Gary James' Interview With Barry Winslow of
The Royal Guardsmen
In the midst of what is often referred to as The British Invasion, an American group enjoyed considerable success on the Top 40 charts with their song "Snoopy Vs The Red Baron". That group was The Royal Guardsmen and the year was 1966. Travel back in time with Royal Guardsmen member Barry Winslow as he recounts those glory days.
Q - Barry, before I get into the whole "Snoopy Vs The Red Baron" story, what is life like for you today?
A - I was working for a helicopter company when the music business gave me a raw deal. I got back into the music business on my own with "Transition", which is my new contemporary Christian CD. I wrote seven of the eight songs on there. Just Ka-pow! It's been taking off. I've been doing TV shows. It's really a hoot. I have my own little website, BarryWinslow.com. You pop on the album cover of "Transition" and it takes you to the CD baby page and they've actually got a minute and a half sound bites. It's pretty impressive. That lets you know what I'm doing now. Plus, the new Snoopy Vs Osama thing, which is kind of strange.
Q - Your new CD is rather strange.
A - Isn't that strange, man? It was one of those things; we did it basically to build a little morale for the guys and gals over there. That was our primary directive. It was the Fortieth Anniversary from the original "Snoopy" and so it just kind of came together. John (Burdett - one of The Royal Guardsmen original members) shot me some lyrics. I sat there and piddled and fiddled. Next thing you know, this song came out. I said let's run with it! Snoop's all grown up and in the motor pool and Charlie's a Bradley driver, which is cool. The biggest thing was all the high tech stuff left the tank guys out. So, John basically wrote the song that way...the lyrics that way. We just massaged it and played with it and once again, Snoop's a hero in a way, and maybe give him a little morale support. It was fun. It was a fun tune. I actually like it.
Q - It is hard to believe that forty years have gone by since "Snoopy Vs The Red Baron" was released. Where has the time gone?
A - It is incredible. I didn't know I'd live this long to tell you the truth. (laughs) I just had a birthday yesterday.
Q - What have you been doing to celebrate this anniversary? Has the group been performing in clubs or doing concerts?
A - Well, we actually did last year (2005) when we went to this high school reunion. Three of us went to high school there, in Florida. We were just going to the reunion because we all used to be in the high school band; three of us did. I was a field drummer. Next thing you know they're kind of poking and prodding, since all the guys are back, five of the six members are still alive. They prodded us into it. Let's do a half-hour just for old times sake. We did it. It came off well. It was amazing to me. This guy approached us and says, look, let's see if we can put something together and long story short, we wound up opening for The Commodores in Clearwater, Florida on July 4th, 2005. I hadn't seen those guys forever. So we had a great time down there in Clearwater with them. Then we did an hour and a half show on a ten day Carnival Legend cruise down in the Caribbean, which was really pretty huge. They've done some small stuff in-between, but it's been primarily just kind of a hit and miss kind of thing. If there's something we want to do, everybody could get off to do it and we'd do the thing. So, it's just been a very limited performance type stuff. We had a great time. We really did. We went into the studio this last July and laid down this "Snoopy Vs Osama" track. It's really been a nice fortieth year celebration.
Q - You must have a job that allows you to take time off when you need to.
A - Oh, yeah. And I did until just about three months ago when my Contemporary Christian music started taking off and I started playing some churches. I've done some TV shows. I did a major show up in Canada called 100 Huntley Street...huge. It's kind of TBN, but of Canada and the rest of the world. And just finished another show here in North Carolina that is a subsidiary of TBN called TCT and got the full half-hour show. That was pretty huge. I didn't expect it, but I'm absolutely loving what's going on with "Transition".
Q - Are you the only member of the group who's into that format of music?
A - I think I'm the only one. The bulk of the guys live in Florida and they have a little club band they go play on weekends and have a good time. Now Billy Taylor, the keyboardist has his own Bluegrass band and he's been doing that for several years too. Backwater is the name of his group. I'll tell you, they're good! I've heard 'em. They're really good. So, they play a lot of major Bluegrass events around the Southeast.
