Monthly Archives: February 2016

TyroneDavis

What we’re listening to — Tyrone Davis

Tyrone Davis (1938 -2005) was one of the great R&B artists of the late 1960s and 1970s, even if today he may not be the first name that springs to mind. At a time when radio formats were increasingly being re-segregated, T.D. had a string of huge hits that placed high on the R&B charts, although with diminishing impact on the overall Pop charts. In another era, even just 5 or 6 years prior, he might have a been a crossover star along the lines of Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. But his artfully crafted, romantically remorseful songs ran counter to the prevailing trends in 70s-era Soul music, both in terms of their straightforward if dynamic compositions and in their almost total disregard for the red hot political topics of the day in favor of the timeless struggle for happiness between man and woman.

As so many musicians of color had before him, the Mississippi native traveled north and made his breakthrough in Chicago, where he was guided by the legendary producer Carl Davis (Tyrone even adopted that last name, changing it from his original surname, Fettson). T.D. had almost instant success at the tail end of 1960s with the pleading “Can I Change My Mind”. This breakout hit, originally a B-side, rapidly made it to #1 on the R&B charts and was #5 in Pop, minting the Tyrone Davis formula right out of the gate: a tightly arranged but not fussy horn arrangement propelling T.D.’s soulful tenor, which delivered, most importantly, the secret sauce: an inversion of the stud lover man persona into a flawed, vulnerable suitor begging for redemption.

The follow up to “Can I Change My Mind” was another stunner, “Is It Something That You’ve Got”, and then 1970’s wonderful “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time” continued this hit making formula so successfully that it gave Davis another R&B #1 (and his highest ever Pop position, #3 on the Hot 100).

From there he cranked out a series of fantastic uptempo soul ballads suffused with regret and second thoughts, filling the airwaves with sweet yet gritty pure Chicago Soul, always with a pleasing hint of his down-home country roots peeking through the worldly lyrics (for example, on 1975’s stellar “Turning Point”, we hear “toining point” more than “turning point” and “Loid, Loid, Loid” instead of “Lord”).

Davis was certainly limited by his strict adherence to simple, essentially throwback love songs, eschewing the prevailing trends in R&B music that embraced funkier, more elaborate and Afrocentric musical styles and also gave lyrical expression to political aspirations and grievances. Simply put, Tyrone Davis never made a protest song about the ghetto or racial oppression. That sort of overt social activism was not in his performer’s repertoire. And any dalliances he may have had with Disco later on did not exactly lead to memorable music to say the least. So no, T.D. will never be confused with Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, The O’Jays or Earth, Wind & Fire. But by staying true to his narrow range as a romantic Chicago soul man par excellence the best of Tyrone Davis, as typified by his standout sides for Dakar and Columbia, is really very good and well worth adding to any serious collection of classic R&B. If you’re looking to set the mood with some straight ahead romantic Soul, a selection of Tyrone Davis’ greatest hits will always get it done.

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Motorsport Books — Go Like Hell by A.J. Baime

The winter interregnum between the end of the major motorsport championships in Europe and America and the new seasons’ spring starts provides the perfect opportunity to catch up with some quality literature on the fine art of racing, the better to whet one’s appetite for the coming competitions of the new year. One of the more enjoyable reads a petrolhead can peruse is A.J. Baime’s excellent Go Like Hell, a terrific account of the epic 1960s Ferrari-Ford rivalry.

The subtitle of Go Like Hell pretty much sums it up: “Ford, Ferrari and their battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans”. The 1960s saw Ford go all out to try to take down Ferrari from their perch at the very pinnacle of international racing. Nowhere was that mission more ambitious than in the Blue Oval’s quest to somehow, someway win the greatest racing event in the world, the 24-Hours of Le Mans. It would be no easy task, as the Prancing Horse essentially considered the top of the podium in that epic 24-hour race their exclusive piece of prized real estate and Ford, despite their success in NASCAR, really had no international road racing experience at that time.

But they did have Carroll Shelby and a host of other 60s superstars. After winning the 1959 Le Mans in an Astin-Martin, Shelby had turned constructor and converted an underpowered British roadster into the all-world Shelby AC Cobra by dropping a big Ford 427 engine into that light chassis. Just like that, Shelby and his team of talented engineers and fabricators had created a giant slayer. Originally designed as a Corvette killer, the AC Cobra also turned out to be a Ferrari killer in its class. Shelby’s remarkable creation earned the GT class win and 4th overall at the 1964 24-Hours of Le Mans, beating out several Ferrari 250 GTOs for that illustrious honor. After coming to the conclusion that Shelby was simply superior at preparing a road racing car than their NASACR partners, Holman Moody, it was no surprise that Ford chose Carroll Shelby to spearhead the development of their new prototype, the legendary Ford GT 40, with all the resources of Ford’s factory backing at his disposal. That amazing car would go on to win Le Mans overall for a stunning four consecutive years, 1966-1969, including the amazing 1-2-3 finish in 1966.

