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Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Dallas Musings on the 50th

By pure serendipity, a business meeting took me to the Dallas area for three nights, including the 22nd, which was the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination in Dealey Plaza.  I didn't get to see anything since I had meetings all day and anyway, you had to be among 5,000 lottery winners to attend the ceremony there (in some pretty nasty, cold weather).  Still, I saw excerpts on the local news and clearly it was very tasteful and inspiring.  That the event had a traumatic impact on the baby boom generation, still evident today, is undeniable.  In the onslaught of Kennedy retrospectives that TV ran over the last few weeks, one couldn't help reflecting one more time on the life and death of the most charismatic President of the television age.

As a President, the first two Kennedy years were decidedly mediocre, or even a little worse.  In retrospect, he was very cautious, treading carefully on Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the economy.  When he did act forcefully, the results weren't particularly successful.  Bay of Pigs was an outright disaster, the imbroglio over steel prices seems almost an embarrassment in retrospect, and other than the supply side tax cut, all of the legislative initiatives were floundering.

But even in the moderate successes, and the buildup to future successes, his great quality of leadership was showing through, and that's what made his personal popularity soar despite the policy struggles.  The cut in the highest tax rates pulled the country out of an economic malaise, his leadership on space brought the US program back to parity and then past the Soviets, and his travels abroad, especially in Germany, were Cold War triumphs.  All the while, in press conferences and other public appearances, the Kennedy humor and energy shown through.  By the third year, the Kennedy administration was hitting stride, and the legislative victories of 1964 were a testament not only to LBJ's superior lobbying skills but to the groundwork the administration had done the previous year.  Not surprisingly, the Soviets underestimated the President in the lead up to the Cuban missile crisis, where Kennedy's level headed approach proved the winning strategy.  Having said that, the Soviets achieved their main goal of securing Castro against future attempts by the US to remove him.

Against this background, the assassination by a leftist, when everyone assumed the threats to Kennedy's life would only come from the right, seemed to take the air out of his martyrdom.  No wonder liberals have never been able to accept the lone gunman story, and conspiracy theories are still commonly believed.  These theories are abetted by gaping holes in the record, some still kept secret at the insistence of the family.  Probably the leading theory other than the lone gunman theory is the accidental mortal wound shot attributed to one of the Secret Service men in the car trailing the President.  For that theory to be true, it would have had to be the unluckiest shot in history.  And if it was true, it makes the President's death that much more meaningless.  I tend to think that the book "Case Closed" provided the proof the Warren Commission didn't that Oswald alone killed the President.

Contrast JFK's leadership skills and his rapid on-the-job learning with the current incumbent.  Well into his fifth year, Obama seems as much at sea as at the beginning.  Even when he seems to have hit on the right strategy he has a way of mucking it up.  So he passed health care but butchered the implementation.  His sanctions approach had Iran weakened and looking for an escape, but then he makes a deal with them wherein he relaxes the sanctions in exchange for virtually nothing (by the way, proving a Reagan maxim that in any negotiation, the side that wants the deal more will make a bad deal).  His tax policy is a jumbled mess, the debt is increasing to unmanageable amounts, and the Fed, with his encouragement, has pursued programs to keep the economy barely above water that will be very painful to unwind.  Where are we going?  Most agree, according to all the polls, that the country is headed down a dangerous path.       

My business meeting proved quite useful.  Two presentations really were outstanding.  First, an inspirational talk by Dick Hoyt, who has competed with his wheelchair bound son Rick in many dozens of marathons and triathalons around the world.  If you don't know the story of Team Hoyt, by all means look it up on the internet. They had planned to retire, but will run one more Boston marathon this spring to commemorate the return of that race after last year's tragic bombing at the finish line.

On getaway day, Simpson and Bowles, famed co-chairs of the Obama deficit cutting commission spoke.  This was another good idea, with potentially a good result that the President abandoned for reasons I will never understand.  Though Paul Ryan famously voted against the Commission report (saying it didn't go far enough to cut entitlements), it still represents the bravest and best effort to really solve our spending problem. 
The WSJ printed another memorable interview just over a year ago by Marc Myers about the Doors.  I will never forget putting their first album on the record player as a high school teenager and being absolutely transported, excited beyond words, by the initial  riff and then Morrison's voice on "Break on Through." "Crystal Ship," the bluesy and controversial "Backdoor Man," "20th Century Fox," the long version of "Light My Fire," and the extended musical poem, "The End" allowed for little or no let up for awestruck fans who knew they were hearing something really different and important.  Unlike many second albums, the Doors' People Are Strange was a brilliant follow up, its extended poem ("When The Music's Over") arguably much stronger than "The End."

