George Gimarc Schools Us On The Texas Musicians Museum, Comedy Radio and A Life Lived On The Edge.
To call George Gimarc a Dallas radio legend is to perhaps do his many current endeavors a disservice, as if to somehow imply that his best work is all behind him.
Make no mistake, Gimarc's done some pretty incredible things over the course of of his lengthy career in the Dallas radio and music industries; after becoming a hero to underground music fans across Texas throughout the '80s as the host of KZEW's much-revered “Rock n Roll Alternative” show, Gimarc reached true iconic status when he became the first official hire at The Edge in 1989, where he helped develop the station's commercial alternative format.
But even now, almost 40 years into his career, Gimarc's still very much pushing boundaries and mixing things up in interesting ways. Since 2008, he's been developing an all-comedy radio format with iHeartMedia, a venture he continues today through his work with Today's Comedy. And, even more recently, he helped the previously Waxahachie- and Hillsboro-based Texas Musicians Museum relocate to and reopen in Irving in July. There, a massive and impressive collection of Texas music artifacts assembled by Gimarc and others over the course of the past decade is now available for all to see and appreciate.
Gimarc himself is just as much a treasure as the things he keeps in the museum. That in mind, we recently caught up with the man himself over the phone to discuss his many undertakings and Dallas cultural contributions both past and present.
You've built up quite the resume in radio and pop culture over the course of your career.
Which me are referencing to? There's the guy who writes the books; the guy who runs a number of a stations; the guy who I don’t know, because there’s a lot of people who are into oldies that wouldn't even know the punk guy exists, would have no idea that the comedy radio guy exists. It's all these different kind of slices.
It seems like your career speaks for itself. And it seems like the Texas Musicians Museum is a great fit for you. What can you tell me about that effort?
We're still kind of in that soft opening phase. I don’t think we”ve really had our complete grand opening. We've had several parties and definitely started to become a thing.
How did you come about bringing it to Irving?
[Tom Kreason] is actually the guy who started it back in 2004. but I've pretty much been involved with it ever since the beginning. It's just that now I'm much more hands-on — as it's here as opposed to being in Hillsboro or Waxahachie.
How did you come about being involved with it, then?
Well, when you've been known as this guy who's into celebrating Texas music and has a soft spot for local music, it was just a natural fit. I mean, I've been working with local bands since '78, '79. I was always a big record collector, too. So I'd always find these records from Texas. It all kind of tied together.
Do you still listen to new bands?
I don’t listen to much of any new music at all. Because I don't have time in my life for it. In the last five years, I've been so completely consumed by stand-up comedy because that's my job. I'm just not listening to new stuff. Once in a while, my old buddies, they'll feel sorry for me. They'll make me feel like I'm missing out on something. They'll send me a download of some band or something and say, “You'll really like these guys!” I have really not participated in current music since I was fired from The Edge in '94. So I'm 20 years behind the times.
You're missing out on some cool things going on these days, I'd say! There's a lot going on.
I'm sure there is. I don't downgrade their importance. I spent 30 some odd years in the middle of it, and it's kind of like, “OK, it's time for me to do something else.”
What's it like working with stand-up comedy as opposed to punk rock?
There is no difference. It's exactly the same thing. Stand-up comedy and punk rock are the exact same. With most comedians, they're playing small clubs — 75 to 200 in capacity. The records that they put out, are they on major labels? No, they are not. They’re on their own labels. In fact, even the major comedy labels out there are still considered very small labels. Most of them, you've probably never even heard of. Most comedians are people that are inherently lazy, interested in upsetting other people with their opinions — and just sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, having fun. Aside from the guitars missing, what the hell's the difference? It’s exactly the same. It's small venues, it's indie acts on their own, having trouble making it. They're addressing society's ills. Or just mocking it. It's exactly the same thing. There's no difference at all. So it's a very simple fit for me because it's the exact same thing of what I used to deal with.
How big is the comedy network you're running these days.
