(NOTE: The following post contains several references to marijuana use. This reflects a lifestyle and mind-set that are more than 30-years in the past. We know much more today about the dangers of all drugs, even so-called entry-level "recreational" drugs such as pot. LeeZard today lives a clean life and neither condones or recommends the use of any drug unless it is under the supervision of a physician.)
It’s come to this in our digital social networking age; I learned of GTM’s death when it was posted on his Facebook page. So it goes:
GTM was George Taylor Morris, probably my first and best buddy in broadcasting and, my first dope-mate. His obituary (http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/08-02-2009/0005070171&EDATE=) refers to George as a “radio icon.” That doesn’t do him justice. He was unique in so many ways; I don’t know where to begin. How about at the beginning?
"And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make"
In lieu of flowers, we would suggest donations to the organization that totally got George and treated him with the love and respect we all should be so lucky to receive as we near the end of life. The non-profit organization is Capital Hospice, 209 Gibson Street NW, Suite 202, Leesburg, VA 20176
I met GTM in 1967 when we were two-thirds of the News Department at WHLI – The Voice of Long Island – in Hempstead, NY. It was my second job in broadcasting, my first full-time gig and I was still learning the ropes of broadcast journalism. Yes, those were the days when you could use the words “broadcast’ and “journalism” in the same sentence with a straight face.
I was still living at home, or at least occasionally sleeping there. George, although five days younger than moi, was so much worldlier – at the ripe old age of 20. He’d already been in radio for four years and, as a California émigré, rented this big old house just a block from WHLI. Needless to say, in those nascent Hippy years, GTM’s place became party central – and my home away from home.
Blessed with that warm smile and engaging personality, he also had a deep rich voice, a golden full-faced beard and silken hair almost to his shoulders. Everyone was drawn to him. That never changed over his life and career.
WHLI in 1967 was one of those radio station dinosaurs, even before the FM revolution. There were two big broadcast studios, replete with sound locks (heavy double entry doors with dead-space between), those old fashioned “on air” signs that lit up inside and out and “staff announcers” – not DJ’s – who never operated the control board; they merely gave the call letters and announced the artists.
The on-air sound consisted of Mitch Miller, Lawrence Welk, and others of their ilk. GTM and I spent most of our down-time, though, making demo DJ tapes in the small cramped production studio in the back, where all the record company “discards” were stored; The Beatles White Album, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Vanilla Fudge, and others of their ilk.
The station had one of those ancient telephone switchboards with all the cords. On slow weekend shifts we figured out how to dial operator once, connect all the lines and have ten or more operators simultaneously talking to each other.
“No, this is the operator.”
“Excuse me, THIS is the operator!”
Times ten; It was hilarious.
We were soul mates from the start and, even after I left ‘HLI in 1968 to seek my fortune in the Big Time of Manhattan and George – ever the ramblin’ man – went north to help pioneer progressive FM radio in New England, we stayed in touch. As a side note, GTM’s obit leaves out this very important part of his career, the early days of Rock & Roll FM Radio. I think it was here that GTM first reached his full creative potential. More on that in a moment.
Our paths didn’t cross again until late 1971. I was more seasoned, returning to New York after two years as a correspondent and editor for Metromedia Radio News, a 650-station national network. I landed at WOR-FM, one of the nation’s first “Top 40” FMs, doing loud, highly compressed “20/20 NEWS.” It was a joke but a high-paying one; the station crammed 90 percent of its news into eight ten-minute newscasts between midnight and 8AM. Guess who pulled that shift.
GTM was a DJ at rockin’ WPIX-FM before jumping to WWDJ-FM, which stormed the NY Market from suburban New Jersey. By then, the FM band was just getting its head of steam as something more than an educational and classical music dumping ground. The Progressive FM movement was still in its early stages as well.
George and I immediately renewed our close friendship. We spent our days off together, driving around in his beater VW Bug, smoking lots of Jamaican and Columbian weed (@ $125 a pound!) and literally living the high life as quasi-celebrity bachelors in the Big Apple. Which brings us to THE Road Trip.
It was a Friday night, the second weekend of October, 1972. George and I were looking for a party in the red brick apartment jungle of Astoria, Queens. When we found it, we quickly lost it – a crowded and boring soiree in the Indian Summer swelter of an un-air conditioned two-bedroom. We climbed back into GTM’s VW. “It’s only 10 O’clock, George, where do you wanna go?”
“Well,” he answered with that gleam in his eye. “Right under your feet, under the (makeshift wooden) floorboard, is a pound of dope. A bunch of guys I know have a band and they are rehearsing in a rented A-Frame up in the White Mountains (of New Hampshire). If we leave now, we can smoke our way north and be there by morning.”
