Monday, September 15, 2014

Cosimo Matassa, Rock n' Roll Pioneer (1924-2014)

Yesterday, I came across the name of Cosimo Matassa in the national obituary. I must confess. The fact that I was unfamiliar with his legacy is proof positive that one can always learn something new. A recording engineer and studio owner responsible for many early rock n' roll and R&B hits, Cosimo (pronounced Cosmo) died last Thursday at age 88. In 2007 he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Five years later, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as a non-performer) for his output of 250 hit singles and 21 gold records recorded at his New Orleans, Louisiana-based J&M Recording Studio. Other inductees that year included the Beastie Boys, Guns n' Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In 2013, he was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
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Named for the initials of his father, John and the last name of his business partner Joe Mancuso, the studio's name was later changed in 1955 to Cosimo's Recording Studio. A sampling of the hits that were recorded there include: Frankie Ford's "Sea Cruise", Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly", Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight" and eight songs by Fats Domino, including "The Fat Man", (Domino's first commercial success), and "I Hear You Knocking". 
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Although his family was involved in the grocery business, the studio was originally a store that Matassa  bought to sell appliances. His father's sideline business involved installing juke boxes in bars and restaurants. As is the case with many successful enterprises, Matassa found a niche' selling used records from the juke boxes. The fledgling used record business was expanded to include new records, and business was brisk at J&M Appliance Store & Record Shop. Ever the entrepreneur, when Matassa realized that there were no facilities for musicians to record their music, he used his technical school skills to acquire direct-to-disc recording equipment in 1946 and opened a 15-by-16-foot studio in the back of the store. Using a formulaic operations rule of recording a two to three minute song exactly as he did in each previous session, Matassa encouraged all artists to perform as if they were in front of a live audience.  The "Cosimo Sound" (alternately known as the "New Orleans Sound") is a phrase coined to reflect Matassa's preference for mixing strong drumming with heavy guitar, bass and piano with light horns, and strong lead vocals. 
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"I always tried to capture the dynamics of a live performance," Matassa stated at the time of his 2012 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "These guys were doing these songs on their gigs and that was the sound that I was trying to get. We didn't have any gimmicks–no overdubbing, no reverb–nothing. Those guys played with a lot of excitement; and I felt if I couldn't put it in the groove, people weren't going to move."  In 2010, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named the former studio site (now a laundromat) a historic landmark, one of only 11 in the United States.
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Matassa's Market grocery is today run by his sons and granddaughter.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