I run 15 stations, 24 hours a day across the US and Canada. How's that?
It's impressive. And I suppose it explains why you don’t have time for anything new!
I own the company, and I'm the primary employee. So it keeps a person busy.
What brought you to comedy in the first place?
It's a reflection of society. So it's a canary in the coal mine. They come in all stripes. They come in political people or they're just making fun of relationships. There are people that are just being silly for the sake of being silly. I'’s all different styling and types and what have you. It's exactly like music!
You do a lot more than what we've already talked about. You've written books about Hollywood starlets and punk rockers alike. What's going on with Reel George Productions these days?
It's the umbrella company for a lot of stuff that I do. Stuff I'm lining up to do are launching an ebook version of my Hollywood Hi Fi book. It was so mishandled originally; we had to wait for the right time. We've just been updating it and we'll have an ebook hopefully in a company in a couple months. And then hopefully we'll get something going, I wanna do an ebook version of Punk Diaries because people have been asking me for ages when I'm going to do the next stage, which will be '82 to '86 and I’m interested in that but I have to hire somebody to work with me on it. I don't have the means to do that just now. As a matter of fact, I think the research is just too daunting for most folks. I mean, much of that research was done before the Internet. That was all culled from first-hand sources. You want to clarify things? You had to get on the phone, you had to look in a book. That also means that most of the material was more accurate. There's a ton of stuff out there on the web, but it’s just a bunch of blabber and complete lies. However, there are other sites that are dedicated to, like, a little band like the Laberettas and it will be run some obsessive compulsive who has everything exactly alike and super deep. I totally appreciate people that have done that. But it's kind of a mix.
Who are the bands you most obsessed over in your younger years?
At that time, bands like Elvis Costello– and people you’ve never heard of like The Times, a pop band that I really liked, or things like the Three O'Clock In Los Angeles, who I thought were really cool. But not exactly big name bands. Oh, Wall of Voodoo! I love Wall of Voodoo. I'm still friends with their singer, Stan Ridgway.
Do you have a preferred medium you listen to this stuff on these days?
Yeah, total vinyl. I'm just wired that way. It's probably generational.
I imagine you've spent a ton of cash on records in your life?
Consider it: Go back to 1920 and the 78 rpm record. Two songs, and it sold for 78 cents. If you hit that with an inflation calculator, you'll find that people were buying two songs for the equivalent of 15 bucks. So music is reasonably inexpensive now — and it has been for some time. We talk about how, when I started seeing LPs in the late '60s/early ‘70s, LPs were $4.98, or $3.98 if you bought it in mono. But, y'know, if you take that $4.98 and punch it in an inflation calculator, in the power of the dollar of the 1970s, you can find that people were buying that LP for the functional equivalent of 23 dollars. And $23 for an LP in 1970 based against $25 for the new Leon Bridges on vinyl? It's not bad. If you're willing to accept just the download instead of the artwork and the actual physical thing, you can get it for 15 bucks, which is a bargain. So whenever I see prices comparisons, it's always a little lazy. I mean, just go online and find an inflation calculator. There's plenty of places. Just start looking up prices. You could see The Beatles for a five-dollar ticket in 1964 — but it's like buying a $40 ticket now. So it wasn't that steep. This is why I'm surprised there’s not more young people collecting vintage vinyl, when you could go and buy an entire album for a dollar.
Your collection skills kind of blow my mind. Online, you have this massive archive of old, World War II recordings.
Oh yeah, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff like that.
Where does that even come from?
I just find it at garage sales, y'know? You just have to know what to look for. It turns up. I find that stuff all the time.
What keeps you collecting ?
Not knowing what's around the corner. I mean, I looked at some stuff yesterday. It was stuff I had never heard of. Some of it was from the 1920s. Some of it was from the '40s. Always a journey, y'know?
How do split your time with everything?
Oh, just try and split it up and multi-task. Schedule and multi-task. I've always done that. It's nothing new for me.