Sunday Driver

Late night DJ George Lyons guides KUNVís weekend programming into the tie-dyed grooves of "Dangerous Jazz."

by Lee Abraham †

Fifteen years of slugging it out in the ultra competitive LA music scene taught George Lyons a valuable lesson. Persistence pays. Just ask him. Heís available every Sunday night from 10pm to 2am hosting "The Lyonís Den" on KUNV 91.5-FM. Playing "anything from Frank Zappa to Miles Davis to the Grateful Dead," Lyons has succeeded in blending an eclectic mixture of music that pushes KUNVís jazz format to its outer limits.

"Iím doing a -dangerous jazz- show," says Lyons, who is celebrating the Lyon's Den one year anniversary. "It doesnít really have any specific format. I just play music that I really enjoy."

For awhile though, Lyons wasnít enjoying the music. Burned out from extended stints as a band manager, record company bigwig, and a five year run as in house director of entertainment for the Roxbury club on Sunset Strip in Hollywood that ended in Ď95, Lyons relocated to Las Vegas. He quickly became a faithful KUNV listener. A "tie-dyed and smiling deadhead from way back" with over 350 Grateful Dead shows to his credit, including a European tour, Lyons is also a passionate jazz buff. KUNVís diverse programming in those days appealed to him.

"There was a bunch of stuff on the weekends, different specialty shows that I really liked," recalls Lyons. He became interested in the station, and got to know a couple of people there. "I got introduced to Brian Sanders, the station manager and I told him that I wanted to do a Grateful Dead show, because nobody was doing anything like that. He wasnít totally keen on the whole idea though," laughs Lyons. Thatís where the persistence came in.

"I bugged him for three months. One day I saw him in a store and we talked about jazz." Proving himself to be more than just a thirty something hippie with a large record collection, Lyons made an impression with his knowledge and interest in jazz. He offered his services as "an emergency substitute on one hour notice to cover any shift on any of the jazz programs." A week or two later he got a call at 10:30am for a three-hour shift starting at noon. Although Lyons had a "smattering of experience" in the studio, he had never hosted his own radio show. Undaunted, he grabbed enough records from KUNVís library to fill out the three-hour program and after a "five minute orientation," he was on the air. The show went well.

A few weeks later he was called for another shift. This time Lyons brought his own records, including a number of albums on ECM, a German jazz label. The station manager was impressed again and after another good performance, decided to give Lyons his own show. "It started out as contemporary jazz with a lot of European artists," says Lyons. "But I was throwing in Jerry Garcia and whatnot, because thereís a lot of stuff that applies to jazz in his music, yet it isnít considered -jazz-. It really evolved into something very different than what it started as."

-Evolution- shifted gears into -revolution- when Phish came to town for the Halloween shows last year. To celebrate the event, Lyons played a tape of the bandís show at the Aladdin the year before. "I got so many calls from so many people that were stoked with what I was playing," says Lyons. "It blew my mind." The next week he brought in a tape from one of the Deadís shows during the í95 run at the Silver Bowl. "The response was overwhelming."

Lyonís extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for the music he plays make him interesting to listen to. The guy is a master of drawing connections between the psychedelic rock explorations of the Dead or Phish, with the improvisational elements of jazz and to a broader degree, nuances of American counterculture. Like many deadheads searching for new and different directions to continue their long strange trip after Garciaís death in Ď95, Lyons found the emerging "jamband" scene.

"Iíve been going to Legends since I came to town. The very first time I went there was on the one year anniversary of Jerryís death because it was the only place to go." After the Lyonís Den went on the air, he got the idea to start playing tapes of the touring jambands being recorded at Legends, a common practice in the jamband scene which encourages tape trading among fans. These days, music from up and coming bands such as Stir Fried, Wise Monkey Orchestra, Juggling Suns and Jiggle the Handle, get as much airplay as more established groups.

"Iím getting turned on to music that I wasnít even aware of... thereís so much music out there," says Lyons. "Thatís the whole idea of the radio show, to bring music to people that they may not be hearing anywhere else."