In 1963 Edd Morris was in Sydney, pitching songs to publishers and record companies. At CBS Records New Zealand, musician and producer Laurie Lewis suggested that Morris write a novelty number based around the forthcoming engagement of a prominent celebrity couple.
"He told me to write something in the vein of Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme," Morris recalls. "I didn't have a guitar, piano, nothing, I just wrote it in my head, the lead line, melody and chorus. I went back and there was a piano in the room and I did a demo right there. Laurie was happy enough and they had a couple of popular singers lined up but the recording kept getting delayed. Six months later the couple split up."
Returning to New Plymouth to resume his radio career, Morris pitched an idea at his BCNZ bosses. "I'd seen a televised awards show and it wasn't something that we had in New Zealand. There wasn't any type of awards ceremony for any of the arts, music, film, television. My idea was for a NZ song of the year. I spoke to Pat Bell of APRA about it and interested the [BCNZ] but they couldn't be seen to organise such an event; it had to involve the private sector so they pulled in Reckitt & Colman as sponsors and it became The Loxene Golden Disc, which isn't what I had proposed; I wanted to promote New Zealand songs. And then APRA came out with the Silver Scroll."
Twenty years later in Wellington, in conjunction with Alan Dunnage of Sonic Studios, Morris secured a commission to record a full album of original music to promote the Lowrey organ with the promise of a good earn. "We had nine tracks completed and then … Alan died, the studio closed and the tapes have never been located."
One evening in mid-1994 Morris received a phone call from a solo mother in Wainuiomata who said she wanted to sing professionally, proceeding to sing country ballads down the line. "She sounded cute in that Marilyn Monroe sort of way and she intrigued me because I could hear her singing jazz – I've always liked country singers singing jazz – and I said I'd write her a song. I'd never even met her when the McCormick programme went to air and all hell broke loose. She turned up at my place a few days later on a pink scooter and from that point on I looked after her, not actually managing her, just looking after her."
Few NZ celebrities have typified the clichéd fifteen minutes of fame as much as “Chloe of Wainuiomata” and Edd Morris was there for all fifteen minutes.
Few NZ celebrities have typified the clichéd fifteen minutes of fame as much as “Chloe of Wainuiomata” and Edd Morris was there for all fifteen minutes. After she featured on Gary McCormick's Heartland TVNZ series, Chloe of Wainuiomata was everywhere. The media loved her – print, radio and television – and when Morris pitched a Chloe single at Kiwi Pacific, the record company insisted on a full album, to be released before Christmas.
Featuring all Edd Morris compositions, the album was produced at Marmalade Studio in record time, artwork supplied and then … a manufacturing delay saw Gilbert O'Strange Presents Chloe miss the Christmas market. It didn't see release until April 1995, by which time Chloe of Wainuiomata's fifteen minutes was well and truly over.
Missed opportunities, setbacks and bad timing has never stopped Edd Morris. His career, mostly in radio, has also included promotions, venue management, artist management, talent spotting, studio production and a record label. A member of APRA since 1962, he has composed "around 2000 songs".
Edward Morris – Edd Morris AKA Eddie O' Strange AKA Gilbert O'Strange – was born in Oakura, in October 1942 and rural Taranaki was to be his rohe, Omata and Tapawai; New Plymouth came later. He attended New Plymouth Boys High, expanding his innate musical interest, learning to arrange and conduct musical ensembles. He played piano and accordion, and banged a bass drum for the school brass band but was soon made band conductor. He brought his personal tastes with him: "Bob Wills type things, Tommy Dorsey."
Rock and roll came along and young Edd was out there doing it, skiffle and Ricky Nelson, talent quests and guest singer spots. Bandleader and Taranaki music guru Colin King encouraged him.
The day job was working for the NZBC at Radio 2XP, Morris says. "I learned every aspect of every department – programming, promotions, I'd write copy, talk to advertisers. I hosted a teen show but refused to become a fulltime announcer. I was sort of a hired gun I suppose. They'd shoot me around to different stations, Taihape, Napier, but I remained based in New Plymouth."