Q - When was this group, The Royal Guardsmen put together and who put it together?
A - Bill Balough and John (Burdette) were kind of like the founding members of a group called Posmen. The rest of us kind of auditioned for it within a couple weeks period. When I came into the band, I had bought a Vox amp and auditioned as a singer / rhythm guitar player and I guess they liked it. They wanted to keep me. Then they said we need an English name. And so they look over to my amp and I said "Vox?" They said "no idiot, Royal Guardsmen". I had the Royal Guardsmen amp that Vox made. I said "Boy, that's a mouthful guys." They said "well, we like it." I said "OK." I'm just kind of hangin' out. Then we got Chris, Bill Taylor and Tommy Richards was the final guitar player to show up. Basically we were a hobby band for about three months. We played proms and little dances and a little teen club they had down in Florida called Johnson's Beat at the time, down around our home area. I guess we started getting good. People started liking us. We started winning Battle Of The Bands. Then we got to where we were opening for bigger acts.
Q - Like who?
A - Remember Monte Rock the Third?
Q - Sure.
A - OK. Monte was playing in, I believe Tampa in the Curtis Hixson Hall and we were asked to open for him. The show went well. I guess we sounded pretty good. We had basically six vocals in the band. Five of 'em were lead quality, so harmony was just something that wasn't happening locally. We got lucky with that. And then in the audience there's this guy named Phil Gernhard. Phil meets us backstage and hands up this piece of legal pad with just lyrics to this "Snoopy Vs The Red Baron" thing and up in the right or left-hand corner it said give me a military feel or cadence. So, we talked with him a little bit and of course dangling a chance to go and record for a bunch of kids was cool. So, we said we'd give it a shot. Went back to the house as a garage band that we are and I think we were at Tommy Richards, the lead guitarist's place and we sat around in a big circle with an old Western auto two track machine running and basically what you heard on the first record is what we did. We hated it. Sent it down to Gernhard and he loved it. Next thing I know, he's gone to New York with Bob and put the idea before them, after we went down to Chuck Fuller's studio and actually cut this thing. He runs to New York with it and they love it. Then, just like a couple of weeks later this thing breaks wide open on WLS out of Chicago. When they used to broadcast at night, we could hear them in Florida. They started playing this thing every hour; then every half-hour, then it went fifteen minutes back to back. We were sitting there with our jaws dropping. The rest is history, man. Everybody else started jumping on the record. It went global. It just was nuts. It was great.
Q - Let's back up for a moment: you mentioned you played dance and proms. Did you ever play bars?
A - No. We were too young. I think the oldest guy in the group was Chris and he was twenty at the time. He was going to college at the University Of Florida.
Q - The drinking age was eighteen wasn't it?
A - Oh, no. It was twenty-one. We just really didn't do any bars. We did a lot of concert stuff.
Q - How was Phil Gernhard able to get your music to Laurie Records?
A - I think he was an established producer. He was still a young guy. He had been involved with a record called "Stay". He was basically a struggling young producer and had done some stuff. He knew Bob and Gene Schwartz from Laurie Records 'cause that was the original company that had the record "Stay" out. With a little master in his hand he went up and said "Hey, what do you think guys?" I guess Bob and Gene went nuts and off we went. (laughs) So, we were thrust from a hobby band into the world of major Rock 'n' Roll...big concerts and all that stuff that goes along with it.
Q - So, you guys were still in high school when "Snoopy Vs The Red Baron" hit?
A - Yes sir.
Q - What did you do about your education? Did you drop out?
A - Oh, no, no, no. We went out and did things and came back to finish to get our high school done. I was like in my last half of my senior year, so they wouldn't let me go to school with long hair, so I went to private school that allowed me the time to come in and out when we ran and finished my stuff there and got my regular diploma. It was pretty odd. But, yeah, the rest of the guys...everybody finished. I think Chris was about to start into his second year of college. I'm not sure whether Chris finished his second or third.
Q - Did the other kids in your high school know you were in a band with a hit record?
