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What’s Up Tiger Lily?: The wild story of the tax scam record label run by the notorious Morris Levy
04.06.2018
08:55 am
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Morris Levy
 
Last April, we told you the story of Richard Goldman, the singer/songwriter who found out that albums of his songs were released without his knowledge or permission. The LPs were issued as part of tax shelter deals, a common practice from 1976-1984. Albums of this sort were ostensibly designed to fail; vinyl collectors later dubbed them “tax scam records.” This article is the first in a two-part examination of the label that set the standard for issuing tax shelter albums. It’s a company that was started by one of the most infamous figures to ever make a buck in the music business.

Morris Levy was born in New York City on August 27th, 1927. As a teenager, Levy started working in nightclubs which were controlled by the mob. In 1949, he opened Birdland, a venue that would go on to become one of the most beloved jazz clubs in the world. In 1957, he founded Roulette Records, a label that subsequently issued a number of hit records, including “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starliters, and “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells. Levy learned early on the value of music publishing, and would often add his name to songwriting credits, even though he didn’t have a hand in their creation and had no musical talent.
 
Levy credit
 
In his book, Me, the Mob, and the Music, Tommy James says Levy never paid him royalties, despite the fact he had recorded quite a few hits for Roulette. James does concede that he was given artistic freedom, which he wouldn’t have had if he’d signed with another label.
 
Hanky Panky
Tommy James and the Shondells, Morris Levy, and a Gold record for “Hanky Panky.”

A number of mafia figures were regular visitors to the Roulette building, including Gaetano “Corky” Vastola, a New Jersey gangster and one of the owners of the label. Tommy James also frequented the company’s office, observing enough to learn why Levy had a reputation for using strong-arm tactics.

It is always reported that there are five major crime families in New York—Gambino, Genovese, Colombo, Lucchese, Bonanno—and that’s mostly true. But back in the sixties, there were six families. All of the above and the Roulette family. It was not for nothing that Morris Levy was called the Godfather of the music business. People from all over the industry called him or came to him to sort out problems. If somebody from Atlantic Records or Kama Sutra found out that their records were being bootlegged, they called Morris.

It seemed like once a month Morris would grab [his associate and bodyguard] Nate McCalla and a few baseball bats, which were in his office, and take off for somewhere in New Jersey or upstate New York. It was a ritual. “KAREN,” he would yell out to his secretary, baseball bat in hand. “Call my lawyer.” And off they would go. (from Me, the Mob, and the Music)

 
Logo
 
There were a number of subsidiary labels connected to Roulette, including Tiger Lily Records. The company was incorporated in 1976, and released over 60 albums that year. Levy gathered content from seemingly anywhere he could find it, using such cast-offs as demos, outtakes and live recordings for the Tiger Lily LPs. He even reissued a handful of albums that originally came out on the Family Productions record label, which wasn’t affiliated with Roulette. The majority of the artists on Tiger Lily would be unknown to the general public. In my view, this was done, in part, to ensure a plausible deniability if the I.R.S. was to come calling. “Tax scam records” were meant to bomb, giving investors the maximum amount they could deduct on their taxes, while spending as little cash as possible. By putting your money into an artist that showed promise, a case could be made that, ‘Hey, we took a chance, but nobody bought it.’ This also meant that the label looked for artists that exhibited a certain level of talent, resulting in a number of Tiger Lily albums by obscure acts who had exceptional material.

One of the easiest (and cheapest) Tiger Lily albums to acquire is L.A. Jail, a collection of Richard Pryor stand-up recordings. There has been much speculation about whether Pryor authorized this release, and there are a couple of clues that he was, at the very least, aware of the LP’s existence.
 
L.A. Jail cover
 
In the December 24th, 1977 issue of the influential trade magazine, Billboard, there are three chart listings for Pryor noting that Tiger Lily contributed to sales of his records. This leaves little doubt that Pryor knew about the album. It also implies that L.A. Jail sold well, which is odd, considering how Tiger Lily seems to have had little interest in promoting or circulating copies of their other records.
 
Pryor label
 
Another indication of Pryor’s involvement comes via another major publication, Variety, and a Morris Levy interview that appeared in a spring 1978 issue of the magazine. It’s also the most fascinating. Levy’s admission of releasing a Pryor LP for tax shelter purposes provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the label.

He [Levy] said he did one tax shelter deal, with Richard Pryor tracks, and made money, adding “I wouldn’t go into a tax shelter deal unless I was in the record business.”

