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Gerry House

Gerry House

Gerry House, as interviewed by Harry Chapman for Southern Exposure Magazine
Story compiled by Brandy Blanton 
Photography by Anthony Scarlati


Harry Chapman: When you know somebody well, it’s very hard to know where to begin. 
Gerry House:
Well, I know when Reba comes in, I get weird because we’re really close friends. I’m always afraid that I’ll blurt out something that’s not supposed to be in public. You know, she knows things about me, and we have private jokes – it’s very hard to do. It’s just odd. It becomes artificial. 

HC: We’ll try not to be artificial. The first thing that always amazes me is: Do you realize how much you mean to your listening audience in the morning? I mean, I have people tell me every day … 
Are you including the eye rolling in this? 

HC: We call it the laughing factor. I can be listening to you, and look around, and see other people laughing and smiling and know that they’re listening to you. And you don’t get to see that as we do, but it means so much. People say that to begin their day with you means everything. Have you ever realized how important you are to people? 
Well, that’s very kind of you to say that. No, I don’t. To be brutally honest, I don’t really think about people listening to me in that way. I’m just, I mean I picture them, but I can’t get my head around hundreds of thousands of people, so I mostly just do the show for what makes us laugh. 

HC: This whole concept of the House Foundation. How did this come about? 
When I grew up in Cincinnati, there was a guy named James Francis Patrick O’Neal, who was the morning guy at WLW, and he had the O’Neal Foundation. So, I just stole the name from him (laughter). 

HC: And how did you assemble it? 
He was by himself … and first of all, let me say that I am the world’s worst disc jockey. If I had to work by myself, I’d be dead. I wouldn’t be on the air, working all nights at a daytime station, you know, because I can’t do it. I mean there are some guys who can do it, but I have to have a bunch of people, and they’re all sort of friends of mine, and we’ve been together a long time. 

HC: And how did this particular group of friends … 
Well, Al (Voecks) came to work when the station was a talk station. I was actually on the country station, working over there, and he eventually started doing news. Duncan (Stewart) came in applying for a job 25 years ago, and I liked him. And Mike (Bohan) I had known from his old television days. So they’re all old friends. And Richard (Falklen) came along toward the end. I’d also worked with him when Devon O’Day, our last producer, left. 

HC: You’ve had two great foils in Mike and Paul Randall, who I think, between the two of them, have the most infectious laughs. Mike is like a kid you’ve got on the floor and you’re tickling him, and it’s just so infectious. And Paul is the same thing. 
You know, that’s the most difficult thing for them to do, because I generally know kind of where I’m going: what’s going to be funny, or what’s not funny, or what’s interesting. And you know, it’s like too many cooks and you spoil … but both Mike and Paul were great and allowing me to shine, but I couldn’t without them. It would be a giant sucking sound if I were by myself. That’s a really difficult thing to find somebody like that. It’s a very difficult thing because it’s like being married. I see them five hours a day, four to five days a week. We don’t speak at all after 10 o’clock really. Occasionally, meals. Because, you know, it’s just so much; it’s so intense. 

HC: That’s an interesting thing that I’ve learned, that as close as you guys are on the air, that after 10 o’clock, you really don’t spend time together. 
I think once a year we might go to a lunch. I know every possible thing I could know about them. I know when Bohan has a urology test. (laughter) I do … and I know what the results are! And I know when Duncan has hives! And I know when Al ran out of booze early! (laughter)You know all those things. It’s just like any working relationship where you work in a close proximity. I’m certain everybody else can identify. You just know everything about them. My friends are all out of the radio business. They’re all either golfing guys – doctors and lawyers – or they’re in the music business because I write songs.

HC: That’s really what brought you to Nashville.
: Yeah. I was in Florida and I really wanted to get here. Two reasons: the station at that time was associated with a TV station, and I was thinking (rightfully so) that if you’re just around, eventually I would get on television; because that’s really what I wanted to do. You [Harry] were a master at it, I was terrible. But, I took the job.
It was actually for less money, but there’s no state tax here, so technically I made $5 more by not paying state tax than I did in Florida. So, I worked it out and over 1,000 years that’s … (laughter).

I came here and I was going to do mornings, and the guy who hired me said, “Well, there’s been a slight change. The guy who was going to quit isn’t. So we’re going to put you in the afternoons – which I’d never done before – and I hated it. Nobody remembers that, but … the first four or five months I was here I worked in the afternoon. It was just painful for me because I wake up very early. I would have six or seven hours hanging around waiting to go on the air, worrying and getting jokes. I was by myself and it was … miserable. And then I had the other guy killed and got the morning slot. (laughter)

HC: What’s a typical day like for you?
I’m up at 3:40 a.m. I go through about four or five TV shows (news shows) trying to figure out what’s going on. I come in here at five. Richard goes through the papers, and I keep a list all day long of things that I think are funny. Then I do the show and I get off the air and I usually write for the next day then – unless I’m writing music or playing golf. But usually, I try to write at least three or four pages of jokes (at least 25 jokes) a day and then I write the characters and I have a studio at the house, so I record all that stuff there.