1966 GT40s Le Mans. (09/08/2011)

1966: Ford GT40s finish 1-2-3 at Le Mans

But Shelby isn’t the only compelling character chronicled in Go Like Hell. There’s a who’s who of hall of fame drivers like Phil Hill, the former Formula 1 Champion for Ferrari who lends his wealth of experience to the new Ford team, Dan Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, A.J. Foyt, the peerless Mario Andretti and the lost legend who may well have been the best driver you’ve never heard of, Englishman and development driver extraordinaire, Ken Miles. There’s a young Lee Iacocca, displaying the qualities of vision and leadership that would make him one of the most successful auto executives in the world in the years to come. And of course there are the dueling factory owners with their titanic egos and shared drive to win. Enzo Ferrari, whom the Italian press dubbed Saturn for the unfortunate penchant of his drivers — his surrogate “sons” — to be devoured by machines of his own creation. And Henry Ford II, known as “The Deuce” for obvious reasons, whose desire to beat Ferrari sprang not only from a proposed merger gone bad between the Detroit powerhouse and the de facto Italian national marque from Maranello, but also from a son’s need to pay tribute to his ill-treated and prematurely deceased father, the unfortunate Edsel Ford, whom Ford founder Henry Senior had humiliated and belittled.

Rumored to be in the works as a film under the direction of Michael Mann, Go Like Hell is indeed a cinematic concoction and a thoroughly enjoyable one. Baime’s meticulously researched page turner captures what many consider racing’s finest era almost perfectly, when lighter cars and higher horsepower broke speed records at a blistering clip and technological advancements changed the game nearly month to month. It also bears witness to the extreme danger of competing in that era, where several drivers might lose their lives in a season and mechanical failure at a place like Le Mans could well spell death not only for the driver but for scores of spectators, as well. You can practically smell the castor oil, hear the roar of the engines as they tear out of the pits and down the Mulsanne Straight at 200 miles per hour and feel your pulse pound as you wonder which cars can survive that most treacherous of 24-hours in a normally peaceful French countryside gone berserk with noise, action and teeming humanity. Read it and enjoy it for yourself. If Go Like Hell doesn’t get your juices flowing and primed for another grand season of motorsport you better just stick to baseball.

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tomvox1’s Vintage Watches for Sale — February selection

I have previously extolled the humble virtues of the vintage Eterna KonTiki 20 but I have never come across a more unique example than this one. Sun and time have conspired to bleach the dial down to its most elemental hue, that of a remarkable bright bronze that changes tone in different light and with the angle of your wrist.

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The condition of the all steel case matches the life well lived of this incredible dial, making this is a watch that is simply vintage magic on the wrist with stories to tell. With a nicely sized 36mm diameter and a water resistant steel case with screwed back & oversized crown the KonTiki 20 has classic rugged good looks. It’s not a watch you have to baby, even after all these years.

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Featuring a high grade Eterna-modified ETA movement, the caliber 1489K has shock protection and a very cool quickset date feature via pulling the crown out past the time setting position repeatedly. But again, the real star is this remarkable dial. Not only is the golden bronze tone stunning but the unique aging just happened to occur to an already “exotic”-type dial with red minute track ring and ridged markers with funky butterscotch-toned inlays.

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About as cool as they come and priced well below a grand, this Tropical KonTiki is destined to be snapped up by a discerning fan of wabisabi in vintage watches, an ever growing fraternity. If you’re quick enough on the draw, it you could be you joining the club.

Check out the full ad with many more pictures and complete description over at Timezone.com’s Sales Corner.  SOLD

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The Allure of Military Watches — The Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “No Radiations” Bundeswehr

First off, let me say I don’t claim to be an expert on the vintage Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “No Radiations” Bundeswehr-issued diver. Everything I’ve learned is from other, more knowledgeable collectors sharing their considerable expertise about this model with me. That said, I have owned two of them so I thought it would be useful to at least present what I do know about the watch, as well as what are hopefully some helpful pictures.