20 Important Songs in Rock (Part 4)

 
  Photos--Gene Taylor
L-R: Dave Smalley: Bass; Eric Carmen: Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano; Wally Bryson: Lead Guitar, Vocals; Jim Bonfanti: Drums.
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 "Pete Townshend coined the phrase (power pop) to define what The Who did. For some reason, it didn't stick to The Who, but it did stick to these groups that came out in the `70s that played kind of melodic songs with crunchy guitars and some wild drumming. It just kind of stuck to us like glue, and that was OK with us because the Who were among our highest role models. We absolutely loved the Who." --Eric Carmen
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The Raspberries: "Tonight": I'm proud to include this band among my all time favorites. I first heard them as a kid, laying on the floor of my parents house, with my head between two bookshelf speakers. This band all but alluded my peers, but I heard something special. They hail from Cleveland, Ohio--in the upper Northwest of the state--a long drive from my hometown of Cincinnati--and their sound was magic. As one of the most overlooked bands in rock and roll, their roots can be traced to two of Cleveland's most popular local bands--The Choir and Cyrus Erie. The Raspberries drew comparisons to The Beatles with their musicianship. In fact, they were a favorite of former Beatle John Lennon. Their songwriting was had unforgettable melodic hooks and tightly crafted harmonies, often compared with The Hollies and The Beach Boys. Their repertoire is infused with an urgent message of teenage angst for love and romance. The band members drew tremendous inspiration from bands associated with "The British Invasion" (including The Beatles, Small Faces, and The Who). Lead singer Eric Carmen's voice is easily recognizable. His first solo hit, "All By Myself" charted nationwide at No. 2. In 1987, Eric appeared on the soundtrack of the film "Dirty Dancing", with the hits, "Hungry Eyes" and "Make Me Lose Control".
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From playing roadhouses to bursting onto the world stage with "Go All The Way", the hits soon followed: "Let's Pretend", "I Can Remember", "Ecstasy", "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)", "I Wanna Be With You", "Don't Want To Say Goodbye", and "Drivin' Around". The group's five-year run was alternately revered and excoriated with artistic misinterpretation. Music critic Nick Charles wrote the following observation: "For several years now, Raspberries has been one of the best bands in America, yet millions of hardcore rock fanatics are ignoring them to death. The band has what's called 'an image problem'. In an era where bizarre eccentricity and decadence have become the established criteria for hip acts, Raspberries are caught in a time warp. Their music is fundamental English-Invasion influenced rock n' roll, and the fact that they play it better than anyone else in years doesn't seem to make a bit of difference to the trendies who demand avante-garde pretensions as a guaranty of quality". After disbanding in 1975, the band reunited in 2004 for a tour that included appearances on VH1 and XM Satellite Radio, resulting in 2005's double-CD and DVD "Raspberries Live On The Sunset Strip". The package includes a foreword written by Bruce Springsteen, and a 1970s photo of Beatle John Lennon wearing a Raspberries T-shirt. In 2014, the iconic Raspberries hit "Go All the Way" was included in the film Guardians of the Galaxy. A review in The Albany Democrat Herald noted, "While it’s freaky to hear The Raspberries’ in space, one recognizes the malleability of its majesty and craft and appreciate the range of vocalist Eric Carmen". They are a must-hear band worthy of some long-overdue consideration, and for others, an incredible discovery.
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Image-Rykodisc
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Image--Everso Records
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Shelby Lynne: "Jesus On A Greyhound": While perhaps a surprise inclusion among hardcore fans, my answer is: "Not really". In the first place, here is a true artist who refuses to be restricted or marginalized by a single musical category: Country, Blues, Rock, Folk or Soul. Shelby Lynne is a maverick, a survivor, and for others, an enigma. One of the finest singers in the business, there's nothing quite like an acoustic solo concert by Shelby Lynne. She's an original singer/songwriter who rejected an unstated rule from Nashville that insisted country music was defined by a musical artist's preceding CD, and not the succeeding one. This was evident with the release of the Glen Ballard-produced, "Love Shelby" (Lynne and Ballard co-wrote "Jesus On A Greyhound"). But time has a way of allowing audiences to re-evaluate this position. The release of "Live at McCabe's" contains this song on the Set List for the second of a two-night sold out performance, and is ample proof of this phenomenon.
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One only needs to return to their school days, when English teachers attempted to teach the use of metaphors in literature. In literal terms, I rode aboard a Greyhound bus on a number of trips to visit my grandparents in Detroit (quite an adventure for a 7 year-old). This seemingly obscure fact helped me to contemplate the singer's story of a bearded man with long hair, sandals, and scarred hands who as the stark lyrics state: "looked right through me". Skeptics may ask of the lyrics, "Could he have been a freak, a criminal, a crazy person, or an imposter at best?" It's here where a little patience pays off, to allow the listener to ponder the hypothetical circumstances of Jesus sitting down in the next seat and allowing a conversation, without revealing his identity. Incidentally, this song does play gentle, but it rocks too by the time the exclamation is made: "Somewhere in the sunlit mornin'/ I stepped off the bus in the middle of the city of angels", with a hard edge. Yet, even the most schooled folk music teacher will easily admit to the emotion of sincerity, inasmuch as a pastor or Biblical scholar would admit this song as squaring with what is historically known of Jesus Christ. A unique artist whom I had the rare privilege of meeting, here's an honest song that rocks somewhere between the marrow and the bone.
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Orbison Records
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Roy Orbison: "The Comedians": Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty have called him the greatest singer they've ever heard. Roy Orbison was a rockabilly guitarist whose ballads of heartbreak, loneliness and love lost was served up with a three to four octave range tenor voice, and a vibrato that inspired a young Bruce Springsteen and countless others. His trademark sunglasses and propensity to dress in all black clothing created an image of mystery. As hard as it may be to imagine, Orbison explained that the trademark sunglasses was the result of a simple mistake. During a 1963 concert  tour stop in Alabama, he left his clear prescription glasses on the plane, and resorted to grabbing his Wayfaring brand prescription dark sunglasses to wear during his performance. At the time, this was considered very riske' and "not cool" to go onstage donning sunglasses, and Orbison was embarrassed. However, in a surprise twist of fate, the move was positively embraced by fans. In the years that followed, Orbison almost never appeared in public without his special black framed glasses, leading many to assume incorrectly that Orbison was blind.
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From 1960 to 1964 he wrote and produced a staggering 24 of 40 Top 10 hits familiar to all generations. Some examples include: "Pretty Woman", "In Dreams", "Running Scared" and "Blue Bayou". Soft spoken and polite, he endured enormous personal tragedy with the loss of his first wife in a motorcycle accident, and a house fire while he was on tour in the U.K. that claimed the lives of his two sons, ages 6 and 10. Orbison credited his Christian faith with allowing him to survive these losses. An immensely popular international figure, Orbison toured with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Gerry and the Pacemakers. His songs are often referred to as "three minute operas", and convey the intense desperation and emotion amid themes of heartbreak, loneliness and betrayal. The songs almost always had a dramatic ending, leaving audiences breathless. A career slump materialized in the late 1960s as the music scene shifted to psychedelic rock, leaving Orbison bewildered and sidelined until the mid-1980s. 
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The movie "Pretty Woman" starring Julia Roberts showcased his best known hit, while David Lynch's film, "Blue Velvet" made ample use of his hit song, "In Dreams". Duets followed including "Crying" with k.d. lang, and "That Loving You Feeling Again" with Emmylou Harris. Orbison also co-founded The Traveling Wilbury's with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty to critical acclaim with the hit: "Handle with Care".
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In 1987, Roy Orbison's "comeback" was fully secured with the release of a spectacular concert event filmed at The Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove night club in Los Angeles. Backed by a string section, Orbison enlisted members of Elvis Presley's TCB road band (who toured with Presley from 1969 until his untimely death in 1977). Backing vocalists included: Jennifer Warnes, k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, and Jackson Browne. Additional musical support included guitarists Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, T. Bone Burnett, Tom Waits and Steven Soles. The special was entitled: Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night, and was initially filmed as a 1988 Cinemax television special for broadcast on January 3, 1988. As the tile suggests, the concert was filmed entirely in black and white from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. A live album was released following the broadcast.  Admirers in the audience included Patrick Swayze, Billy Idol and Sandra Bernhardt. Amusingly, ardent fans (including some members of the string section) are seen wearing sun glasses throughout the show as a tribute to Orbison. The song I've selected here has an interesting short story.
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Musical Director T. Bone Burnett contacted Elvis Costello (who served as an arranger and rhythm guitarist for the concert) to write a song for Orbison. Costello reworked his original song, "The Comedians" with new lyrics. The revised song depicts the story of abandonment and heartbreak, as the song's protagonist (Orbison) takes a Ferris wheel ride at an amusement park. He looks down only to see his girlfriend flirting with the amusement park ride operator, who stops the Ferris wheel with Orbison perched precariously in the air. Believing this to be a prank initially, Orbison witnesses the duo below leaving the park holding hands, while his heart is breaking. One by one, the lights of the amusement park are extinguished, leaving him contemplating his grief atop the Ferris wheel until sunrise. As with each of Orbison's songs, the tension builds to a dramatic conclusion in under four minutes--then the standard length of a song eligible for radio air play.   
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 A heavy smoker, Roy Orbison underwent triple bypass heart surgery, but continued to smoke afterwards, and toured relentlessly. Orbison's admirable reputation was that of a soft-spoken Christian man who, while exceedingly grateful, never quite understood his success. His stage persona was neither flashy nor exceptional. In contrast to other entertainers, he stood motionless during his performances and explained that this suited his shy and quiet personality, preferring that audiences focus on his music. His popularity in Europe often exceeded that of the United States, where the crush of fans often required police protection--even in a destination as unlikely as Sofia, Bulgaria. Roy Orbison's final concert was performed in Highland Heights, Ohio on December 4, 1988 shortly after being inducted into Cleveland, Ohio's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen. Two days later, he suffered a massive heart attack in Tennessee while dining with his parents, and died at age 52. Throughout his career he amassed 40 Top hit singles and 50 Gold Records.    