I was lucky enough to see the Doors in person at least twice, once in a multi-group concert produced by the estimable DJ Murray (The K) Kaufman, and the second time at Forest Hills sharing the bill with Simon and Garfunkel, of all people.  Doors' concerts exceeded their records in excitement; the mood was a little like a NASCAR race in that everyone was waiting for the wreck, since Morrison's behavior was so unpredictable.

The interview was with keyboardist Ray Manzarek (now deceased) and guitarist Robby Krieger and focused on "Light My Fire."  Here are edited excerpts:

Myers: Originally lasting more than seven minutes, (the song) featured one of rock's first extended album solos.  When the shorter version was released in "67, it reached No. 1, and the following year, Jose Feliciano won a Grammy for his cover version.  The Doors' surviving members talked about the song's famed keyboard intro, the Fats Domino connection, and why the single was faster paced than the album version.
Manzarek: By March 1966, we were running out of songs.  At rehearsal, Jim said, "Everyone go home this weekend and write at least one song."  Only Robby did.  He called it "Light My Fire."
 Krieger: I came up with a melody inspired by the Leaves' "Hey Joe,"  I also liked the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire," so I wrote lyrics that used the word fire.
Manzarek: When Robby played the song for us, it had a folk-rock sound.  But John Densmore cringed.  He wanted it so sound edgier.  He added a hard Latin rhythm to the rock beat, and it worked.
Krieger: As Jim sang, he changed the melody line to give it a bluesy feel.  Then he came up with a second verse right oft the top of his head: "The time to hesitate is through/No time to wallow in the mire..."
Manzarek: Once the lyrics and melody were set, we realized we could jam as long as we wanted on the song's middle two chords -A minor and B minor- the way Coltrane did on "My Favorite Things."  All of us dug Coltrane's long solos.  But we needed some way to start the song...I started playing a cycle of fifths on my organ.  Out came a motif from the Bach piano book I had used as a kid.  It was like a psychedelic minuet.  We didn't use a bass player - I played the bass notes on a Fender Rhodes keyboard bass while my right hand played the Vox which could be cranked up to a screaming loud volume.  My bass line grew out of Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill."
Krieger: Onstage, the song became this rock-jazz jam.  Audiences loved it.
Manzarek: In August "66, when we went into Sunset Sound to record our first album, producer Paul Rothchild wanted us to record "Light My Fire" just as we had been playing it live.  We recorded two takes - each one lasting over seven minutes.  No one was recording extended solo albums then.
Krieger: Because Paul loved what Ray had done with the minuet in the beginning, he said "Hell, let's put it at the end, too."  So he spliced  in a copy of Ray's minuet after Jim's vocal, as an outro.  A few months after the album came out in January "67, the label wanted a single for AM radio.  Dave Diamond, an FM disc jockey had been playing the album and was getting a ton of calls.
Manzarek: But a single meant our album version had to be cut down to 2 and a half minutes.  Everyone groaned, but Paul said he'd take a crack at it.  When we heard the result the next day, the organ and guitar solos were gone.  Robby and I said to Paul, "You cut out the improvisation!"  Paul said, "I know.  But imagine you're 17 years old in Minneapolis.  You've never heard of the Doors and this is the version you hear on the radio.  Would you have a problem with it?"  Jim said, "Actually, I kind of dig it."
Krieger: It was gut wrenching to hear my solo cut, but I actually liked the single better.  The album version had been mixed at a very low volume to capture everything.  On the radio, it wasn't very loud or exciting.  The single, though, snapped.  The secret was that Paul had wrapped Scotch tape around the spindle holding the pickup reel, so the tape would turn a fraction faster.  This made the pitch a little higher and brighter, and the song more urgent.
Manzarek: I first heard the AM single with my wife Dorothy in our VW Bug. Dorothy started bouncing up and down like a jumping jack.  I was pounding on the wheel.  What a feeling.
Krieger: At first I didn't like Feliciano's 1968 version.  But after a while, I came to love it.  He made our song his own, which got others to record it.  Thanks to Jose, the song is our biggest copyright by far.

Tell me that's not a great interview!  Congrats, Mr. Myers! 

