If you love music, chances are you’re familiar with Larry Green’s voice. The radio host had a storied career, but, as his son Marc reveals, his home life was where he put his most important energy.
On the surface, Larry Green was the life of the party. “He lit up a room,” says Marc, one of Larry’s two children. “He had jokes coming out of his yingyang. Everyone was disarmed by his humour.”
But there was more to Larry than his outgoing personality. Like a Japanese reflecting pool, he had depth.
The radio star, record company executive and jazz aficionado came from humble beginnings. As an adult, Larry waxed nostalgic about his childhood but talked less about conflicts in his boyhood home at 18 Major St.
Born and raised in Kensington Market, Lawrence Greenstein was the only child of Anne and Fred Greenstein. Like others in the immigrant enclave, the family scraped by. Larry knew scarcity. At 10, hunger compelled him to steal shelled peanuts from a barrel in a local shop.
From street dances to rent parties, Kensington Market served up a musical smorgasbord and Larry devoured it all. Starting in the music school at St. Christopher House, a local settlement agency, Larry played snare drum in a marching band, noodled on the clarinet, then settled on the saxophone, the instrument he would play for the rest of his life.
A bright kid, school had little appeal. Nonetheless, his parents expected him to study law or medicine. Anne and Fred were mortified when Larry dropped out of Oakwood Collegiate sans diploma, announcing that he would pursue a music career.
Mom’s love was unconditional. Dad was more challenging. “His father was always ragging on him because he didn’t follow a traditional trajectory,” says Marc says.
As a teenager, Larry had two things going for him, chutzpah and an ear for music. During the day, he worked in the mailroom at CBC Radio. At night he jammed with other aspiring musicians and gigged at venues and dance halls across the province. Only after gaining success in radio did his parents come around.
The foray into radio nearly didn’t happen. As was his personality, Larry chatted up everyone at work, including radio announcer Del Mott. Recognizing Larry’s gift of the gab, Mott suggested he consider an on-air position. Larry scoffed at the idea. Mott persisted, arranging an interview with a program director at a station in Niagara Falls. Larry had to be coaxed into going.
Radio listeners are thankful he did. He was natural and quick-witted and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz.
Working on both sides of the microphone throughout his career, Larry’s euphonious voice broadcast from many stations across Canada and one in the U.S. He hosted shows on CHUM-FM and eventually JAZZ. FM91. He wasn’t exclusive to radio, hosting one of CityTV’s first music shows and a children’s show for CBC television.
Leaving radio mid-career, Larry entered the record industry. Married and divorced, he was now raising Marc and his daughter, Rosemary (his two adopted children from Japan), on his own. As promotions manager for a major record label, he worked with everyone from Alice Cooper to ZZ Top. With an ear for talent, Larry helped launch numerous musicians into the Canadian market, including the band Lighthouse.
Marc was in awe of his father. “He knew everyone on a first-name basis. People gravitated toward him.” Marc also witnessed the downside of his father’s big personality. At times Larry struggled with anxiety. Therapy sessions helped.
Larry loved the work but not the lifestyle. Instead of attending concerts and industry parties, he chose to be with his children. “He was a family man. His kids kept him grounded,” Marc says. Larry routinely cut work to root for Marc and Rosemary from the stands.
Later in life, the veteran broadcaster returned to radio and taught at Humber College.
Larry found refuge in his children, his grandchildren and Eastern culture. He practiced martial arts and visited Japan often, once experiencing a sublime moment in an ancient stone garden in Kyoto that he clung to.
“He really felt peace for the first time here,” Marc says, “He felt a quiet moment where he could just slow down.”
Although his life path led in a different direction, Larry never abandoned the saxophone. He played for pleasure into retirement. Today, the case containing his horn is in a special place in his son’s home.
His granddaughter Linka, 10, reveres her grandfather’s alto saxophone. Marc suspects she may pick it up one day. “She knows it can’t come out until somebody is worthy of playing it,” Marc says.
Larry is survived by his children, Rosemary Green, and son, Marc Yamaguchi; his daughter-in-law, Mayumi; and his granddaughters, Linka and Lisa.
This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star titled,
Beloved radio host Larry Green was the voice of music for a generation of Torontonians
Photographs courtesy of Marc Yamaguchi