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Hep Records
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Otis Redding: "Try a Little Tenderness": Widely considered one of the greatest singers in rhythm and blues, Otis Redding hailed from Dawson, Georgia and became a prolific songwriter, producer and businessman. His career began in earnest in 1958 as a member of Little Richard's backing band, The Upsetters. In 1962, his first hit song on the Stax record label was "These Arms of Mine", followed by the 1964 album "Pain in my Heart".  In his short life, his career advanced from appearances in the deeply segregated South on the "Chitlin' circuit". Seeking to broaden his audience, Redding appeared at the "Whiskey A Go-Go" in Los Angeles. Bob Dylan, who was in attendance, approached Redding afterwards to offer him his song, "Just Like a Woman" (later rejected by the singer). In 1965, his simultaneous appearances on both the Billboard Pop and Rhythm and Blues charts confirmed a universal fan base. Redding's high energy stage performances conveyed an honesty and pleading with the ballad he co-wrote, "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)". Hits included: "Chained and Bound", "Come to Me", and "Respect". Redding's vocal style heavily influenced artists as diverse as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Kanye West, and Usher. Following appearances at The Apollo Theater in New York, The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, California, and tours in Europe, his breakthrough arrived in 1967 at The Monterey Pop Festival  (with Booker T & the MG's as his backing group). The concert was captured on film before an audience of 200,000 with memorable performances of The Rolling Stone's hit "Satisfaction", "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)", and "Try A Little Tenderness"--in later years a hit song for the band Three Dog Night.  Just days later, Redding wrote "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" with guitarist Steve Cropper. After an appearance on Cleveland, Ohio's television show "Upbeat", Redding and his band boarded a private aircraft bound for a Madison, Wisconsin concert on December 9, 1967. Against warnings to wait out poor weather conditions of fog and rain, the group took off and crashed just four miles from their destination into Lake Monona  killing Redding and his Bar Kay band members, with Ben Cauley as the only survivor. Redding was 26 years old. Posthumous releases of live performances and studio recordings followed with Rolling Stone magazine recognizing Otis Redding on its List of Greatest Singers of All Time at No. 21.        
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Atlantic Records
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Crosby, Stills, & Nash: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes": Singer/songwriter Stephen Stills wrote this song about former girlfriend, singer Judy Collins--a woman as striking as a singer as she is in her physical beauty with soulful blue eyes. The song appears on the trio's debut album and is a concert staple with Stills on acoustic guitar (incidentally, one of the finest blues guitarists I've heard). The song is structured in four distinct sections traversing from a pop ballad, then down shifting to different tempos with Stills as the lead singer, who is tightly supported by the harmonies of David Crosby and Graham Nash. Popular lore has it that Stills presented the song on acoustic guitar to Collins, who acknowledged the effort as a legacy of their former relationship. The song showcases the strength of the trio's harmonies that form the basis of their 4 decade musicianship and rightful place in rock history. The trio's first professional appearance was at The Woodstock Music Festival. Their debut album yielded the well regarded songs, "Wooden Ships", "Marrakesh Express", "Helplessly Hoping", and "Long Time Gone". David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a group,  and a second time with their individual associations to The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies, respectively. In addition, they have been inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, again, as a group and each member as an individual solo artist.
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This concludes my 4-part blog series...