On 11/1, we bought 25 shares of Deere (DE) at 81.84.  Some are concerned that the farm reform bill will hurt agricultural equipment sales, but this one is still on the buy/hold list and it finally came up for a zero buy.   On 11/4, we paid 21.65 for a hundred shares of Suntrust Preferred (STI.PR.A).  Then on 11/8, we bought 200 more shares of the new News Corp (NWSA) at 17.31, a value buy.  We also bought 300 shares of Boyd Gaming (BYD) at 9.89.  Finally, it was time to move to the sell side.  On 11/13, we sold 200 more shares of USA Trucking (USAK) at 12.72.  We bought these in mid 2012 for an average price of 5.84.  On 11/14, we sold 100 shares of Conrad (CNRD) for 36.75.  We paid 1.30 on 4/26/05, and that price is not a typo.  On 11/14, we sold 200 shares of Marine Max (HZO) for 16.49.  We paid 5.32 for 100 on 7/14/08 and 12.20 for 100 on 9/27/13.  On 11/15, we bought 100 shares of Sabra (SBRAP) for 24.35.  Then on 11/19, we sold 200 more shares of USAK for 15.95.  We paid 5.41 on 6/14/12.   On 11/20, we sold 200 shares of Genie (GNE) at 11.91 that were spun off to us on 10/31/11 with a value some place in the 9's.  We'll have to figure out the cost basis at tax time, a process that will be a little easier since we have sold this year all the shares of the company that it was spun from.  So one way or another, we'll take credit for exactly what we paid.  Meanwhile, Genie keeps going up.  Also on 11/20, we bought 600 shares of Alumina (AWC) at 3.57.  Then it was time for the Dallas trip, and we'll pick up the post Dallas transactions in the next edition of musings, including the sale transaction where we finally threw in the towel on Hauppauge Digital and took a significant tax loss on that dog.   Again, neither redwavemusings nor its author are an investment advisor, and the securities and transactions mentioned here are only a log, not recommendations.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


Special trick or treat edition

The sadly misnamed Affordable Care Act pot is really boiling now.  Not only is the website a mess, but, as predicted here way back when, people are beginning to find that their insurance plans are not being grandfathered, so, in contrast to what the Prez and the Dems have been saying, you may well lose the insurance plan you have and like.  When the young "invincibles" can finally navigate the website and find out what it will cost to be insured, they will quickly calculate that they are better off going bare and paying the tax.   At that point the whole scheme falls apart.  And that's when the jig is up for Obama, the liberals and their progressive base.

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I see socialized health care on the run almost everywhere.  It will probably not be possible to rebuild European private health care systems in the short run, but it may not be too late to save ours.

Most people think the Wall Street Journal is a paper devoted to business, but regular readers know it is that plus so much more.  There are regular features on sports, the arts, residential and commercial real estate, health, etc;  everything you might see in a daily newspaper except the box scores, the racing results and your horoscope.

Recently, I have run across some interesting interviews with some of our favorite musical artists about their songs.  Here are excerpts from Marc Myers' April 26 story about The Four Tops breakthrough hit, Reach Out I'll Be There, written by Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier.  Dozier, surviving Tops vocalist Duke Fakir, and producer arranger Paul Riser were interviewed.

Dozier:  In the early summer of 1966, I walked into our small work space at Motown and heard Brian at the piano.  He liked composing in a ballad tempo - to feel and shape the melody.  When I asked what he was playing, he said he wasn't sure and didn't know where it should go next.  I suggested he pick up the tempo, and we played around with the song's introduction for about a half hour.  By then I had an idea...I wanted to create a mind trip - a journey of emotions with sustained tension, like a bolero.  To get this across, I alternated the keys, from a minor (key) Russian feel in the verse to a major (key) gospel feel in the chorus.  From the start, we knew "Reach Out" was for Levi Stubbs and the Four Tops...During their time away (on tour), we had to create...new material they could record for an album.  As soon as we had the song's melody down, I wrote lyrics for the chorus - "I'll be there, to always see you through."  I also wrote the story in the verses.  Eddie took my draft and turned it into a more polished story as I focused on production with Brian.  I wanted the song to explore the kinds of things women were going through and for Levi to come off as understanding and supportive.  I also wanted the lyrics to be phrased in a special way - as though they were being thrown down..  

Back in '66, we were listening a lot to Bob Dylan.  He was the poet then, and we were inspired by his talk-singing style on "Like a Rolling Stone."  We loved the complexity of his lyrics and how he spoke the lines and sang them in places.  We wanted Levi to shout-sing "Reach Out's" lyrics as a shout-out to Dylan.

Fakir: We first heard the song in the studio - just before we recorded it...Levi was Jackie Wilson's cousin and very talented with his voice.  He was a baritone with a tenor range and wasn't afraid to attempt any note.  For "Reach Out," Lamont purposefully put Levi at the top of his range, to make sure he'd have that cry and hunger and wailing in his voice...The hardest part was Levi working on the shout-singing.  The song was so different - he thought the Dylan approach Lamont wanted was a studio experiment, not the real thing.

Dozier: After the Tops finished the vocal tracks, Paul Riser came in and we worked on overdubbing "the sweetness" - strings, chorus, and other instruments that enhanced the song's personality.

