It may seem hard to believe, but once upon a time Dallas had its very own version of John Peel on the local radio airwaves. And that man worked, of all places, at The Edge, long before corporate radio companies like Clear Channel had come to assert local dominance. His name was George Gimarc, and 20 years ago last week one of his greatest achievements, the legendary Tales from the Edge CD series, came to an end.
From the very first, recording bands that he liked was Gimarc’s priority. Much like Peel's famed Peel Sessions on London's BBC Radio 1, Gimarc's Tales from the Edge drew on exclusive live in-studio recordings, which were produced right here in Dallas. Eventually, that meant promoting and recording unusual local bands for 94.5 The Edge.
But the roots of Tales from the Edge predated even his stint at The Edge, going all the way back to his pioneering FM radio work as host of The Rock and Roll Alternative on KZEW 98 The Zoo. Gimarc played then-unusual national and international acts like Gang of Four, Talking Heads and U2 every Sunday night.
“The people that knew about George’s show listened to it faithfully. They listened to it every single week, because it was the only the thing in town like that," says Jeffrey Liles, the artistic director of The Kessler Theater. He was a teenager at the time Rock and Roll Alternative was on the air. "He had dominion over alternative rock [in Dallas-Fort Worth]. He was the John Peel figure here in Dallas who introduced people to acts like U2, The Clash, Echo and the Bunnymen, those first alternative rock bands that broke.
Whenever he got the chance, Gimarc would try and record the bands he played on KZEW. As he puts it, “I was already taking bands as they would come through on tour – I would put them in the studio. When I was with KZEW I recorded XTC, the Blasters, the Rainmakers, Winter Hours, a little bit with the Bangles … I was the only guy in a five-state area doing anything with that music, so I had free run of all the musicians as they would come through.”
Remarkably, Gimarc was doing this when he was still a “part time staff guy” at KZEW. He couldn’t well commandeer KZEW’s accounting arm into footing the bill for a bunch of studio time – especially for bands no-one else in a five-state area was bothering to play – so instead he cut a deal with Rick Rooney at Planet Dallas recording studio.
“I had a deal set up with [Planet Dallas] that we would refer to as the Planet Dallas Sessions. So they would get that name check, and I would get like three or four hours’ worth of recording time, once a month, that would be used off-peak hours, when the studio would normally be empty," he recalls. "I’d come by and pick up the master tape and I’d have something to play next Sunday.”
These sessions usually produced one or two songs, and at first they were recordings of touring acts. but even in 1983, seven years before the first Tales from the Edge CD release, the idea of putting out a full-length album composed entirely of music by local acts was percolating Gimarc’s mind. “I still have the master tape that I could have used. I actually assembled a master tape, I could just never get beyond that," he says. "Putting together an album was mysterious and expensive.”
It wasn’t until 1990, when cheap CD prices and a promotion to music director at The Edge that Gimarc was finally able to make the compilation CD a reality. While his new station wasn't willing to foot the bill for the recordings, he was no longer limited to playing his music for a couple of hours on Sunday evening, as he was at KZEW. Now, he could slip his own recordings into the station’s general rotation as well as its specialty hours.
"The thing George was able to do that transcended what any other KZEW DJ was able to do was to take his vision for music – his perspective on music – and actually go to a brand new start up station like The Edge and implement that stylistic approach for an entire station,” says Liles.
That year, he released the first Tales from the Edge CD entirely out of his own pocket. Sporting pulpy cover art taken from Men’s Life magazine – the same source which inspired Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh – the compilation wore its progressive inclinations on its sleeve.
Record stores like Bill’s Records and Sound Warehouse stocked the Tales CDs for free in exchange for the massive amount of business they generated – a deal which meant profits from one CD could go directly into financing the next one, all while leaving a few thousand bucks from each CD left over for a charity donation, as well. Over the course of its 6-year life span, Tales would sell a total of 100,000 copies.
By volume 5, the machine was working smoothly enough that Gimarc could afford to move onto a two-disc format. One disc would showcase then-current local bands, often but not always of the punk or post-punk stripe – bands like Hagfish and Brutal Juice. The other disc would feature rare masters or live recordings from bands of the preceding era of Texas punk, like the Telefones or the Judy’s. Later, Tales even branched out into dance music, with volume 8 featuring a guest mix by The Edge’s Jeff K.
To this day, thanks in no small part to the “Planet Dallas Sessions” deal, these discs are the only place to hear some of these tracks in CD quality. “[They’re] about 95 percent unique material,” says Gimarc.
“The Rock and Roll Alternative was the first place that – at least 85 to 90 percent of the local artists that got played on that show – that was the first time they got played on the radio anywhere," Liles adds. "George took a shot on them, and then these CDs that he did were an extension of that.”
But it wasn't to last. In 1993, The Edge got rid of Gimarc. Tales soldiered on until 1996, but without the station to advertise the records, a key component to the system was lost.
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“The whole thing came apart because The Edge decided, ‘We’re not going to promote these CDs because they are your CDs, they’re not ours.’ And everything just completely fell apart — which was heartbreaking."
These days, The Edge — which hosted its 26th installment of the annual Edgefest last weekend at Toyota Stadium — is almost unrecognizable from the station that Gimarc helped get off the ground. It's put aside its more radical inclincations, cut its hair, gotten a steady job and bought a minivan. Fierce loyalty to the Dallas scene in the form of daring and truly alternative compilation CDs backed by airplay – these are all relics from The Edge’s past life.
While disappointed by the changes, Gimarc isn't bitter — simply heartbroken by what he sees as a lost opportunity.
"I never understood why the station got away from them," Gimarc says. "All it really cost them publicly was they had to play a couple tracks. And they had this great promotional vehicle. And they weren’t interested. It wasn’t meaningful to them.”