Friday, January 2, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Forgotten Hits Interviews Barry Winslow of The Royal Guardsmen!

Not a bad way to kick off 2015, is it?!?!?  

Back on December 8th we ran a short interview that our buddy Carl Wiser did with Barry Winslow of The Royal Guardsmen for his Songfacts website.
(You can find it here:   

In fact, within that piece you'll also find links to Carl's more in-depth conversations with Barry about two of The Royal Guardsmen's most popular hits, "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron" and "Snoopy's Christmas".  

After the piece ran, we received emails from a couple of Forgotten Hits Readers asking if Barry might be open to answering some questions from our group.  I asked ... and Barry graciously consented.  Add in the craziness of the holidays, both of our personal schedules and Barry's wanting to do some additional research to more accurately answer some of your questions, it took a little bit longer to pull together than we initially anticipated ... but what a GREAT way to kick off the new year.  

Enjoy with us our EXCLUSIVE Forgotten Hits Interview with Barry Winslow of The Royal Guardsmen!!!

 Not sure if you've seen these pics.  
Pretty much our first promo pics.  
Man, I was never that young ... 
or had that much hair ... LOL


KENT KOTAL / FORGOTTEN HITS:  Hi Barry!  Sorry for the delay in getting these off to you ... the holidays are taking up more of my time than I expected!  (By the same token, please don't feel any undue pressure to rush these back to me ... any time in the next ten minutes will be fine!  lol)  Just kidding - seriously, take as long as you need ... I think this will make for a very nice follow-up piece on our website whenever we're able to run it.

I know that there's a lot here to digest ... but virtually all of these questions came from our Forgotten Hits Readers ... I threw in a few of my own as well ... but without question, the topic that our readers were most interested in is the story behind "Squeaky vs. The Black Knight".

As I understand it, due to copyright laws in Canada you had to literally re-record this entire record in order to gain airplay in Canada.  (Oddly enough, my CHUM Book shows "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron" peaking at #2 in Canada under its original title, just it did here in Billboard ... but we received photos of the other label and many different theories on exactly why this song had to be reworked for the Canadian market.)  Maybe you can finally fill us in on these circumstances.  (Likewise, this must have happened VERY quickly ... as the record charted up there virtually simultaneously with its hit status here in The United States.)

BARRY WINSLOW / THE ROYAL GUARDSMEN:  As best as I can remember, Squeaky was done quickly to keep the momentum going that the record had started. So while the "brass at Laurie Records met with Charles Schultz and friends" to get this all sorted out, Squeak was launched. I wish I knew more, but as a 17 yr old "artist", I wasn't privy to any real "business dealings" early on.  

kk:  So Squeaky vs. the Black Knight was actually launched in the event that Charles Schultz and company decided not to allow the use of their copyrighted character?  Meaning that this version could have potentially replaced the US version as well?!?!  (It sounds like Laurie Records knew they had a hit record on their hands ... and wasn't going to risk letting anything get in the way of stopping the record's momentum ... so "Squeaky Vs. The Black Knight" was quickly recorded as the "back-up plan!"  Interesting!  I had no idea!)
The story we've always been told was that this was a Canadian thing ... but we've broken new ground here today by announcing that "Squeaky Vs. The Black Knight" just as easily could have become the record we all know and love had Laurie Records not come to terms with creator Charles Schultz!  Amazing!  And one cannot help but wonder if the record would have had anywhere near the same impact, were it not a "relateable" character like dearly beloved Snoopy!

BW:  You are spot on with the reason Squeaky was done ... you seem to have a
good handle on the story.    

kk:  One reader wrote in to say that he thinks that during the opening rant of Squeaky vs. the Black Knight, it sounds like he mentions the word "Swastika" in it, unlike the American version.  And another wondered why, in this version, Snoopy became a buck-toothed beaver?  (I guess in hindsight "Squeaky" needed to be ANYTHING other than a "recognizable" beagle!  lol)  

BW:  I believe they used the same opening as Snoop, but had to say Black Knight at the end.  I don't remember hearing "swastika" mentioned.  Agreed, it was a strange time for us and the lawyers.  
(Editor's Note - it is definitely a whole new beginning ... witness the clip above ... but I don't hear anything that sounds like swastika to me.  kk)  

kk:  Speaking of copyrights, there was also evidently some issues with the use of the Snoopy name from creator Charles Schultz.  (But wasn't The Red Baron based on a real-life, actual person?)  I'm told that until Schultz was cut-in on a percentage of the royalties, he threatened a lawsuit to stop the record all together.  (Were the songwriters really that naive to think that there wouldn't be some legal action?)  How was all of this resolved?  And didn't Schultz become a big supporter of the follow up records, even designing artwork for the album covers and picture sleeves?  (It had to be good publicity for him, too, right?)  