Riser: Lamont and I decided to add a piccolo and flute to the intro.  The piccolo's piercing sound was essential.  It's like a siren and gets your attention right away.  It's also the sound of a heart crying...The hoof-beat drum pattern that follows  was made using timpani mallets on the plastic head of a tambourine without its little metal cymbals.  That sounded like a heartbeat speeding up and raised anticipation...Then the female backing voices were added echoing Levi's lines.  I also added strings to the song's chorus using classical chord inversions - to widen the sound.

Dozier: When we had everything on tape, we overdubbed a few last minute touches - like handclapping and a tambourine which emphasized a gospel feel.  All of us sang that shouted "Yah" just before Levi came in...to give the song a little shove forward.

Fakir: Two or three weeks later, Berry Gordy called in the Tops.  He said he was going to release our biggest hit.  We said, "Great, when are we going to record it?"  He said, "You already did."  We said, "Which one?"  He said, "Let me play you a little bit."  When we heard the opening  to "Reach Out," we begged him not to release it, to let us go down to the studio and record something else.  To us, the song felt a little odd.  Berry took it off and said, "I"m going to release it - and you're going to be surprised."

I first heard the song in September in my car.  By then it...was already heading up the charts.  I drove to the office and asked to see Berry who was in a meeting.  I walked in anyway...  I said, "Berry, please don't ever ask us again what we think of our records."

Me:  So think about this story the next time you hear Reach Out.  Better yet,, you can see Fakir and the current Tops on their tour.  They are scheduled to reach Westbury, Long Island (with the Temptations) this winter.

I intend to excerpt another interview on next week's post, and I think it will be of at least equal interest.  In the meantime, if you've never seen Counting Crows in concert, go to countingcrows.com, scroll to the bottom of the screen, and click on the streaming (you tube) webcast of last spring's 2 hour show in Sydney, Australia.  You will see the whole show including encores.  Not as good as being there, but close enough.

Jazz season really heats up in NYC as we head toward the holidays.  Here are redwavemusings' recommendations for November for the metro area. 
For those who love cabaret (and who doesn't), it won't get better than the husband-wife team of John Pizzarelli and singer Jessica Molaskey, who take up a residence of several weeks at the Cafe Carlyle starting last night.  Also, this weekend, the Gary Bartz Quintet features Vincent Herring on sax at Smoke where reservations are a must.  Also Arturo Sandoval should be selling out the Blue Note tonight.  Smalls has Ken Peplowski heading a quartet featuring Ehud Asherie on piano.  We saw them together at Kitano recently and it was pretty memorable.  Ted Nash has a big band at Dizzy's that will include Anat Cohen and Dan Willis.  Joe Farnsworth is not my favorite drummer, but when his quartet includes Harold Mabern (piano) and Eric Alexander (sax), that's worth a try even at a club I don't know way uptown (An Beal Bicht Cafe) Wednesday night.   The blog is not responsible for any muggings that might take place. 
Thursday night, Steve Kuhn leads a trio into Jazz Standard for the weekend.  On November 8-9, Vince Giordano backs the Ladies (who) Sing the Blues at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  The competition comes from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark November 4-10.  Among the performers will be Sergio Mendes, Joe Lovano, Christian McBride, the Anat Cohen Quartet and Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.  On Wednesday evening the 13th, there will be the Cedar Walton Memorial at St. Peters, the Jazz Church.  November 14, George Cables' trio (including drummer Victor Lewis) begins a weekend at Dizzy's.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band makes its way from the French Quarter to the Apollo Theater in Harlem for a gig on the 16th.  On the 19th, two week long gigs that I would love to see open up, Renee Rosnes Quartet at the Village Vanguard and Jane Monheit at the Blue Note.  The clubs are close enough, you might be able to do them both in one night.  Note, the Vanguard has moved its starting time up to 8:30.    On the 25th, the place to be if you can squeeze in will be Small's to see The Dave Kikoski Quartet with Seamus Blake (sax).    Steve Tyrell takes over the Cafe Carlyle that night.  Thanksgiving night, Wycliffe Gordon and Friends open up their weekend at Dizzy's.  And finally, on the weekend of the 29th, Smoke will be honoring the music of J.J. Johnson, as the Steve Davis Sextet will include Eddie Henderson and the aforementioned Alexander and Mabern.  With so much talent in such a small venue, let's hope they save some room for customers.
On 10/23 we bought 200 more shares of News Corp (NWSA) at 16.92.  On 10/25, we bought 50 shares of Lindsey (LNN) at 73.65, a zero buy.  Then on 10/28, we bought another 20 shares of the TIPS ETF for the IRA (TIP) at 113.35.  Back from New Orleans, we bought 100 shares of Newmont Gold on the 31st (NEM) at 27.43 and sold 200 shares of USA Trucking (USAK) at 13.50.  We paid 6.26 for those shares on 5/21/12.  USAK continues to resist being taken over, adopting the "just say no" defense while its stock rises steadily.   

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