Much more follows after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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04.06.2018
08:55 am
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Discussion
A Stonehenge stage set and backstage violence mark Led Zeppelin’s final U.S. concerts, 1977
12.29.2017
07:22 am
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Day on the Green
 
Led Zeppelin’s eleventh—and final—American jaunt was in support of their seventh studio album, Presence. The 1977 tour was plagued by unfortunate incidents, with the most notorious occurrences taking place backstage at one of the last shows and a most tragic event bringing an end to the outing.

The vibes were bad before they even played a single gig. Large, menacing manager Peter Grant had recently gone through a nasty divorce, while guitarist Jimmy Page was incredibly thin, reportedly in the throes of heroin addiction. Throughout the tour, police had to be brought in to quell audience violence, culminating in a riot in Tampa; nineteen were arrested, 50 were injured. At multiple stops, a new crop of younger, wilder fans threw lit firecrackers on the stage, which would explode inches from the band members. During a Cincinnati show, a fan died after falling from the third level of the coliseum—the first tragic event of the tour.

The trek was to run for three legs of dates from April through August. For the final leg, eleven stadium shows were scheduled. The band only played four.
 
Led Zeppelin
 
On July 23rd and 24th, Zeppelin performed in front of sell-out crowds at Oakland Coliseum. Rick Derringer and Judas Priest opened. The shows were part of the recurring “Day on the Green” concerts organized by Bill Graham. The stage set was constructed to resemble the Stonehenge monument, and was likely the main inspiration for one of the funniest moments in the brilliant mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap (and before you say, “But what about…,” we debunked the theory that Black Sabbath’s Stonehenge stage influenced the film).
 
Stonehenge set
 
Two nasty backstage episodes took place on the 23rd. The first happened when Peter Grant was asked by a member of Graham’s crew if he needed help getting down some stairs, which Grant perceived as a slight on his weight. John Bindon, a London gangster brought on by Zep as their chief enforcer for the tour, stepped in and knocked out the stagehand, who banged his head on the concrete floor. Later, Grant’s teenage son was about to remove a temporary sign to keep as a souvenir, but was sternly rebuffed by a member of Graham’s security team. This prompted drummer John Bonham to kick the guy in the balls, and then Grant and Bindon beat the man so badly that a shocked Graham had him rushed to the hospital. Graham also claimed that his production manager was hit on the head with a lead pipe.

On the 24th, Graham’s security were looking for revenge, yet the show concluded without further incident. The following day at the band’s hotel, the SWAT team showed up and arrested Bonham, Grant, Bindon and tour manager, Richard Cole, who were charged with assault. After they were bailed out, the Zep entourage flew to New Orleans for the next show. Once they were settled in, Plant received a call from his wife and learned that his young son, Karac, had died suddenly on the 24th.

Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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12.29.2017
07:22 am
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Discussion
Songs Santa Claus Taught Us: Download the Christmas mix tape compiled by Lux Interior of the Cramps
12.24.2017
04:11 pm
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The story goes that Lux Interior of the Cramps was an inveterate maker of cassette mixes for his friends. (CD mixes, much less online playlists, were not a thing in Lux’s heyday.)

Kristian Hoffman was one of those who was lucky enough to receive mix tapes from Lux, one of which was an inspired collection of Christmas songs with the title “Jeezus Fuck, It’s Christmas!!!” On Friday, Hoffman posted a picture of the cassette cover listing the songs on the mix on his Facebook page, with this note:
 

Lux Interior used to make holiday cassettes for me, and so many of his friends. As odd as it seems, he was all about sharing. Listening to this one right now.

 
 
Here’s the cassette cover:
 

 
It didn’t take long for news like that to travel fast. Within hours a blogger with the memorable moniker of Kogar the Swinging Ape took this precious information and helpfully put together two zip files containing mp3s of the songs for those of us who didn’t happen to be on Lux’s distribution list of chums. You can get those files by going to his page at WFMU Ichiban.

As Cramps fan Sharon Penny put it, “Lux came back for Christmas to stick his tongue in our earholes and it’s THE BEST THING EVER.” Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Tip of the hat to Ned Raggett.

Posted by Martin Schneider
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12.24.2017
04:11 pm
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Discussion
The strange tale of the unauthorized albums of the Beatles Christmas recordings
12.15.2017
09:39 am
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The Beatles
 
In the early 1980s, two albums of rare Beatles recordings were released with little fanfare. Consisting of the Christmas messages the Fab Four distributed to their fan club in the 1960s, these LPs weren’t authorized by the Beatles, and it appears the reasons they were put out in the first place had, oddly, little to do with financial gain—in the traditional sense, that is. There was also a third album of this material in the pipeline, and though its release was challenged in court, copies eventually made their way into the world.