A - Oh, yeah. It got crazy, but we were just local guys. It was cool. It didn't really excite the people close to you. But, man we went to other cities...Holy Cow! I was looking around to see who they were cheering at. I really was! It can't be us! What's the deal?
Q - Were you treated any differently by your teachers?
A - Not really. They were excited. They were happy to see what was going on and we'd tell 'em. I think a few of 'em actually thought it was pretty cool.
Q - Your first album was made up of primarily cover songs?
A - Yeah. See, the whole thing was nobody expected it to be the big hit it was. They just thought it might make some noise, might do something. Well, the son of a gun took off. Now all of a sudden the record company is screaming for an album. Poor Dick Holler, who really wrote the stuff, he was scrambling to get anything together, so they all decided to get a quick album out. This is the business end of it. This is the commercial end of it. Let's get something out there to sell. So, they made us do all kinds of crazy, cartoonish type tunes for that genre. That's what the first one was all about. There was a couple in there we wrote. I wrote a couple songs with Billy Taylor and Chris Nunley. It was on the backside of the original "Snoop Is Leaving Me". That was kind of a Blues thing 'cause Chris really loved Blues. And Billy Taylor wrote "I Say Love" and "So Right To Be In Love". Stuff like that. For the most part, they wanted an album yesterday. So that's the songs they threw us and we did 'em. But, we were never able to break that so-called novelty image, even though our 'live' shows proved different. The one turning point for me after three years of roughly chasing the dog around; now I did love the Christmas record, I still love it to this day. The thing is still being played to this day. As a matter of fact, I just talked to a friend of mine in New Zealand. It was the number one requested song in New Zealand and Canada both in the last year. So, I thought this s pretty cool. And it's still selling. There's several companies that have it out. The biggest thing for me is after three years, can we try some stuff? Well, Dick Holler wrote a song called "Abraham, Martin and John" and I did the original demo with it in his studio back there. I asked Phil, "Can we have this, man? This will help us." The song was incredible. It still is to this day. It was really perfect for the times.
Q - And Dion had the hit with it.
A - Yeah. It was given to Dion. I met him when he was sitting there doing it. I come down two weeks later to do the thing and there sits D. And D's a good guy. I like him. Dion's a good man.
Q - Why didn't the Royal Guardsmen get to record it?
A - Well, I think they got a little star struck. Dion was pretty much one of those guys who was established long before us in the legit world of music. He got the break and it was good for him. It was a big record for him. A big hit. We never begrudged him for it. I was just mad because we were told we were gonna get it and we didn't. And that's kind of when I threw in the towel with The Guardsmen stuff at that time. I said "I'm done."
Q - When "Snoopy Vs The Red Baron" became a hit, who did you tour with?
A - Oh, mercy. We toured and met a lot of people in our own little separate tours, but, one of the most fun times we had was with Sam The Sham...there's a crazy man. Tommy James and The Shondells, Troy Shondell is still a friend of mine to this day and a guy named Keith. He had one record called 98.6. Keith and his Wild Kingdom band. Now there was a crazy bunch of guys too. But, we all toured for 35, 38 days, something like that. A bus tour. We wound up running into The Beach Boys and there was a couple of other acts we hit going across county, winding up in California, finishing up the tour. But, that was a fun time. We really had a great time on that tour. I did anyway. They were gonna do another one overseas. I don't know what happened with that. I really wanted to go overseas 'cause the record was even bigger over there. It was really fun. But, we never got to go.
Q - What made the tour fun? I've heard those bus tours could be hell. You weren't traveling in the kind of buses they have today.
A - Oh, no. These were Greyhound. We were stuffed on it. Tommy James and his wife drove their car. I thing Troy (Shondell) pretty much rode the bus with us or sometimes in one of the equipment trucks that the guys were driving. We were using Tommy's stuff on the road. But, the rest of us were in the bus. We were kids. We're all having a great time. I mean it was a big party. To us it was fun. We didn't have the ego problems, you know...you gotta have a half-million dollar bus. We just had a great time. To me, I loved playing music. I never got paid to play music. I always did that free. I loved it. What I got paid for was taking the equipment up, setting it up, and tearing it down. Packing it, that's where I got paid.