HC: Do you try to write music every day?
I write music about three days a week … after my $98,000 hair cut, you know, I knocked off a little bit. I write by myself a lot. I’m working on a musical and trying to get that done and I’ve discussed with William Morris about doing a book. I don’t know.

HC: You had a brief recording career …
Very brief. My album went Teflon! I did two comedy albums, and at the risk of sounding immodest, I think I was ahead of the curve. It was because of my friendship with the head of MCA Records that I did it. And when I go back and listen to it now … I mean, some of those songs are really funny. I get a lot of people who actually tell me they found it on EBay for a penny! (laughter) Isn’t that funny?

HC: You mentioned your $98,000 haircut … and we’re coming up on the fourth anniversary of that.
That’s actually my wedding anniversary too – it’s a big anniversary for me.

HC: How did that change you?
Well, not a whole lot. I’ve said before … I wish there was some medicine, some pill you could take, that would enable you to realize and retain how good you’ve got it. But my personality is such that I tend to not remember all that stuff and focus on some goofy little thing at the time. I do that a lot less than I used to. Allyson says I’m calmer. I’m pretty type A but not overtly so. I’m driven, but only because I want to create something. I don’t care about the end result. I mean, the money’s good, but I’d rather write a song than anything – or paint, or work on a musical or write a TV show. Writing a joke is fun.

HC: Would you like to write a TV show?
Well, I wrote a TV show, and it’s in Hollywood now. But I don’t know what’s going to happen to it. I wrote a show called “Cluster.” They say, “Write what you know,” and that’s what they call radio stations now, clusters. The joke is, of course, that’s half of the word. You know, there’s four or five radio stations in one cluster and what it is … is people who are forced to get along and are competitive – which is precisely what goes on here.

In this building there’s a hip-hop station, a rock n’ roll station and a talk station. I see all these guys, and they’re trying to beat my brains out. And yet, we have to go to meetings and have to hang out … and for a while they even wanted me to plug other stations … and I said, “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to help push them along at my expense – why would I want to do that!” But that’s what the TV show is about.

HC: You and Allyson have an incredible partnership that really began back … early … I guess, elementary or middle school?
We went to the same elementary school, although, she claims she doesn’t remember me until junior high. I remember her. We went to elementary, junior high, high school and college together and … you must put this in, everything I am and everything I will ever be is because of Allyson House. And that’s true. She is the funniest human being I know – bar none – she’s absolutely hysterical.

HC: You have a remarkable partnership.
Yeah, we really do. It’s pure luck, I mean, bumping into somebody you love. And she just happened to grow up three miles from me. But yeah, we do …

HC: She becomes the foil of a lot of your humor on the show … does she like that?
Well, all of the stuff I tell on the show is true. I mean, she has a Gracie Allen (which is an old Vaudeville reference) sensibility which is what I find so funny. She says a lot of things … not intentionally funny. She’s not ditsy, but I mean … well, maybe a little ditsy … alright, she’s ditsy. But she says things that are just amazing.

For instance, I came in the other day and she had a dot here (as he points to his forehead) I thought it was a bug on her head and I was like, “What is that?” And she said, “That’s a magic marker mark.” And I said, “What’s that for?” She goes, “Well, I just had my hair styled and that’s where the part was. And I’m going to wash my hair and I want to know where the part was.” So she would have a reference point on her head! See, that’s what I live with, and that’s true.

HC: I know you’re immensely proud of Autumn, your daughter, who is in the music business.
Yeah, I don’t know how she got in the music business! (laughter) How did that happen? She’s the Vice President of Capitol Records in charge of A & R – signing acts. She works with Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley and Keith Urban and … looking for acts, picking out songs and all that stuff that goes on in the background. She’s really good at that. She’s really good at managing people’s careers, looking at it and figuring out what should happen. I mean, with her DNA … when she grew up she was in the music business – since she’s been born I’ve been writing songs.

HC: Who do you find funny?
I think Steven Wright is funny. I thought Richard Jeni … this is tragic, Richard Jeni was one of the funniest comedians I ever saw and he just killed himself. That happens a lot, and it’s strange to me. I think Dylan Merand is hilarious; he’s a British comedian, TV guy over there. I don’t laugh … to laugh out loud is rare for me [at a comedian]}. But you know, all the usual suspects … Seinfeld is brilliant. I think Larry the Cable Guy is hilarious.

HC: A lot of people compare what you do to Seinfeld.
Well, that’s just the ultimate compliment. I’m not within a hundred miles of him. He’s a real genius, I think. And that my humor is observational and about life and surrounded by people who have their own problems, yeah … I can see … I hear that a lot.

