Living a dream
Local radio and TV legend Moriss Taylor’s country music has brought him international recognition
It’s 6 a.m. on a Sunday and the halls of Deer Creek Broadcasting are empty, dark and quiet except for the country music blasting from a lit studio at the end of the hall.
The door to The Blaze studio is open, and in it sits a petite man with black hair and black-framed glasses. He is dressed in slacks, a button-up shirt and tie. There are endless stacks of CDs that could topple over at any moment. But Moriss Taylor isn’t concerned about the unsteady towers of old-fashioned country music surrounding him. Instead, he effortlessly transitions from a song to a live-read commercial and, last but not least, one of his many jokes.
Taylor can’t help but laugh when he tells his favorite joke: “Here’s ‘Get Along Little Doggies.’ If you can’t get a long one, get a short one.”
Taylor is never short on laughter. “Me, I’m a personality,” he said. “I personify my show by telling jokes.” He averages 70 to 80 jokes per show—his desk drawers overflow with books and printouts filled with them—so Taylor’s listeners are familiar with his early-morning humor and his chuckle.
Although Taylor’s jokes vary depending on his mood, he has his Sunday morning routine down to a science. With more than 55 years in the industry, he has become more than a local broadcasting veteran. He may be much too modest to declare himself a legend (though he is one), but he never hesitates to proclaim the love he’s had for country music since he was a child, as evidenced by the 18,000 or so country records he’s collected over the years.
The 82-year-old musician, disc jockey and account executive for Deer Creek Broadcasting was born in Miami, Okla., and grew up in Oroville.
“As a kid, I would go to the theater and watch the singing cowboys—Roy Rogers and Gene Autry,” Taylor said. “All I could think is, ‘I want to be like them.’ “
He graduated from Oroville Union High in 1943, after a two-month deferment from the military. The day after graduation, Taylor left for basic training. He boarded a Greyhound to Monterey and, as the bus drove off, he looked back at his family and had only one thought: “I wonder if I’ll come back,” he recalled. “They probably thought the same thing.”
Taylor was an Air Force pilot during the last years of Word War II. Initially, he was too small to fly planes but later gained clearance to fly a C-46. He spent over a year in Misamari, India, and was later sent to Shanghai, China—by mistake. Taylor’s military records were lost, and he had to stay in Shanghai until he got them back. Taylor made the most of the three months he was there, though. “Oh gosh, I had fun,” Taylor said. “I played the money market with yuan—that’s how I got spending money.”
Taylor has become a master at making the most of what life presents. “From what I wanted to do and be, I’ve never had any help,” Taylor said. “But I wouldn’t trade my life and what I’ve done.”
Many missions later, Taylor had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and two additional flying medals. After he returned to the U.S., he was on another mission—and this time it was personal. Taylor was determined to become a singing cowboy.
“In my 20s, I went to a radio station with my guitar in hand,” Taylor said. The manager of KHSL radio, in Oroville, told Taylor he wasn’t interested but would listen to him play. After he heard Taylor, he changed his mind. Taylor put a band together and turned a once-a-week 15-minute gig into three times a week, which ultimately earned Taylor his first disc jockey job.Taylor was on his way to fulfilling his dream.
His next opportunity came with the opening of Channel 12, KHSL-TV. In 1954, Taylor’s first 30-minute television show aired. Airing weekly, The Moriss Taylor Show consisted of Taylor and his band performing in uniform—cowboy uniforms. Taylor estimates he has written at least 365 songs, many of them for his show, which aired for 40 years on KHSL and now runs in syndication on Saturday mornings on KRVU-TV (Channel 21).
Many of the songs have been “lifted” from the television show to create CDs. So far, Taylor has released five albums, which are available online and at Diamond W Western Wear in Chico.
Taylor’s music has made quite an impact on country music radio in Europe. According to the European Country Music Association, Taylor’s “Hello Mr. Lonely” was ranked second on the list of the Top 100 Most Played Songs in 2004. From New Zealand to Spain, Taylor is a well-received country musician. In an e-mail to Comstock Records, a country music promotion label representing Taylor, a program director at BBC Radio Shetland in Scotland wrote: “There’s always room for Moriss on our shows here.”
Taylor considers his popularity in Europe a success, but he doesn’t equate success with money. Although he receives some income from CD sales and downloads, it isn’t much. “I was wishin’ I could make some money,” he said. “But I can’t and that’s OK.
“Success is having a burning desire and being able to fulfill that desire—not financially but with your heart,” Taylor said. He considers himself lucky because he has been able to do what he has wanted to do throughout his life—at his own pace.
From his career in radio to his television show, Taylor has never shown signs of slowing down. “I work my business in with my talent,” Taylor said. “Not that I recognize that I have talent,” he said with a laugh.
“People either like me or they’re making fun of me,” Taylor said. “But I don’t care.” What Taylor does care about is fulfilling the requests of his listeners who tune in to hear their country favorites every Sunday. In an industry where automated music reigns, Taylor stays true to his roots, as much as he can, by hand-inserting CDs from his massive music collection, one by one.
Every day, Taylor’s roots in the community become stronger and deeper, even though he tries to downplay his success with humility. “I went on television in 1954 and I haven’t been off since,” Taylor said. “Not that that means anything.”
“I’ve got a lot of good memories,” he added.
And that’s no joke.