The Lost Music Saloon Celebrates Low-Power Freedom
It’s great to see so many “low power” FM radio stations popping up across the country like Richmond, Va.’s WRIR-LP, where Garry Morse does his “Lost Music Saloon” show on. And, for the first time, a DJ mentions classical music as a favorite genre.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio?
Garry Morse: I’ve had a lifelong interest in music, but got a late-in-life start to radio. I’m a retired “tropical island attorney,” having practiced law on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and out in the Pacific on Guam. I had a small firm practice in the Caribbean, and joined a large Pacific Rim-oriented law firm on Guam. My wife and I returned to Virginia (the state we both grew up in) about 13 years ago, and I just celebrated the 12th Anniversary of my Lost Music Saloon radio show on WRIR-LP 97.3 FM, in Richmond, Virginia (www.wrir.org). WRIR was a brand new, non-commercial, community radio station at the time I joined. Even though I had zero radio experience, I pitched an alt-country/roots rock/off-the-beaten-path singer-songwriter type of show, and to my surprise received a two-hour drive-time Friday evening slot for my show. A little later we decided to form a “Roots Music Monday” lineup of shows, and I agreed to move my show to its current slot on Mondays, 5-7 p.m. Eastern, where I’ve remained to this day.
How do you describe your show and how do you define what you play?
First and foremost, my show, like all shows on WRIR, does not adhere to any prescribed playlists. Each DJ is free to play the music they select. I wouldn’t DJ any other way. Second, as an important part of WRIR’s musical mission, we air as much under-represented music as we can. So not much Top 40 here! Third, I suppose my original format has evolved a bit over the years in that much of the music I air now could be labeled “Americana.”
How do you define what Americana or roots music is?
To my way of thinking, Americana music is just a bigger-umbrella term for what was called alternative-country music in the ’90s and early ’00s. It’s basically American mongrel — a mix of country, rock, blues, folk, pop, punk, singer-songwriters & twang — and all of the hyphenated variants. If it mixes the usual rock quartet (electric guitars, bass, and drums) with acoustic country/folk instruments (fiddles, mandolins, banjos, pedal steel, acoustic guitars, etc.), then I’m just about in heaven!
What thoughts go into preparing your shows, and do you have theme sets or shows that spotlight certain artists?
I do a wide variety of shows, and they are all pretty carefully crafted. I tend not to do requests, and only occasionally have a guest or band on my show. About once a month or so I do an “all new music” show that spotlights recent and upcoming releases. I’ll also do themed shows (e.g., holidays, politics & protest, ebony twang, midyear and end-of-year faves show, etc.); shows that spotlight a single artist or band (typically an hour-long radio special surrounded by songs by, and about, the featured artist, as well as covers of their songs by others); and anything else that pops into my head on occasion.
How much new releases do you play and do you play much old stuff? What about independent artists?