BW:  The "issue" of the suit came from a book that was out at the time, "Snoopy And The Red Baron" and our record title, "Snoopy vs The Red Baron".  Thus the quandary and threat of a suit over "AND" or "VS" As I understand it, everything worked out well and Charles did like our records.  
Yes, he did renderings of us for an album "Snoopy and His Friends, The Royal Guardsmen".  I think our records did help with Snoopy's success, and much as it helped ours.  BTW, you're correct ... Baron Manfred von Richthofen was a real, and highly decorated, German WW1 fighter ace.    

kk:  Somebody else wrote in:  I have read numerous times that the original version of Snoopy Vs The Red Baron was written and produced for a bread company in Florida as a commercial.  Is this true and did Winslow and / or The Royal Guardsmen have anything to do with the commercial (if this story is true)?    

BW:  I don't remember doing a bread commercial ... lol.  We did some local spots and a few national spots, but no biggies.  

kk:  Knowing that "Baby Let's Wait" was your first Laurie release, several months before you struck it big with "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron", what was it that first got you guys signed to the record label?  Had you auditioned or submitted a demo?  Had somebody seen one of your live performances?  How was the band "discovered"?   

BW:  We formed the band in '65 as a local hobby band ... we loved the music and were lucky enough to have a little talent to cover them.  We were gaining some following and found ourselves opening here and there for major acts like "The Young Rascals" and The Vogues".  We were "discovered" though in Tampa, FL., at Curtis Hixon Hall, opening for "Monty Rock III", when a guy named Phil Gernhard sent a message that he wanted to meet with us.    

kk:  What kind of discussion was there initially about going the novelty route with Snoopy?  What was the original reaction of the band to cut what, in effect, SHOULD have been a one-off novelty hit that may have prevented you guys from being taken seriously in the future? Did you guys have concerns that it would stereotype the band or doom you to One Hit Wonder-dom???  (Fortunately, this DIDN'T turn out to be the case ... but it certainly could have been!)  What kind of discussions were there about taking this approach?  (Or was this more of a "Deal with the Devil" kind of thing that was worth it all just to get the hit record?)  

BW:  When we met with Phil Gernhard, he handed us this "idea" for Snoopy vs The Red Baron that he and Dick Holler had written.  He said if we interested, work up a demo, and get it to me.  So here's six guys, five singers who worked very hard to sound like the songs of the day, facing an original novelty tune for a hopeful launch.  We were a bit "underwhelmed" ... LOL.Well, we made the demo with some chuckles, and when we took the demo to him ... he loved it ... lol.As I remember, "Baby Let's Wait" was in the mix as we tried to get a "hurry up album" together while Snoop was in test markets.  I guess because it was a current tune on the Rascals' album, Laurie would release it as a cover.  Shortly after that, Snoop took off ... and I mean took off!  Laurie was hiring record pressing plants trying to keep up with all the orders.We were a blessed bunch of kids for sure!!! We made no "deal with the devil" ... lol just tickled to actually start recording in a real pro studio.   Anyway, Snoop over shadowed Baby and the rest is history.  

kk:  Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron seemed to have been either #1 or #2 from coast to coast ... even on the national charts. (It peaked at #1 in Record World and #2 in both Billboard and Cash Box.  Here in Chicago it topped the WCFL Chart but came in at #2 on WLS's Silver Dollar Survey).  What was that like, watching your record soar up the charts?  Especially against such stiff competition at the time?  (The Monkees' second single, "I'm A Believer", would top Billboard's chart for seven straight weeks, eventually going on to become the biggest hit of the year ... you couldn't have gone up against stiffer competition ... and you also had The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and several other MAJOR hit groups on the charts at the same time that you were ... were you blown away by the fact that your record was outranking some of the biggest artists of the time?)  

BW:  It was quite a thrill watching the record chart.  Never dreamed we'd be a part of a record that would be so big, so quick. I was humbled to be in the company of the Beatles, Stones, and other hugeartists that lived in the top 5 consistently.    : )Billboard showed at #2, and at one point Record World and Cashbox had it at #1.  The Monkees had steady exposure with their TV show ... plus their song was good ... so we weren't upset at all.  I thought it was awesome just to be anywhere in the top 40 at that time.      

kk:  How do you view this record today with the benefit of nearly 50 years of hindsight?  While it isn't played a lot today in heavy rotation, ANYBODY who grew up during this era certainly knows what it is ... and probably remembers buying a copy.  (I know I do!!!)  