 


Thursday, September 04, 2014

20 Important Songs in Rock (Part 3)

(Columbia Records)
The part-acoustic, part electric concert captured in "The Bootleg Series"

Bob Dylan: "Like a Rolling Stone": This 1965 song by Bob Dylan piqued the ears of a then-15 year-old Bruce Springsteen--and millions of listeners. Written after an exhausting tour of England, Dylan is said to have distilled between 10 to 20 pages of lyrics into just four verses and a chorus. Initially written in 3/4 time, the song ended up with a 4/4 time signature. Most unusual was the prominent use of organ and electric guitar--first introduced at the Newport Folk Festival to the shock of folk music purists in the audience. The song is angry and confrontational, although we still don't know who, specifically, is the target of wrath.
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In 1966, Dylan considered it his best song and toured with The Band for the electric portion of his performances. In a famous incident captured on tape at Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, as Dylan was tuning his guitar between songs, an angry member of the audience shouted "Judas!"--a reference to Dylan using the electric guitar, implying that he had sold out to folk music fans. Dylan replied, "I don't believe you. You're a liar!" The band and Dylan launched into a slow, loud, and angry rendition of "Like A Rolling Stone"--almost to the point of overplaying each note for emphasis.
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(Columbia Records)
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The single, written for the album "Highway 61 Revisited", challenged radio stations and their "less than 3 minutes" play rule, clocking in at over 6 and a half minutes in length. In 1989, and again in 2011, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song atop its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" List. The song's focus is a woman, resented for once having enjoyed the upper crust trappings of society with a cynical sneer, who is now reduced to a threadbare existence, and forced to re-evaluate her values with Dylan intoning repeatedly, "How does it feel?/ to be on your own/ with no direction known/ like a complete unknown/ like a rolling stone". The wailing organ, guitar, and attacking harmonica lead the lengthy song, and the song has never fully been explained by Dylan. In May 2014, the auction house, Sotheby's, auctioned Dylan's original hand-written lyrics of "Like a Rolling Stone" in New York on June 24, 2014, for $2 million. Dylan is widely called "The voice of a generation", even if he didn't seek that status. Unquestionably, every listener can think of at least one person in their past or present who fits the song's lyrics. This author had never seen the shocking video performance until this writing. Dylan answered the charge of "Judas" well, and the lyrics are well worth a Google search. Performance: HERE.

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(Columbia Records)
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Janis Joplin: "A Woman Left Lonely": The late Janis Joplin is today considered, in retrospect, one of the greatest female blues singers to convey raw emotion, annealed beneath a lonely, troubled existence of self destruction. Hailing from Port Arthur,  Texas her vocal abilities drew the attention of the psychedelic band Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1966. Her breakthrough performance after two years of coast to coast touring came during The Monterey Music Festival. The album, "Cheap Thrills" marked her breakthrough into the mainstream in top form with songs including" Summertime", and the hit single "Piece of My Heart". From playing small San Francisco clubs to European tours, television shows, and music festivals (including an appearance at Woodstock) Joplin performed with the Kozmic Blues Band, before ultimately forming her final backing group, Full Tilt Boogie. A heavy drinker, she died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol, not realizing the heroin she purchased was far more potent than the amount she had previously been injecting. The final album, "Pearl" was left unfinished with the singer's death at age 27--just 16 days after the passing of Jimi Hendrix. "Pearl", the singer's nickname, was released posthumously in 1971, and became the best selling album of her meteoric career. Her final recorded song was the a cappella, "Mercedes Benz". Joplin recorded a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for ex-Beatle John Lennon's 30th birthday. He received it after her death. The album also yielded the hit song by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, "Me and Bobby McGee" (while accompanying herself on acoustic guitar).  The LP is ranked No. 122 of Rolling Stones "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Peaking for 4 weeks on "The Billboard Top 200", the LP was produced by Paul A. Rothchild, who had also produced The Doors. While her hits receive the bulk of attention, her prowess as a blues singer can be heard HERE.
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(Columbia Records)
The Byrds: "Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season": It's easy to overlook that folk singer Pete Singer actually wrote this song in the late 1950's. By 1962, the final verse of the song was amended by the Bible's "Book of Ecclesiastes". In late 1965, The Byrd's (Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, and Chris Hillman) adapted an original chamber-folk rendition from a staid version that McGuinn had arranged for singer Judy Collins' 3rd LP. The song secured The Byrds' reputation as progenitors of folk-rock, and required 78 takes over five days, with McGuinn's jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar predominating. Listed on "Billboard's Top 100 Songs of All Time", the song's verse was widely interpreted as a call for peace and tolerance during the Vietnam War. Traditionally ascribed to King Soloman, it reads:   
 