Yes to all three. I put a heavier emphasis on airing new artists and bands, and new releases by more familiar ones, than some do at my station. I’m constantly on the lookout for good, new music that I can use on my show. A lot of that comes from independent and small-label artists. I’m not sure where you draw the line at “old stuff,” but I’d say that the Lost Music Saloon is mostly ’90s-present, but I’ve certainly included plenty of music from the ’50s to the ’80s over time.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
The ’90s alt-country movement was responsible for re-igniting my interest in seeking out and listening to new roots music again — something I hadn’t been doing much of for the previous 15 years or so prior to the mid-’90s. It also led me to writing occasionally for the No Depression music magazine, and eventually to my Lost Music Saloon radio show. I could easily name a dozen or more artists or albums as being the most important ones in beginning that process, but I’ll go with these three:
1. Son Volt: Trace
2. Whiskeytown: Strangers Almanac
3. Steve Earle: I Feel Alright
Like most folks, I was into music in a big way back in my youth … mostly pop, rock, and jazz. I actually used to say that I “hated” country music back in high school and college, although looking back now I can see how my love of The Band, “Maggie May”-era Rod Stewart, early Steve Forbert, etc., prepared the aural soil for me.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
I played the trumpet through high school (band/stage band/orchestra/brass nontet/trumpet trio) and my trumpet hero was (and remains) Miles Davis. Love the ultra-cool, vibratoless sound of his ’50s work, especially compared to the more frantic bop sounds of Dizzy, or the hopelessly old-fashioned (to my ears back then) sound of Louis Armstrong’s horn. I also went through a jazz-rock fusion phase in the late-’60s/early ’70s where Weather Report was a big fave of mine. And of course I listened to all of the stuff on pop radio back in those days too — Beatles/Stones/Motown/AM hits/etc — but couldn’t single out any one as being particularly “important” to me in the sense of NEEDING to listen to everything I could get my hands on. That is, until my older brother brought home the first Bob Dylan greatest hits album. Man … talk about a mind-blower for a young teenager’s head. I know it’s kind of a cliche to say it, but Dylan remains the single most important musical artist of my lifetime. Springsteen, and a host of others, got me through college and early adulthood as far as pop-rock listening goes. Thanks to a particularly fine college professor of music I also made my first big forays into classical music. I still love orchestral music, mostly symphonies from Haydn through Stravinsky, but couldn’t pick out one single composer as being “the one” most important to me (not even elegant Mozart, or mighty Beethoven!).
As far as “Americana” artists go, the three albums I mentioned in your previous question, along with The Jayhawks, Lucinda Williams, Terry Allen, Uncle Tupelo, early Wilco, the Old 97’s, Jason & the Scorchers, Townes Van Zandt, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and many more, form the core of Americana, to my way of thinking.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
I hope that more and more stations like WRIR will bloom across the country. Stations that allow DJs to be DJs, and not robots playing pre-programmed music. With shows on those stations that run the full spectrum of musical genres. I think that Americana music, in the sense of pop/rock mixed with liberal doses of country, blues, folk, etc., will always be around, as it has since the ’50s.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
IMHO, this remains almost a “golden age” of good roots music. If I were to list 10 fave albums of the new millenium, I might go with:
1) Marah: Kids in Philly (2000)
2) Ike Reilly: Hard Luck Stories (2009)
3) Sam Baker: Mercy (2004)
4) Robbie Fulks: The Very Best Of (2000)
5) Rodney Crowell: The Outsider (2005)
6) Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers: Honky Tonk Union (2000)
7) Old 97s: Most Messed Up (2014)
8) Chip Robinson: Mylow (2009)
9) Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park (2013)
10) Dave Alvin: Eleven Eleven (2011)
Some of my faves from the last year or so would also include:
6 String Drag: Roots Rock n Roll, Margo Price: Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Brandy Clark: Big Day in a Small Town, Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus, Ike Reilly: Born On Fire, Brent Best: Your Dog, Champ
…also the past and recent work of James McMurtry, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, and so many others that I’m leaving out both here and in the previous questions you asked for space reasons, but who should all be recognized. I mean, how have I gotten this far without mentioning Tom Russell, the Bottle Rockets, the Mavericks, Butch Hancock, Gurf Morlix, Mary Gauthier, Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, Emmylou Harris, and, oh man … all of the local and regional artists and bands from Virginia, the mid-Atlantic states, and southeastern U.S. I just know I’m gonna want to shoot myself within a couple of minutes after completing this interview thinking about all the good ones I’ve omitted!
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests or anything else you wish to share?
Well, aside from the obvious ones like spending time with my wife and dogs, travel, dining out, and just enjoying all that central Virginia has to offer, I also write lyrics (not songs — I have no gift for creating melodies or writing music) as a creative outlet. I write for my own enjoyment, but out of curiosity I recently sent in a few examples of my lyrics to the American Songwriter magazine’s bimonthly Lyrics Contest. I was pleasantly surprised to be informed that one of my efforts, “Skeleton Keys,” has come in third place in the current July/August 2016 issue’s contest. If you’re interested, you can go to http://americansongwriter.com/2016/06/lyric-contest-winners-julyaugust-2016/?slide=undefined to read all of this month’s winners.