Back in April, we told you about the tax shelter record labels of the 1970s and 1980s. These companies offered investments in master recordings, which would be used as the basis for albums. Tax shelters aren’t illegal, but those that focus on the tax benefits, rather than, say, the success of an album being bankrolled, are considered fraudulent by the I.R.S. Many of these labels were found to be just that, while others are believed to have been shams. In such a scenario, a record that failed to sell resulted in a significant tax credit for investors.

The tax shelter labels existed as a means to exploit the U.S. tax code, but they also exploited artists, who, more often than not, had no idea their work was being issued in such a manner. All sorts of material—demos, outtakes, rarities, etc.—was issued with little-to-no promotion. In recent years, collectors came up with a colorful descriptor to identify such LPs: “tax scam records.” Some of these albums are amongst the scarcest slabs of vinyl ever pressed.
 
1963
The Beatles first holiday record, 1963.

Between 1963 and 1969, the Beatles taped Christmas messages specifically for their fan club. The recordings were pressed on 7-inch flexi discs, housed in unique artwork, and shipped to fans, free of charge. The first year they established what would be the standard format: holiday greetings and year-end updates mixed with parodies of holiday classics, and the sort of tomfoolery the group was known for. As the Beatles began to stretch musically, the messages became another outlet for experimentation. By 1967, their fan club records were downright avant-garde.

 
1966
Cover of the 1966 flexi.

After the Beatles broke-up—and just before the 1970 holidays—Apple Records sent the Beatles’ US and UK fan club members an album of the full run of Christmas discs. Again, there was no fee.
 
1970
 
A decade later, in 1981, a selection of the Beatles holiday greetings appeared on an LP called Happy Michaelmas. The title is taken from a section of the 1968 message, in which Paul McCartney is singing a little ditty and playing off the phrase “Happy Christmas.”
 

 
SO MUCH MORE after the jump..

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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12.15.2017
09:39 am
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Discussion
‘Slacking Towards Bethlehem,’ the incredible true story of the Church of the SubGenius
10.12.2017
08:35 am
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The Church of the SubGenius’ annus mirabilis, 1998, may have come and gone (or it may be yet to come, as some of the faithful believe), but it’s never been easier to hear the word of “Bob.”

OSI 74 carries on the Church’s TV ministry. Evangelical radio programs such as Hour of Slack, Puzzling Evidence, and Ask Dr. Hal no longer splutter from our computer speakers in a pitiable dribble of RealAudio 1.0, but burst forth in full stereo at 64 Kbps, a mighty firehose of Slack. The classic SubGenius recruitment movie Arise!, which used to cost 20 whole dollars, is now just as free as an ISKCON book with Ganesha on the cover. And The Book of the SubGenius is still in print.
 

 
But a documentary in the works promises to do something new for the Church, namely, to situate its founding and founders in real, actual historical time. Slacking Towards Bethlehem: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius will tell the story of Rev. Ivan Stang and Dr. Philo Drummond meeting in mid-Seventies Texas as young weirdos. The pair “quickly forged a friendship over a shared love of comic books, Captain Beefheart and UFO paperbacks,” in the words of the movie’s press release, before starting a religion that won converts in R. Crumb, Robert Anton Wilson, DEVO, Frank Zappa and Negativland. Directing is Austin filmmaker Sandy K. Boone, whose late husband, David Boone, directed the 1980 cult film Invasion of the Aluminum People, which might be “an allegorical testimony for the Church of the SubGenius.”
 

 
Slacking Towards Bethlehem is almost in the can, Boone says, with poster art by legendary comix artist and SubGenius saint Paul Mavrides (a/k/a Palmer Vreedeez [unless you believe he’s really Dr. Hal], LIES) to come, but first they have to fund post-production. The movie’s Kickstarter—not to be confused with the also recently launched crowdfunding campaign behind SubGenius Dr. K’taden Legume’s proposed “alien-contacting beacon”—offers tempting perks. At $11, salvation can be nearly anyone’s. There are clothes, books, and rare items from the Rev. Ivan Stang archive higher up the scale. Still more generous donations secure holy relics, suitable for framing, such as pieces of toast on which “Bob” has appeared to believers in their humble kitchenettes; for just a few dollars more, they will sell you the Breakfast with “Bob” toaster used to manufacture these miraculous apparitions. For the very deep-pocketed donor, or the crazed, impulsive superfan with a high FICO score, there is an associate producer credit on offer. Would it be too much to hope for a few Holy Seven-Bladed Windbreakers?
 
Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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10.12.2017
08:35 am
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Discussion
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