BW:  I grew to love the pup ... and I'm honored to be a part of it.  Thanks for the kind words.     

kk:  Speaking of which ... while "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron" was certainly the band's biggest hit at the time and remains their highest charted record, has the continued sales and airplay of "Snoopy's Christmas" every year since 1967 now made this record your all-time biggest seller?  Any ideas how many copies the Christmas record has sold?  Do you still receive any type of royalties or compensation for this record?  

BW:  Snoopy vs the Red Baron sold a lot of records and is still selling to this day.  Snoopy's Christmas has sold heavy since 1967. EMI Australia has all the rights to it. Not sure how that deal happened or when, but I  think I could guess the numbers for both. The first record did 3.8 million back then ... I'd say it's sold 8 - 10 million by now ... and the Christmas record has somewhere between 10 - 15 million under its belt by now since its fan base is global.No, we get nada for any sales ... major suckage, but that is what happened to a lot of groups back then.  Wish I could get my share though ... sure would make our lives a bit nicer.  :O)  

kk:  What kind of gigs were you guys getting at that time, once the record became a hit?  Who were some of the other acts on the bill?  What about TV exposure?  Any favorites you'd care to talk about?  
(One reader wrote in to say that he was pretty sure you guys did a benefit concert here in Chicago with The Cryan' Shames, one of our biggest local bands at the time, in late '67 .. see below:  
Do you remember doing a big Chicago charity event for children on December 22, 1967, at the Cheetah Club with the Cryan Shames?  The event made Billboard so it must have been pretty big news.  (See below in "Chicago" section):

Do you have any recollection of this at all?  

BW:  The label teamed us up with Sam the Sham, Tommy James and the Shondells to do a ton of concerts.  We have played with The Who, The Beach Boys, and a lot of regional bands.  I remember the Shames and the Toys gig.  Been a really long time.  : )   

kk:  From a reader:  "The Return of the Red Baron" ALMOST mentions the word "Hell" in it.  Times being what they were censorship-wise, did this hurt the record's sales?  I believe some stations banned it.  I always wondered if my mom ever got mad at me for playing it ... if she did, she never said anything.  Somewhere, I have it taped off WKYC in Cleveland where the DJ says "Watch it" just as the word is ALMOST said.  

BW:  The word that was bleeped for England's release of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron was "bloody" ... guess it was a cuss word back then ... lol.  But I can't recall any word in Return being questionable.  
(EDITOR'S NOTE:  Oh, it's there all-right.  While I never heard anything before about the record being banned, it was pretty unusual for its time, even though you saw this sort of stuff on television all the time.  Keep in mind two years later Johnny Cash was still being bleeped in "A Boy Named Sue"!!!)  kk

kk:  How did things change for the band as you guys pursued follow-up success?  I've always loved "Baby Let's Wait" and "The Airplane Song", both of which we featured as part of your original interview with Carl Wiser from Songfacts.  Did you decide to cover "Baby Let's Wait" after hearing it on The Young Rascals' album?  Or was this song presented to you separately creating, in effect, "competing" versions?  

BW:  Baby Let's Wait was a cover off the Rascals' album.  For the most art, we were scrambling to find songs for albums. So we all dug in and tried to find ones we liked.  

kk:  This one also comes from a Forgotten Hits Reader:
I'm curious about John Centinaro's (aka Johnny Cent at the time) involvement with The Royal Guardsmen. He was involved in the promotion of the Tampa band Mercy (Love Can Make You Happy) and it seems he did some promotion or management with The Royal Guardsmen, too, back in the day.  Is there something to that, or is my imagination flaring up again?  

BW:  Sorry, but I don't remember Johnny Cent as anything other than a promoter.  We knew Mercy and have done some gigs with them.  

kk:  From another reader:  I didn't realize that Barry wrote "I Say Love", which could have easily been a hit.  If memory serves me right, Billboard gave it a rare Top 20 pick status!  I got the Snoopy's Christmas album for Christmas in 1968.  It came with a removable poster of Snoopy in a wreath.  I was happy that it also had their new 45 "I Say Love" on it, too.  It sounds like the kind of song the Critters could have hit with in 1966.  The album had extended stories for the hit 45 "Snoopy's Christmas" which I really enjoyed having back then.  It's interesting today, as well, when I play it.  Any comments on making this "concept record" at the time?  