That was the nature of the relationship; it didn’t take much for one of us to come up with some crazy spontaneous idea and the other to quickly agree. As many of you recall, the VW bugs in those days didn’t have much power to begin with. The squirrels under GTM’s rear hatch were short a few more acorns. So, off we went into the night, avoiding the parkways and thruways, chugging along and toking away at a thrifty 45 MPH or so.
I had my reporter’s standard issue little Sony TC110 recorder and a couple of cassettes filled with our favorite tunes – from Jimi’s Purple Haze (how appropriate) to Led Zep, The Stones, and others of their ilk. I don’t think I’ve ever chain-smoked pot like that – before or since. But, chain-smoke we did all the way up, singing along with our Rock & Roll heroes. Occasionally we’d slip into “our” theme song.
I have no idea where it came from or which one of us made up the deep, introspective lyrics. But, over the next four decades, whenever we’d see each other or speak on the phone, it always started with:
Gimme a break, a break, a break, a break, a break, a break.After almost seven hours on the road we were on the downside of an extended marijuana high and sorely in need of coffee and some grub. With pot-parched throats and empty bellies, we stopped along U.S. Route 2 at an all night truckers’ café in St. Johnsbury, VT.
Oh, gimme a break, a break, a break, a break, a break, a breeeaaak.
(Repeat Ad Nauseum)
Several eggs-over-medium and hash browns later, we hit the road for the last hour’s drive to the Notch. I rolled a couple of doobies, lit them, hit the play button on the Sony and handed GTM his joint. By the time we approached Franconia Notch, we were flying high – again – and meandering the White Mountain roads.
“It’s way too early to bother the guys,” observed George, knowing the night-owl lifestyle of Rock bands. “Let’s find a place to pull over and catch some shut-eye.”
It was still dark, that darkest hour before dawn, as we pulled off the narrow, twisty two-lane road and stumbled out of the VW. I grabbed the cassette player and followed George across the road to a small clearing. All of a sudden the hours-long marijuana-driven trip caught up to us and we gratefully sank into the soft dewy grass. Our timing was beyond perfect.
Just moments after we lay down the eastern sky started to brighten. We watched, transfixed, while a clear line between night and morning began to sweep the mountainside across from us. As the panoramic splash of autumn color erupted before us, my little Sony, as if programmed for the moment, started playing The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” It was one of those peak life experiences that you never forget and, in many ways, encapsulated my relationship with GTM: long lasting, filled with beautiful images and experiences.
Later that year, George and I had the pleasure of working together again, this time at WLIR-FM in Hempstead. ‘LIR was one of the first successful progressive FM stations in the country, along with New York’s WNEW-FM, WBCN-FM in Boston (where GTM also worked), KSAN-FM, San Francisco and KMET-FM, Los Angeles.
This time, we were both established broadcasters, confident in our abilities and ready to break the bonds of traditional radio news. While the music folks spread their free-form wings with longer cuts running together in theme or music-related “sets,” GTM and I let loose with longer form, issue-oriented news reports peppered with musically driven high production values, irreverence, humor and an emphasis on the highest journalistic standards.
We worked like a baseball team’s smooth double-play combination. We could ad lib a newscast together, tossing cues back-and-forth almost telepathically. And, when we laser-focused on a particular issue or story, it was lights out. Despite the lousy $90 a week we made, it was the ultimate radio high.
While we were both good reporters and broadcasters, George had something special. What made GTM unique was his ability to far surpass the old radio saw about "painting pictures with words." As people reminisce about GTM, they talk of his "encyclopedic musical knowledge." That's fine and dandy but it doesn't come close to his creativity. George literally created and projected - with that deep resonance - images out of thin air. I remember watching him one day, sitting in that tiny news booth at 'LIR, as he started talking on the air about a simple birthday gift. He held his arms up as he spoke, holding the imaginary gift in his hands and rolling it over in his palms as he described it to his listeners, simply and elegantly. It was magnificent!
The great ride at ‘LIR lasted until I moved to Seattle in 1974 to become News Director for a new FM station there, KZOK, “OK 102-and-a-half.” GTM and I stayed in touch, though. He eventually moved back to LA for a while and I visited for a few days, meeting his wife Gail. Yes, George pulled a pound of dope out of the freezer (“Keeps longer in there.”) but I could see that GTM, after all those years of ramblin’, was beginning to settle down.
George and I talked on the phone off-and-on over the ensuing years, through his ground-breaking-once-again at XM Satellite Radio to most recently – and sadly - shortly before he began to lose his voice and battle to throat cancer. Every time we talked, even if it was years between conversations, we picked it up mid-sentence as if we’d talked the day before. That’s the way it is with life-long buddies and probably how it will be when we meet at that Great Radio Station in the Sky.
Rest in Peace, My Friend
George Taylor Morris