He took a yearlong sabbatical in 1963, spent mostly in Sydney, peddling his songs around the publishing houses and occasional performances at RSLs and police youth clubs; he listened to a lot of radio, so lively compared to the staid NZBC. In 1964 he met entrepreneur Johnny Cooper at the station and began assisting his Taranaki promotions. He was present when a young Taranaki band, The Nitelites featuring a young Midge Marsden, auditioned for Cooper.
In 1965 Morris was shifted to Rotorua, still doing a bit of this and a bit of that, but mostly programming and production. He initiated a local history project, recording kaumatua and kuia, not necessarily for broadcast but as a permanent archive, and he produced all sorts of music, from pipe bands to Howard Morrison, who became a friend. He joined a band, The V.I.P.s AKA Mr Ed's Rhubarb Machine, and befriended a young songwriter named Corben Simpson. In 1969 he started a Performing Arts Society but the project fell aside when Morris was transferred to Wellington.
Part of Morris' duties for the NZBC in Wellington was as a record-buyer, bringing him into direct contact with the record companies. Morris was impressed that a His Master's Voice employee, Terence O'Neill-Joyce, had started a new label, Ode, to record local acts, and he pitched a proposal to Pye Records' Tim Murdoch.
"Strange Records was never intended as a commercial record company," Morris explains. "Each release had limited pressings, just 150-200 copies, presented to venue owners and record companies, along with a press release and photograph. They served a practical purpose. It wasn't about making money, it was about promoting acts. Tim Murdoch understood this and was very supportive."
As a freelance record producer, Morris utilised the HMV/EMI studios, Alan Dunnage's Sonic Studio and from 1973, the newly-opened Marmalade Studio. He built up a roster of acts whom he represented as mentor, manager, producer or agent. He produced the original 'Have You Heard A Man Cry?", winner of the 1971 APRA Silver Scroll for Corben Simpson, and other acts he recorded include Ebony, Reece Kirk, Anna Leah and John McRae. In 1971, judging a Lower Hutt talent quest, Morris came across Steve Gilpin (later of Mi-Sex) and began managing the singer's career; Gilpin's first recordings were released on Strange.
In 1972 Morris and others founded the Performing Arts Society, which he had tried initiating earlier in Rotorua, leasing the former Downtown Club premises and naming it Ziggy's. The society, such as it was, included the Strange Records stable plus other Wellington-based singers and musicians like Wayne Roland-Brown, Desna Sisarich, Roger Watkins, Mike Le Petit, Dave "Ned" Knowles and Morris' flatmate, Patrick McKenna.
In 1973 Pat McKenna returned from Fiji, enthused with the resident band at Suva's Golden Dragon nightspot. A member of the film crew, Bill Benn, was also impressed and paid the band’s airfares to Wellington, where they initially camped down at the McKenna-Morris household.
Mantis made an immediate impact at Ziggy's and other Wellington venues and Morris secured the band a contract with Phonogram, producing the instrumental single, ‘Time Is Tight’ (the old Booker T & The MG's track), and a full album, Turn Onto Music (now an international collectors' piece). Mantis returned to Fiji later in the year. Ziggy's survived an arson attack, the club relocating to the Trades Hall to dwindling crowds. It closed in 1978.
There was other employment, he tour managed a Downstage production in 1976, and managed Brooklyn's Penthouse Cinema in the 1980s; there was always freelancing production, the Chloe Reeves saga, and radio remained a passion – in the 1980s he started work at Access Radio, a Wellington community station, and he is still involved today. He released the occasional single, credited to Girvan O'Strange, including peculiarities like 1983's 'Video Dodo'.
It's been a strange career and if his name remains little known, he can take satisfaction that he launched the careers of several notable talents – Corben Simpson, Tony Littlejohn, Steve Gilpin. "Edd is one of those unsung heroes," Patrick McKenna says. "He has been responsible for nurturing some major talents but once they got any success, they left him."
Edd Morris: “A lot of people over the years have considered me an upstart because I have firm ideas about what makes a hit record. When I was in Rotorua I made a bet that I could create a hit in New Zealand. To prove it, I programmed an unknown B-side by Engelbert Humperdinck just as HMV was deleting the release. That song was ‘Ten Guitars’.”