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The issued Blancpain Fifty Fathoms “No Radiations” dive watches were requisitioned by the German Bundeswehr (Armed Forces) for their elite naval commando unit, the Kampfschwimmer, from around the mid-1960s until the early 1970s, when they were replaced with another model of BPFF (the big cushion shaped one with the crown at “4”, a red 3H on the dial to denote Tritium and the co-called “sterile” bezel with luminous triangle only and no numerals or hash marks). It’s no surprise that the German Navy chose Blaincpain divers for their elite frogmen forces. From its earliest conception the Fifty Fathoms was meant to be a serious purpose built diver, as proven by its legendary connection to the great Jacques Cousteau nearly from the start. The design was so good that the “No Radiations” version from the 1960s can directly trace its lineage to the models made for for the US Navy in the 1950s, the legendary MilSpec 1 and the even more uncommon Tornek-Rayville. (While the TR 900 is technically not considered a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the MilSpec & TR 900 are almost identical and certainly Allen Tornek was re-badging Rayvilles as Blancpains all along — so what is the difference between a Rayville that doesn’t have “Blancpain” on the dial and one that does really — aside from rarity, that is?).

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The idiosyncratic red & yellow crossed-out trefoil badge with a tiny “No Radiations” printed within took the place of the earlier models’ moisture indicator disc above the “6” marker and made a virtue out of the new regulations regarding radioactivity on wristwatches, the famous “T<25” standard. No doubt the previous 1950s versions of Fifty Fathoms utilized highly radioactive Radium for their super luminous dials and bezels, like so many other watchmakers at the dawn of the Toolwatch era, as well as a rumored incorporation of the even deadlier Promethium. And so the “No Radiations” badge was a very overt way for Blancpain to indicate that they had broken from the use of highly radioactive lume and were now firmly on board with the “Less than 25 milicuries of Tritium maximum” mandate codified in the early 1960s. This had the added benefit of making the watch suitable for military duty, as the T<25 standards were also strictly enforced in the martial world, with older Radium-lumed watches regularly being scrubbed at service, re-lumed with Tritium and then returned to duty. And just to be certain that they were getting the message across, Blancpain still printed “T < 25 MC” at a cocky angle below the “5” marker, one of the few companies aside from Rolex to use such a clear literal notation of the radioactive content of their dial & hands.

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The case of the “No Rads” Fifty Fathoms in a nicely sized 40mm across without the crown by around 50mm lug-to-lug. It has an all-steel three-piece screwed construction, more polished than a MilSpec but sharing the long sweeping lugs with squared off edges. Continue reading

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RIP Maurice White, 1941-2016

Another music great has left the building. Maurice White, the fantastically talented founder and leader of the genre bending R&B band, Earth, Wind & Fire, passed away at his home in LA on February 4th at the age of 74. The New York Times obituary is here.

Maurice White had a composer’s sense of musical innovation, applying highly advanced theories to the rapidly evolving R&B of the late 1960s and early 70s to create a funky, sometimes disco-y but always feel-good stew that was also pleasantly steeped in astrology and ancient Egyptian mythology. Along with their contemporaries Parliament/Funkadelic and Kool & the Gang, EWF made the 1970s one of the most exciting decades for innovative and creatively satisfying African-American music with immense multicultural crossover appeal. Even the band’s more disco-fied hits like “Boogie Wonderland” were undergirded by an intellectual and musical rigor that allowed Jazz, Funk & Soul influences to bubble to the surface, subtly contributing to the overall vibe of ecstatic rejoicing.

Always focusing on the positive and the uplifting, Maurice White was committed to using the power of music for spiritual explorations and personal growth and seeking to put in sonic form the transcendence that comes from a profoundly positive shared experience. EWF’s live shows were legendary and remained inspiring right up until the end, a great multihued dance party for all their fans old and new. Earth, Wind & Fire incorporated African instruments such as Mr. White’s signature kalimba along with a killer horn section and the most up to date electronic keyboards. And then their songs were elevated to the stratosphere by the soaring falsetto vocals of Philip Bailey, as well as Mr. White’s own excellent vocal contributions. Truly, the best of Earth Wind & Fire inhabits a plane of musical excellence that moves both the booty and the spirit. If you could sum up Maurice White’s philosophy of self-improvement and spiritual nourishment through the power of music in one short phrase it would have to be “Keep Your Head To The Sky”. You’d be hard pressed to find a negative, downbeat sentiment in any of EWF’s extensive canon. Even their sad songs raise the spirit. And to pull that off without devolving into sappiness and pap takes a rare skill.