BW:  Thanks for the kind words. Billy Taylor and I wrote "I Say Love".  We just kept writing, hoping we could get a "regular" song out there.  The "history" part of the album was mostly put together by the label, Gernhard, and Holler.  It was interesting and unexpected to me for sure!  

Here's a complete compilation of the story of Snoopy's Christmas:

kk:  From a FH Reader:  The 1969 moon shot brought solo Barry Winslow back to Snoopy sounds with "The Smallest Astronaut (A Race To The Moon With The Red Baron)" as mentioned in your piece.  Supposedly he also recorded another song titled "The Great Space Race (Snoopy Goes To The Moon)"!  Did he do other songs that have not been issued?  The time was clearly past for Snoopy then as a hit maker ... but it seemed like Barry was holding on to that connection to try and launch his solo career.  Perhaps he can expand on the situation at the time.  Was this more of the record label's decision ... or was this Barry just trying to get his foot back in the door?  

BW:  The astronaut tune was the label's idea. I agreed to do it for them, but not to revive the Royal Guardsmen for me.  

kk:  From another reader:  I interviewed a member of the Royal Guardsmen after the Snoopy hits and he said they recorded an un-issued album ... I believe it was done in Kansas City. It was during the period when the band would not perform any more Snoopy songs and wanted to be taken seriously.  Are there many unissued tracks in the vault that might make for interesting listening today?  

BW:  We recorded in Cavern Sound Studio in Kansas City.  Very cool studio ... no pun intended ... lol.  I was built in a real cave.  The only air conditioning was a dehumidifier, and the natural cave walls were perfect for sound deadening.  We did a few tunes but to my memory, nothing earth shattering ever came from it. 

kk:  From yet another reader:  Here's a funny.  In 1973, it was rumored that LOBO was not a real person and that he was the singer of the Royal Guardsmen!  Ever hear that one??  

BW:  Roland Kent LaVoie is Lobo.  Kent wasn't in the Royal Guardsmen ... he had his own records going on, and very well I might add.  : )  
We laughed when we heard the rumors back then, too.  We've been friends for years.  

kk:  Here's one that even took me by surprise ...

Kent - When's the last time Barry heard THIS one?!?!?  The Royal Guardsmen recorded a U.S. Army PSA ... it's got to be one of their greatest rarities ... I wonder if Barry even has a copy!

BW:  LOL ... wow, I forgot all about that US Army PSA promo.  I don't have a copy ... wish I did.  
(Editor's Note:  he does now!!!  kk)
BW:  Man, I so forgot about the Army PSA spot ... LOLOL ... that woke up a brain cell.  Thanks, Buddy!

kk:  An observation from another reader:  I see that he mentioned Dick Holler for writing. Dick Holler also gave us “Double Shot”, later a big hit for Swingin’ Medallions.     

BW:  Dick Holler is a super guy.  He was in Gernhard's writing staff.  

kk:  And finally, this one comes from a regular FH contributor ... who just happens to be a teacher on the east coast:    

Barry,  This is more of a comment than question.  I wanted you to know that when teaching World War I in the 5th grade, I use the songs 'Snoopy and the Red Baron' along with 'Snoopy's Christmas' to help reinforce the facts.  I always use music to connect to the curriculum.  The students are able to remember better when they have a song to link to.  This works for autistic, SED, average students (what IS that anyway?) and gifted or savant.  My Music in Reading students then carry it through to the actual decade the song was first performed and the group who performed it.  An interesting comment from a student who is not in my Music in Reading course and so had not experienced viewing any other 60's videos:  "They're kinda weird and scary looking."  I would never have agreed with that.  Sorry, but it is funny to look back through the eyes of children.  I think the slicked down hair (male and female) of the 20's is a bit scary.  And what about the wigs of the 1700's that covered up a head full of lice?  It's all in your perspective.  So thank you for lyrically presenting The Red Baron in a comical and fun way I can use.  

BW:  I'm honored and flattered that you used our tunes to teach with.  It is amazing how music can help one learn and retain.  Love the "weird and scary" comment by the kids ... lol, they're so honest ... lol.  Thank you again for the kind words.  Bless you and your work.

For more on The Royal Guardsmen's best know hits, be sure to check out this SONGFACTS Interview Barry did with Carl Wiser:
"Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron" -
"Snoopy's Christmas" -