Q - You didn't have roadies back then, did you?
A - We were it. We were our own roadies. And if you've ever lifted a B-3 Hammond and a couple of Leslie cabinets Bud, that'll make a believer out of you. (laughs) It really will. It was fun, man. It was really fun.
Q - You didn't come across The Stones or The Beatles did you?
A - No. I wanted to. I missed even seeing 'em when they were going the other way and didn't get a chance to go. I sure wanted to see 'em something fierce. Paul McCartney was kind of like my idol, for the simple reason that first of all, I loved The Beatles' music. That's what got me started. I literally taught myself rhythm guitar and vocal. He was left-handed and I'm left-handed. I thought it was OK to be left-handed and play a guitar. (laughs) That's cool. I loved their melodies and their stories. Chord changes more than C, A minor, F and G, which was really going on before they hit. But yeah, I wanted to see 'em something fierce. But, I did get to meet Jimi Hendrix twice.
Q - You did?
A - Oh, yes. I'm telling you that's been a highlight of mine forever. First time I met him, we were in New York doing our second album. It was either our first or second. I can't remember. But, he was playing a little club down in the Village called the Scene. He was staying at the same hotel as us. I didn't know who he was. I had no idea who the guy was. I just saw this really cool Black guy coming down the hallway and he had these two girls with him. Of course we're eyeballing the girls. (laughs) All of a sudden he kind of stops and says "Aren't you guys doing a session up here?" I don't know whether it was familiar to him or somebody had said "Hey, these Guardsmen are doing their Snoopy stuff here." Anyway, we shot the breeze briefly in the hall and next thing I know he says "C'mon down to the Scene. I'm playing down there." So we found a way to get down there, a cab or one the guys in the limo service brought us down there. And dude, let me tell you what...he was the show! No doubt about it. And a super nice guy! I think he's depicted as a whole lot heavier so to speak than he really was. As far as being congenial and a nice guy, a super talent. You should've seen this guy 'live'. He was just incredible. Then we got to see him later on at Curtis Hixon Hall in Florida. That's when he was putting his guitar on fire with lighter fluid. It was just crazy. Oh man, he was just so cool 'live'. What an inspiration. I didn't know 'til I started finding out more about him. He was a paratrooper. One of the guys I was hanging out with in Nashville knew him way back when and they used to call him "Marbles" 'cause he would hock his guitar to get a little artificial stimuli and he'd borrow one to do the gig so he'd get the money to get his guitar back in hock. It probably sounded right. It was probably the truth. He was born in Washington State and moved all over the country, but basically the way he talked to me about it, was he really had to be imported. So, he went to England and that's where he got hooked up with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. They were basically studio players. And those were the ones he had with him when I met him in New York. He was basically imported back to the States to be something...and it worked!
Q - Did you ever meet Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin?
A - No. Never got to meet 'em. I saw The Doors in North Miami. Just for a minute or two. I was able to hear them from a parking lot. I got to hear them 'live'. Remember the Miami Pop Festival? This was well after Woodstock. It was the first real gathering they had down there. Oh, man, I got to see Three Dog Night. Talk about some great vocals. Then Sly And The Family Stone. They put on a great show. That was an incredible gig. We only had like a day there and then we had to leave 'cause we were on the road too. I absolutely loved that one. It was cool.
Q - Do critics refer to your group as a "one hit wonder"?
A - Yeah, I think they do. It's kind of like the guys who critique restaurants. I don't give 'em too much attention. I really don't. We actually had three records. I think "Snoopy's Christmas" has been platinum. The first one was Gold for sure, but I think when the Christmas one came out it was platinum. No doubt about it. And it's still selling to this day, which is so amazing to me. I guess Capitol Records are the ones that do this. There's E.M.I. Australia. A company called One Way Records and the Collections have been selling this whole Royal Guardsmen package, several albums I guess for the last few years. It's still selling well.
Q - Did anyone ever cover your song "Snoopy"?
A - No. We were the only ones that did "Snoopy". We did the whole thing all the way through.