Maurice White surely exhibited that skill with a rare deftness and proficiency, the kind that seems effortless but is the product of countless hours of practice and study, of drilling a large crack ensemble, all while pushing musical boundaries and laying down a challenge to his peers to raise their game or get left behind. Go back and listen to Earth Wind & Fire’s best music and you realize how beautifully well crafted and elegant this alleged “pop” dance music is. it is one of the sins of omission in music criticism that R&B music rarely gets tagged with the “art” label. But certainly the seminal performances of EWF’s best recordings rise to that level, no matter how pleasing to the ear and the pelvis they are. Sadly, the genius behind so much of their tremendous success is gone now. But the music will live on as long as we’re capable of playing it. And when we’re looking for uplift and positive vibes, as well as rump shaking good times, there are very few other bands that will satisfy quite like Earth, Wind & Fire. That’s about as great a legacy as I can imagine anyone leaving behind for the world.

TheKinks

Earworm of the day — This Time Tomorrow by The Kinks

Finally got around to acquiring The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Pt. I on digital after never replacing my old LP of it (probably still in a box in the garage beneath 10 other boxes of CDs!). I had forgotten what a great album it is. Not only the oft-played hits “Lola” and Apeman”, two relatively rare examples of humor propelling successful Rock songs, but also the wonderfully sardonic “Top of the Pops” and the groovin’ “Powerman”. Really the whole album has this lovely, organically acoustic feel via the liberal use of dobros, Martin guitars and banjos that contrasts sharply but pleasantly with the worldly, jaded lyrics. That also leads to an interesting Roots-Americana influence on a band that is really the most archetypally British of all the British Invaders. But perhaps my favorite track on this standout 1970 album is the beautifully wistful “This Time Tomorrow.”

Encapsulating the yearning and ennui inherent in the constant touring of the Rock ‘n Roll lifestyle, the song is 3:21 of musical bliss. From the jet engine opening to the wonderful banjo-guitar-piano interplay to the always excellent Ray Davies’ heartfelt but never maudlin lyrics, “This Time Tomorrow” is one of the great life-on-the-road Rock songs. It also fits in so well with Lola‘s leitmotif of all around disenchantment with the music business at large. After all, whenever you start doing something for money it loses a lot of its charm and romance, its bright-eyed innocence & enthusiasm. But the paradox is that Ray Davies and the Kinks’ very jaundiced reflections on their life as professional musicians vis a vis Lola Versus Powerman produced such a sparklingly gorgeous pop ballad. And like the best of The Kinks, it sounds as good and fresh today as it did 45 years ago. That’s writing what you know even though you may be sick to death of it and still turning it into gold.

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Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Léa Seydoux

It’s fairly obvious that when a new Bond Girl debuts she is going to be a stunner. And in 2015’s Spectre, the ravishing Léa Seydoux most definitely lived up to the hype. But her Dr. Madeleine Swann is also tough and resourceful enough to be a match for Daniel Craig’s James Bond. And not just in the bedroom. In fact, Bond would never extract himself from his various life-threatening predicaments without Dr. Swann’s assistance taking on the title’s ultra-deadly criminal organization. And if Spectre turned the stunning Ms. Seydoux into an overnight pop culture phenomenon, the truth is that the 30-year-old French actress has been busy earning her place in the spotlight for several years now.

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Born in Paris to well-off and media-connected parents, Léa origially wanted to be an opera singer and did not start to pursue acting until her late teens. After some work modeling and appearing in short films, she broke through with 2008’s The Beautiful Person, which garnered her awards for best upcoming actress at Cannes and at the Césars. From there she was off and running, as the film world took notice of not just her natural peaches-and-cream, blue-eyed Gallic beauty but also her impressive acting chops and emotional daring.

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Ms. Seydoux had small roles in big pictures, Tarrantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009) and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (2010). Then in 2011 Woody Allen picked her out for a plum role in his excellent Midnight In Paris and she landed a lead role in the latest installment of the Tom Cruise action blockbuster franchise, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

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She was back working in France for two big critical successes, as the servant girl witnessing Marie Antoinette’s last days in Farewell, My Queen and the controversially erotic art house smash, Blue Is the Warmest Color.

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And now she’s won the double-edged immortality that comes with being a Bond Girl. But Léa Seydoux’s steel-wrapped-in-silk portrayal of Madeleine Swann may be the most formidable member of that illustrious club since Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore… and without having to be stuck with a campy name to boot.

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It’s only fitting that she and Craig walk off into the sunset to close out this excellent era of the Bond saga. But with her wonderful abilities as an actress and a face that the camera loves and is built to melt hearts, there’s no way we’ve seen the last of Ms. Seydoux. Which is surely a good thing because we’re looking forward to her future career being as impressive and exciting as her astonishing start.