A Tribute to Tom Merriman, Dallas’ Own Music Man

On September 13th, singers, musicians, recording industry executives, family, and friends from around the world will gather to celebrate the iconic life of Tom Merriman, a longtime Dallas resident who helped create and shape the entire jingle and music production business.

Merriman wrote and recorded the first radio jingle [for KLIF] ever recorded in Dallas. He wrote countless commercials in the early days of the business that are still recognizable and remembered, today, including recording the voice on his classic, “I’m Otto, the Orkin Man”.

A little known fact on Merriman’s bio is that he was one of the original owners of KVIL-Radio. Legendary local DJ, Ron Chapman, who will emcee the Tom Merriman Tribute on September 13 at the Brookhaven Country Club, describes Merriman as the guy who, ” writes musical arrangements like Lincoln did the Gettysburg Address . . on the back of an envelope . . and they are equally historic!”.

According to Chapman, “My first recollection of being with Tom was on a session for a jingle I had written for KVIL in its Glory Days. The song was called Thank You for Making Us What we Are and I wanted the finale’ to sound like the last chorus of “Hello Dolly”, where the waiters come down the stairs carrying trays of Champagne. Tom NAILED it and even added a chorus of tap dancers – for a RADIO jingle! It was love at first playback. Later, we produced an entire album together, The Vocal Majority with Strings.”

Merriman, now in his 80’s, has been on the Dallas music scene since he arrived in 1952 and was tapped by Gordon McClendon to be the music arranger for his Liberty Network band. Dick Cole, a Dallas musician and former head of the local musician’s union, the American Federation of Musicians, recalls that he met Merriman “on his very first day in Dallas”. Cole was a member of the band and wasn’t at all surprised when Merriman was soon promoted to band leader, much to the chagrin of the existing leader, a friend and former classmate of Merriman’s.

A graduate of Indiana University, renowned for its music department,Merriman was a student of the Julliard School of Music and established his musical credentials with an impressive list of clients. Over the years, he wrote and produced music for Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, as well as corporate and film clients – winning a Cannes Film Festival Award and an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Merriman’s hit arrangement of Louie Armstrong’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” is, even now, playing on You Tube.

Over the years, Merriman has mentored young musicians and writers, some of whom followed in his jingle/radio ID footsteps, such as local singer/composer, Chris Kershaw, whom he took under his wing when he was a teenager at St. Mark’s; and jazz composer/producer, Phil Kelly, now living in Bellingham, WA,
who says that “working with Tom over a period of thirty plus years was always [like] continuing post graduate instruction in how to write all kinds of commercial music. I’m definitely a far better writer, directly due to watching, listening, learning and, often . . stealing from him.”

Before partnering with Jim Long in 1967 to create one of the nation’s most influential commercial jingle and radio ID production companies, TM Productions, Merriman was a staff writer for various production houses, an independent producer, the owner of CRC (Commercial Recording Corporation), where he wrote and recorded a custom jingle for the Dallas Morning News: “Start the day with the world on your doorstep, with the Dallas Morning News”.

All the while, he kept his “day job” as the Music Director at The Hockaday School – until the success of the TM Companies far exceeded his wildest dreams. Even with success and a busy schedule, he still found time to serve as orchestral arranger for his friend, Jim Clancy, who founded the now internationally recognized vocal performance group, The Vocal Majority.”

The TM Companies grew to include not only radio IDs and commercial jingles, but also radio programming, automated radio formats, and music libraries which surpassed anything else in the marketplace. Tom Parma, who was hired as an engineer at TM Productions – and was soon moved into sales by Long, describes the ‘60’s, and ‘70’s at TM as a “shining, golden time” of creativity, success and a “wonderful place to work”.

Merriman continued to support countless young musicians by hiring recent graduates of the newly formed (at that time) NTSU Jazz “Lab” Band – and by creating an internship program at TM which fostered the production talents of then Indiana University student, Linda Adelkoff LeGrand, who became a top level recording engineer and vocal producer. LeGrand recalls of her experience at TM, “I was 21 years old when I came to work at TM Productions as a recording engineer intern. . . I was awestruck by his talent and musical knowledge. What a character! Tom Merriman was a genius in an unlikely package.”

Music industry experts acknowledge that TM was the biggest and best of its kind in the world, winning awards and shaping the sound of commercial recording for over 40 years, evolving thru’ changes in ownership and management, including its sale to Disney’s Shamrock Broadcasting and current incarnation as TM Studios, under the leadership of David Graupner.

In a true test of time, 40 years after Merriman wrote a catchy little number, called “Dance the Slurp” which was released as a vinyl 45 to promote 7-Eleven’s slurpee drinks in the late 60’s, it became a huge dance hit on the DJ circuit. San Francisco Bay area DJs Cut Chemist and Shadow, featured Merriman’s song as the centerpiece of their “BrainFreeze” mix CD. Because of legal problems with 7-Eleven, the “BrainFreeze” funk mix has gone underground, selling for up to $100 and a single copy of the original 45 “Dance the Slurp” is considered a bargain at $35. Who knew?

So, to celebrate all of these musical feats, there’s going to be a big party in September, honoring the guy who is responsible for so much of the music we’ve grown up with – from beer commercials to original music for Las Vegas shows.

It’s time to say thanks – and, no doubt, it will be done in song. It will have a catchy tune and a really good hook.

When told about the Tom Merriman Tribute planned for this fall – and the Video Scrapbook that his former VP of Operations, Ken Justiss, is organizing, Merriman said, “I don’t think I deserve all this!” To which his wife, Jackie, replied, “Well, evidently a whole lot of people think you do.”

For more information, please visit www.TomMerrimamTribute.com