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
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The Performance: HERE.
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(Reprise Records)
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Jimi Hendrix: "Purple Haze": Recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience  on January 11, 1967, this song introduced the foundation for Hendrix' complex guitar playing. Created over four days with Hendrix alone in the studio with producer Chas Chandler, Hendrix introduced it to drummer Mitch Mitchell, and bassist Noel Redding. The trio captured the fourth take of the song in London. It's haunting riff gives way to Hendrix's searing lead solo work and use of distortion. Guitar acoustical engineering was introduced with this song, with Hendrix adding guitar parts and vocals the previous week.  As a lead guitarist Hendrix was a phenomenon with unforeseen speed, fluidity and harmonics rarely seen--before or since. The album, "Are You Experienced?", spent 33 weeks on the charts in England, stymied only by The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band" LP. Ironically, Paul McCartney recommended Hendrix to organizers of The Monterey Pop Festival as "an absolute ace on the guitar". Hendrix and The Experience broke up with Hendrix forming the short-lived "Band of Gypsies" just two weeks prior to his performance at Woodstock as the closing act on a Sunday. Approximately 40,000 people stayed long enough to hear the musician before leaving. Hendrix performed "The Star Spangled Banner", intoning plenty of feedback and string artistry that was interpreted as a protest to Vietnam, but in fact, according to Hendrix, was merely meant to capture a decade that was drawing to an end. He then segued into "Purple Haze". Hendrix died of a barbiturate overdose on September 17, 1970 in London.  Performance: HERE.  
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(Warner Brothers)
The Doobie Brothers: "Rockin' Down the Highway": This California band has its roots in San Jose, California in 1968. It has become a true amalgamation of players who have left and returned again, including guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, and the two original founding guitarists of note, Tom Johnson and Patrick Simmons who remain today. The band's image of leather jackets and motorcycles continues to be a reflection of their fan base. In 1972, the band was in the midst of recording songs for the upcoming album "Tolouse Street", so named for a French Quarter haunt in New Orleans, when bassist Dave Shogren left after a dispute with producer Ted Templeman. His replacement was singer/songwriter and bassist Tiran Porter, who brought a funkier sound to the band. With Porter on board, a three part harmony emerged. This second album marked the addition of the band's main stay-dual drummers--and produced the classic rock staples, "Listen to the Music", and "Jesus is Just Alright". I've blogged about this next fact a number of times, with respect and affection for childhood neighbors who lived two doors away from the home where I was raised in southwestern Cincinnati.

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A playmate of mine had an older brother who was prolific on no less than eight instruments; his mainstays were bass and guitar. His band, "The Bread Machine" covered hits by the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, David Bowie, and The Doobie Brothers--among others. Three of us were permitted access to their basement rehearsals, on the condition that we didn't speak or otherwise interrupt the band. A truly excellent local band, the song I recall most from that session was "Rockin' Down the Highway", written by Tom Johnson.
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In April 2013, I saw the Doobie Brothers perform live at Westworld in Scottsdale, Arizona during "Bike Fest". Their concerts begin with massive audio/visual screens over the stage featuring a Harley Davidson motorcycle being kick started and revved up. Given to a largely octane-driven set of original hard rock, the band's musicianship is extraordinary, with finger picking acoustic guitar playing. The band has sold over 40 million records, after disbanding twice with over 20 lineups, including singer/songwriter and keyboardist Michael McDonald. Five band members of The Doobie Brothers have died over the years, including drummers Keith Knudsen in 2005, and Michael Hossack in 2012--both from cancer. The band continues to tour relentlessly to sold out shows. Performance: HERE.  
 



Wednesday, September 03, 2014

20 Important Songs in Rock (Part 2)

 
(RCA)

