”
Do you have a good story while being on the road?
“One memorable night, we had a guy named Louie Broccoli he was our finance guarantee man, if I could put it that way. We finished doing our show and I ran back out to the bus after the show to probably change clothes and when I walked up to the side of the bus here’s Louie with his forearm under this tall guy’s neck with a pistol pulled and they were discussing where the money was. Most of the time in that era they’d pay you half up front and half when you showed and there was some discrepancy about our half for our particular tour but it got resolved. Louie just scared the Johnson out of him. I was coming around the corner and he said I’m busy here can you give me a minute Barry. So I took off, I didn’t want to be a witness to that. I mean he look liked a Hollywood depiction of a Hitman, his hair was all slicked back and he wore a little silver suit and it’s funny now but it scared the Johnson out of me then.”
What were some of the TV shows that you performed on back in those days?
“We did Mike Douglas, I recently watched the Mike Douglas thing where we broke Snoopy’s Christmas, Ricardo Montalban was the guest host and I remember going out there and we got our guitars in tune thinking we’re really going to be playing this and they said no we’re just going to use tracks. I thought this is good and they finally got the tracks on the monitor where we could hear and we just turned it loose like we were playing live. And when I made a mistake or missed a chord it didn’t make a difference we just kept right on going."
"We did Joey Bishop when he was out on the West Coast and there was a regional show called “Cousin Brucie,” it was kind of like a Dick Clark but on the East Coast and we did him a ton of times. We missed American Bandstand and actually met Dick Clark later on. He said he regretted not getting us on.”
“One of the big shock factors we had was when we looked out in the audience when you hit the stage and see mothers with their children and I guess they had this disappointed look on their face like they were going to see a bunch of Snoopy characters up there and we’d open up with something rockin’ and see their jaws drop. These guys play Snoopy?”
Final thoughts Barry?
“John and I both wish The Guardsmen well and we’re still friends. As far as what I’ve got going, I should have my second album finished soon and it’ll be called “Remnant.” Everyone will be able to purchase it on CD Baby.” http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/barrywinslow
Barry thank you so much for being on the call today… Happy Holidays Snoopy!
“Happy Holidays Ray…you got to love the dog!”
Purchase Barry Winslow’s latest release “Transition” and upcoming release “Remnant” at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/barrywinslow
Royal Guardsmen website http://www.theroyalguardsmen.com/
Purchase- The Royal Guardsmen on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Royal-Guardsmen/e/B000AQ39W0
Order author/columnist Ray Shasho’s great new book ‘Check the Gs’ The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business. Order now for the Holiday’s at amazon.com, iuniverse.com, barnesandnoble.com or borders.com. Also available at Apple’s iBook store.
Ray Shasho has quite a memory, especially when it comes to what songs played on the radio during important times throughout his youth. Combining his nostalgic recant of Billboard’s Top 100, like some infomercial for a Time-Life Oldies CD collector’s set, along with his detailed whimsical recollections while growing up, and you have the “soundtrack ” for a truly enjoyable story called Check the Gs: The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business. –Pacific Book Review
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