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Thursday, August 14, 2008

 

Hot Buttered Soul Star

The news that Isaac Hayes passed away this week at 65 was another reminder, not really needed, that my generation's icons have begun leaving the scene. Ike Hayes was a star whose talent actually exceeded his considerable fame. He was an effective vocalist with a deep voice that reeked sex, a style later parodied by Barry White. He was a talented keyboardist, having played with Stax sensational house band, Booker T and the MG's, backing immortals like Otis Redding (that's Ike on piano on "Try a Little Tenderness"). He was a sensational record producer, though his choices sound a little over the top in some cases now. Hayes was a good songwriter too, and his album cuts feature excellent compositions as well as great covers.

I'll never forget my first hearing of Ike Hayes and the impression it made. In the very early 1970's, I did a 3 hour late night weekly disk jockey show on our college radio station, WHRC. My show featured mainly oldies, mostly soul, since I wanted to do something a little different and at the time, everyone was playing the great current rock bands. I had quite a few regular listeners both on our campus and at Bryn Mawr College. One Monday night, I brought my records up to the station studio for my show and arrived as the DJ before me was cuing up her last record. She was a black student from Bryn Mawr and the record she played was the Hayes version of "By The Time I Get to Phoenix," a Jimmy Webb song that usually made me wince because the hit Glen Campbell version was so insipid.

The Hayes version, which runs almost 19 minutes, starts with one of his famous rap setups (talking over the rhythm section, not rap as we know it today) and then glides into this beautiful, emotional rendition, a perfectly lush production. Hayes had the insight to enhance and exploit the improving stereophonic capabilities of the day, and the instrumentation contrasted beautifully with his deep baritone. I was totally blown away and I think it was the first time I ever really heard and understood the emotional power of Webb's lyric. "Who is this" I asked and she handed me the album jacket (remember those?). Of course, it was Hot Buttered Soul, Hayes' breakthrough second album that also included a creative and effective cover of the Bacharach - David tune "Walk On By" (made famous by Dionne Warwick) and a Hayes composition 20 years ahead of its time, "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic."

The follow up album, The Isaac Hayes Movement was more of the same, 3 very good cuts, and an unfortunately overproduced version of the Beatles' "Something," and then later came "Shaft," the peak of Ike's commercial success. By that time, he had laid the foundation for disco, an achievement that some came to regret. But Hayes incredible versatility - rivaling Billy Preston and maybe even Gil Evans - had assured his legacy.

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Anyone who ever studied Russian history knows that the recent incursion, albeit provoked, into Georgia is as natural as breathing for that country. Russian paranoia is a trait that goes back to the earliest Czars, and the Russians have always felt it necessary to dominate the neighboring countries who provide a buffer against Germany and the other Western powers. Nevertheless, it is all very troubling since Putin has spent the last few years dismantling the private sector and minimizing democracy and liberty. The challenge for the West in dealing with Russia has always been where to draw the line and how to support the nationalist tendencies of the Balkan states without making Russia feel threatened. When we talk about expanding NATO and moving our missile defenses east, that is exactly what makes the Russians go nuts. I am afraid this is a crisis that probably cannot end well for the nation of Georgia.

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We got not one, but two takeovers announced this week in our portfolio. First, I2 Technologies (ITWO) will end a mostly ill-fated investment that started out very well. I should have quit while I was ahead. The tax deduction will come in handy. and because of the takeover, the loss will not be as big as it could have been.

The other takeover, Longs Drugs (LDG), was the subject of speculation in a recent post, but this is a stock I have held for years on takeover speculation. The price, about 71.50, will give us a very nice gain. CVS is making the purchase in cash - I will take the cash thank you, as I have no interest in continuing the investment by buying CVS.

Of course, Sirius finally closed on XM, as reported previously, and I am a little more hopeful than the Street that this one can turn out well. We'll see.

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On Monday, I sold 200 more shares of Petroquest (PQ) at 17.66, purchased on 9/8/04 for 4.30. Then yesterday, we sold the last 100 shares of Axsys Tech (AXYS) from the IRA at 76.00. These were purchased on 5/17/06 for 16.05, a recommendation from my full service broker, who really earned his keep on this one. All of my remaining shares in this stock now are in his account, and the taxman will share if I sell any of those.

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