Elvis Presley: "Way Down": For me, this gem is largely unrecognized, and under appreciated for the true rocker that it is. Despite his poor health from widely publicized use of prescription medications and poor eating habits, Presley's voice is strong throughout the album. With the exception of three cuts used as filler: two Olivia Newton John hits, "If You Love Me Let Me Know", "Let Me Be There", and  the Maurice William's song "Little Darlin'" (later used by Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty in the film "Ishtar"), the LP "Moody Blue" was cobbled together from an extraordinary event.
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In February 1976, RCA Records executives became irate when Presley refused to record at Stax Records in Memphis (or anywhere else at the time) to fulfill an album under contractual obligations. Tiring of the delays, RCA dispatched a large mobile sound truck that was driven to the singer's Graceland mansion, and parked in the rear lot. Technicians began laying power cables from the mobile unit into the home's "Jungle Room". Members of Presley's TCB touring and recording band assembled, (including backing vocalists, The Sweet Inspirations, and J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet) waiting for the singer to come downstairs from his bedroom to record the vocal tracks. On many nights, Presley sent word to the band (who regularly sent out for food) that he was too ill to perform. The sessions were long, and by one account, included an incident where Presley withdrew a .45 caliber hand gun to shoot the speakers during a playback. He was ultimately wrestled to the floor, and the hand gun was safely confiscated, before Elvis stormed off to his upstairs bedroom.
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In spite of this tension, some of Presley's strongest work found its way from these sessions onto the LP "From Elvis Presley Boulevard Memphis, Tennessee Recorded Live". The remainder of the songs were used to create the LP "Moody Blue".  "Way Down" was released in the early summer of 1977, at No. 18 in the U.S. (ranked at No. 1 in the U.K.), and soon rose to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart the week of Presley's death. I'd be remiss without noting that the album opens with a stunning, emotional rendition of "Unchained Melody" recorded live on tour in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Presley accompanying himself at the piano. Fated to be his final album, a limited run pressing of the vinyl LP was produced in blue plastic, and alternately became known as "the blue album". It was certified Gold and Platinum on September 12, 1977 and Double Platinum on March 27, 1992 by the RIAA. Performance: HERE.

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(Columbia Records)
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Bruce Springsteen: "Born to Run": It's with some modicum of self deprecating humor that I reference the inclusion of this classic hit from 1975 in a previous blog post by imploring you to Click HERE for the full story. This song is a high energy drama of the protagonist's escape with his girlfriend from a dead-end existence in a city filled with heartbreak, loss, despair, and ending with hope for a life that awaits ahead. It is a masterpiece. Performance: HERE.

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(Downey Records)
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The Chantays: "Pipeline": The reason for my inclusion of this hit song is two-fold. I consider it to be an homage to my first guitar teacher, the late Bob Miketa. As a 12 year-old, I purchased a three-dollar book of rock songs to bring to my music lessons. As Bob was paging through the book, he noticed "Pipeline" and remarked, "Man, that was a rocker!". I've posted about this before, but this song is simultaneously fun and mysterious.
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First of all, it's an instrumental that was recorded at the height of the surfing craze in late 1962. It features bass arpeggios, with an electric piano and a rhythm guitar "out front" in the recording. The lead guitar and drums are--for lack of a better term--"buried" in the back of the recording. Second--and on a humorous note--this became the only rock band ever featured on "The Lawrence Welk Show"--and yes, I'm serious!  Whoever masterminded that appearance with the band miming their unplugged electric guitars to the scratchy 45 rpm recording that is audible with hysterically choreographed dance steps (Click HERE to see this performance) must have been either a well-intentioned geeky high school music teacher who considered the Welk show to be cutting edge, or someone who recognized the awkward television program as an opportunity for publicity. The song is nevertheless one that will get stuck in your head if you listen to it over morning coffee. And yeah, Bob was right. It is a rocker, although it was many years before I understood what a "pipeline" was! On a more serious note, legendary guitarists Dick Dale and the late Stevie Ray Vaughn later performed the song, and The Chantay's are still touring! They are legends, and I hope the guys can laugh about the Welk show appearance today. 
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 (Polydor Records)
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The Rolling Stones: "Start Me Up": A concert staple that was originally written in 1975 and set aside, the final cut made its way onto the 1981 album "Tattoo You". It reached No 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (and No. 7 on the U.K. Singles Chart) after a long gestation period. Initially a heavy reggae-laden song, according to guitarist Keith Richards: "It was one of those things we cut a lot of times; one of those cuts that you can play forever and ever in the studio. Twenty minutes go by and you're still locked into those two chords. Sometimes you become conscious of the fact that, 'Oh, it's "Brown Sugar" again, so you begin to explore other rhythmic possibilities. It's basically trial and error. We were cutting it for Emotional Rescue, but it was nowhere near coming through, and we put it aside and almost forgot about it".
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Producer Chris Kimsey is credited with finding the song after poring through volumes of Stone's music, and encouraging a harder edge: "Including run-throughs, 'Start Me Up' took about six hours to record. You see, if they all played the right chords in the right time, went to the chorus at the right time and got to the middle eight together, that was a master. It was like, 'Oh, wow!' Don't forget, they would never sit down and work out a song. They would jam it and the song would evolve out of that. That's their magic", he stated. 
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With drummer Charlie Watts' steady backbeat, and bassist Bill Wyman's understated performance, lead guitarist Ronnie Wood trades off with Keith Richards in a burning lead solo. This hit song was given to wide commercial use, at the half-time Superbowl XL in 2006, during Microsoft's Windows 95' advertising launch campaign, and in 2012 Summer Olympics by the Omega watch company (official time keepers of the Olympic Games). The song is proof positive that age is deceptive, when it comes to a hard rock anthem that gets people up on their feet. Performance: HERE.    
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(MCA)
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The Who: "Won't Get Fooled Again": The band's guitarist Pete Townshend stated in 2006: "It is not precisely a song that decries revolution – it suggests that we will indeed fight in the streets – but that revolution, like all action, can have results we cannot predict. Don't expect to see what you expect to see. Expect nothing and you might gain everything. The song was meant to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the center of my life was not for sale, and could not be co-opted into any obvious cause".  From organ to synthesizer and the ubiquitous guitar power chords set in A major, here is another song that unexpectedly saw commercial use over the decades since it's 1971 release. Interpreted by many as a response to the disenchantment with the Vietnam War, the New York Yankee's have used portions of the song to play at games after a home run is hit. The song is one of The Who's best-know hits that is highly regarded for it's over the top energy and defiance. The band would go on to influence many artists still touring today. Concerts typically ended with drummer Keith Moon and guitarist Pete Townshend smashing their instruments. Performance: HERE.
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To Be Continued...
 