HC: Back to your songwriting … you’ve had hit songs for Reba and George Strait and others, and when you hear those songs, what does that mean – when you hear your song on the radio.
I’ve asked other guys about it, but they’ve never been in my situation in that I would play a song that I wrote. I kind of sometimes remember where I was or … like I had a song that LeAnn Rimes recorded called “On the Side of Angels” which was on a huge album. I remember writing that melody at Christmas because my father-in-law was down and everybody was sitting in the living room, and it was in my head and I was trying to put it down frantically before I forgot. And I remember everybody going, “Hey, hey, hey … we’re trying to watch ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’” I’m back there banging on the piano going, “Let me just get this down!” So I remember things like that, but it’s almost like I’m not connected to them in some way, it’s kind of weird. Like “Little Rock,” it’s been 20 years.

HC: That’s remarkable and still as fresh today.
It’s just weird. It’s just weird hearing it. But I’ve heard other stories where I’ve said, “Oh, I like that song” and they say, “You should, you wrote it!” You forget.

HC: How much influence did your parents have?
Well, neither one of them … my Dad played a little guitar, but church was very influential. I have to really fight all the time, Gospel popping out of me because I played piano in church. My mom forced me to take piano lessons and then I taught myself guitar – I play both equally as bad. I played trombone in the school band, that’s a chick magnet. (laughter)

HC: A lot of people remember when you would talk to your Mom.
Yeah, she was truly hilarious. She used to write bits. She used to sit around … and I could tell that it wasn’t real – not very often, but … she said one time, “Oh honey, I had a tough night.” And I said, “What happened?” She goes, “Well, I had some paint left over and I painted the toilet seat.” So I asked, “What color did you paint it?” She said, “Blue, but I went in and sat on it and forgot it was wet!” and I said, “No kidding?” And she said, “Yeah, I had the Blue Moon of Kentucky!” (laughter) Mom made that joke up.

The sweetest story, and I’ve told this before, but … for a year I was on WSM AM – that’s a very powerful clear channel station, I call it – not a Clear Channel station, but … we used to be able to (some mornings) the signal would get to her in Kentucky. It would fade in and out, but it was the only time she’s ever been able to listen to me. So I would call her and say, “Did you hear the show this morning?” I was on a show called the Waking Crew. And she would say, “Oh honey, it faded out before I could really hear it. I guess a lot of people were listening that day.” She thought … the more people between us and the signal sucked it out of the sky.

HC: What are your thoughts on radio and Country music today?
Well … You know, I don’t like the mass-produced sensibility of it (radio). It’s all corporately owned now. You know, each radio station used to have a general manager, its own program director, its own music director and now all those guys are gone. Now it’s five stations and one guy is the manager – which is fine, it’s efficiency, but I’m from the old school. I still feel competitive toward the other stations in the building. I mean, I call them my poor deformed cousin stations. (laughter) I mean, otherwise, if you’re not competitive … I mean, I don’t think of it as an effort for the company, I wish they’d all go off the air! (laughter)

HC: What do you think about Country music today?
Oh, I don’t know … it’s been going out of business ever since I’ve been in it! (laughter) There’s been an article in the paper every three months: “Music is Down, It’s the End of the World” and literally, I’ve been here 30 years and I’ve seen this article 1,000 times.

HC: What is it about Country music that draws people?
It’s the songs. It’s the songs and the fact that they feel a connection to the artist because of a familiarity to them. It’s the only industry, except for maybe some older Pop singers like Tony Bennett, where you can have a shelf life of more than two years. You know, the thing that astounds me is the response that we get from XM Radio. We get a whole lot of response from all over.

HC: That’s one of the changes in radio that’s certainly impacted you?
Yeah, well, I mean it tells me that something’s not right if 15 or 20 million people will pay for something they can get for free. It’s specialized … it’s a big choice … I think satellite radio is fabulous. I’m not knocking what we got, but I just … it’s the homogenization of it that I find kind of “blah”. Nobody has the freedom to do … I mean, I’m a dinosaur. Nobody has the right – for the most part – to go on the air and do that. There’s not very many people that do that and most of them are syndicated or on the satellite. It’s very difficult.

HC: What’s for the future? How long do you want to keep doing this?
I’m going to do it as long as it’s fun. You know, the lifestyle wears me out. I have to go to bed so early! Allison sort of tucks me in bed sometimes and …

HC: What time is that?
Oh around 8 or 8:30 – sometimes 9:00. But in the summer, you know, it’s light outside. One time she was kissing me on the forehead – you know, like I’m five – and I heard a noise outside and I said, “What is that?” She said, “That’s Kevin.” And I said, “Who’s Kevin?” And she goes, “Well, he’s our next door neighbor.” “How old is Kevin?” She goes, “He’s 8.” And I said, “I’m going to bed before Kevin!” Kevin is 8 years old and he’s up rocking and I’m going to bed!

HC: Well, there’s a million things we could talk about and a million that we haven’t talked about, but as one of your eight faithful listeners … I thank you on behalf of the other seven for what you bring to morning radio and to all our lives every day.

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