Monday, September 01, 2014

20 Important Songs in Rock (Part 1)

(Capitol Records)
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I wanted to create a short blog post in four small parts that everyone could celebrate in. Here are some fun musical selections that are among my favorites in rock. Of course, as a disclaimer, the opinions expressed here are my own. But perhaps they'll lead to a few of your own.  
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The Beatles: "All My Loving": When faced with the task of selecting a single identifying song that captures the energy, songwriting, sound, and phenomenon that is uniquely The Beatles, this is the song I hear in my mind over screaming fans. Despite the claims on the album cover, this was actually the second album by the band to be released in the United States on January 20, 1964. The following month, Beatlemania hit our shores with the band's arrival on a Pan Am flight from London to New York for an initial appearance on CBS television's "The Ed Sullivan Show". That epic night was February 9, 1964. The band toured the U.S. in the weeks that followed, and music was never the same again. This LP ranks at No. 59 on Billboard's Top "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".  Performance HERE.   
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(Elektra Records)
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The Doors: "L.A. Woman": An entire book could be written on this album alone. The title track is iconic with the sound of a V-8 automobile engine accelerating (many have presumed this was Jim Morrison's 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500, a gift from his record label. To date, it has never been found), amid a cacophony of discordant strings that blends into an aggressive bass guitar line, and the full band setting up the rapid tempo for lead singer, Jim Morrison. The strain of Morrison's descent into alcoholism made the recording of this album very difficult for band members. Recorded live inside a Los Angles house on Santa Monica Boulevard, dubbed "The Doors Workshop", the band enlisted bass player Jerry Scheff (on a hiatus from Elvis Presley's road band) and rhythm guitarist Marc Benno, thus allowing Robbie Krieger to focus on his lead guitar solos. Following on the heels of the well-received "Morrison Hotel" LP's blues-rock orientation, the singles: "L.A. Woman", "Rider's On the Storm" and "Love Her Madly" emerged. "The Changeling" is said to have been an homage to singer James Brown. Released in April 1971, Jim Morrison died three months later in Paris, France at the age of 27. The Doors drummer, John Densmore stated in the documentary, "The Story of L.A. Woman": "The metaphor for the city as a woman is brilliant: cops in cars, never saw a woman so alone - great stuff. It's metaphoric, the physicality of the town and thinking of her and how we need to take care of her, it's my hometown." Performance HERE.
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(Scott Brothers Records)
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James Brown: "Living in America": Released in 1985, this song composed by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight is included on Brown's LP "Gravity". It was Brown's first Top 40 hit in 10 years, and stands up today as a tightly arranged, hard-hitting performance with the perfectionism for which the singer is well regarded over the length of his career. This high energy/high impact dance number is performed by Brown in actor/screenwriter/director Sylvester Stallone's movie, "Rocky IV", and reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it enjoyed an 11-week stay. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1986, and won Brown a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. It would also mark his last chart topping single.
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James Brown died on Christmas Day, 2006 and is alternately known as "The Godfather of Soul", and "The hardest working man in show business". Curiously, the song was not included in the recent bio-pic on Brown's life, "Get On Up", but remains one of my favorites of all time. I never tire of it. With it's patriotic theme, sledge hammer dance beat and Brown's trademark horn section, this song is infectious enough to kick-start any party. "I feel good!" Performance HERE.

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(Capitol Records)
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The Beach Boys: "Good Vibrations": It's opening notes are among the most recognizable in the history of Rock and Roll. Released in October 1966, Brian Wilson's composition, with lyrics by Mike Love is legendary. Recorded during the sessions for the album, "Pet Sounds", "Good Vibrations" was curiously released as a stand-alone single that eventually made it's way from the aborted "SMILE" LP (later completed in 2004 by Wilson) to the LP "Smiley Smile". The single took Wilson 8 months of studio work to complete, and miles of recording tape to layer. It features an electronic theramin, along with multiple instruments played by members of the famous "Wrecking Crew" stable of musicians,  including bassist Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine, under Wilson's demanding, if not strenuous effort at achieving perfection. It marked his genius status as a writer, singer and recording engineer. YouTube video's of Wilson at work during the recording sessions is fascinating. Described as "a pocket symphony" by band publicist Derek Taylor, I was fortunate to attend a concert by the original surviving band members in 2011 (and was one of the youngest members of the audience). The song ranks No. 6 on Billboard's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".  Performance: HERE.   
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(MCA)
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Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: "Kings Highway": Released in 1991 on the LP, "Into the Great Wide Open", this song actually came to my attention while driving back to Ohio from a rock concert in West Virginia. I was unable to get FM Radio reception along much of the mountainous highway trek. But just as I approached the top  of a hill, this song came playing over the radio. While never a single, it is well known in the Petty repertoire. The album also yielded "Learning to Fly" as a second hit single. There are multiple namesake highways named throughout the world, including one, ironically, in Virginia State. It is my favorite song from this band. The guitars are bright, electric and the sound is optimistic. When the chorus kicks in, the song reveals a groove that is powerful. Performance HERE.
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To Be Continued...
 
 



 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

An Interview with William J. Flynn, president and CEO of Atlas Air Cargo


William J. Flynn
(Photo Courtesy of Atlas Air)
 
An interview with William J. Flynn, president and Chief Executive Officer of Atlas Air Cargo
By: Michael Manning

William J. Flynn has been President and Chief Executive Officer of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. since June 22, 2006 and its subsidiaries, Atlas Air Inc. and Polar Air Cargo Inc. since June 2006. Mr. Flynn has been the Chief Executive Officer and President of Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, Inc. since June 2006. He served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Agility Holdings Inc. from August 2002 to June 2006. He has spent 30 years in ... the freight forwarding and logistics industry and has held senior executive positions with PWC Logistics, and Sea-Land Service Inc. He was initially recruited in 2002 to lead when PWC Logistics acquired GeoLogistics Corporation in 2005. Before joining GeoLogistics Corp. in 2002, Mr. Flynn served as a Senior Vice President of Merchandise Service Group of CSX Transportation, the railroad unit of CSX Corporation from May 2000 to July 2002. Mr. Flynn served as Senior Vice President - Strategic Planning of CSX Corporation, where he was responsible for its e-business strategy and development, from December 1999 to April 2000. He also served as Senior Vice President of CSX Corporation from 2000 to July 2002. He held various positions at Sea-Land Service Inc., a subsidiary of CSX Corporation from 1977 to 1999. He joined Atlas in 2006. Mr. Flynn has been a Director at Republic Services, Inc. since December 5, 2008. He has been a Lead Director at Horizon Lines Inc. since May 2008. Mr. Flynn has been a Director of Horizon Lines Inc., since December 1, 2006 and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. since May 2006. Mr. Flynn serves as a Director of Polar Air Cargo Inc., Horizon Lines LLC, Aero Logistics LLC, Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, Inc. and Atlas Air Inc. He served as a Director of Allied Waste Industries Inc. since February 19, 2007 and Agility Holdings Inc., since August 2002. In March 2003, he was awarded the Marco Polo Award by the Government of China, the highest award given to a private person for support of humanitarian activities and business development in China. Mr. Flynn holds a BA degree, summa cum laude, in Latin American Studies from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's degree from the University of Arizona
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(Image Courtesy of Airways Magazine)
The following interview was published in Airways Magazine's September 2014 cover issue
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Manning: We’ve witnessed the collapse of two historical competitors: Evergreen International in January, and World Airways in March. Obviously, they were very vulnerable to the same economic pressures you face at Atlas Air Cargo. How has Atlas structured its business to avoid a similar fate?
 
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Flynn: I think first of all it has to start with our view of the market. Our view is that air freight in particular – we do have passenger services as well – but air freight in particular is, from our point of view, an essential part of the global economy and a long-term growth industry as well. So, the underlying demand in air freight has been flat for the last couple of years. We really didn’t see any appreciable growth in 2011 and 2012, and only started to see evidence of growth in the first quarter of 2013.
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(Photo Courtesy of Atlas Air)
But I think the good news is that has continued, and even the most recent statistics that we were looking at over the past couple of days on May numbers, in our own experience we continue to see growth on a year-over-year basis for the first five months of the year—which is typically the lower demand period. Over the year, air freight is typically second-half weighted. And so I think those are all very good signals for what the full year may be. Hopefully that will continue over what the full year will be. Recognizing that the industry is a long-term growth industry, I think there are several key components to our strategy that are important for Atlas. First, it starts with our fleet. We’ve made substantial investments ever since the company began a little over 20 years ago in having a very modern, very fuel-efficient fleet of aircraft that we could offer to our customers—offer to our ACMI (Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance, Insurance) customers and offer to our charter customers. The newest component to our fleet are nine 747-8. But of course, we have 21 747-400 freighters that we operate as well. We think that in terms of our ACMI and charter operations, that is, indeed, a modern and fuel-efficient fleet that we can bring to our customers. Beyond that, Michael, we have a scale and scope to our operation that I think that conveys and allows us to create additional value for our customers. Last year, we operated in and out of 124 countries and 400-plus cities. But if one were to look at a map of freight flow, and what are the major centers of the world through which freight flows, you would see Atlas has a high level of operation in almost all of those points. So, the scale and scope of the business, the size of our pilot force, the scale and scope of our ability to maintain our aircraft, how we have parts inventories deployed around the world—all that adds up to allowing us to create exceptional value to our customers. So, part of the answer to your question of ‘what have done that might have been different (from Evergreen International and World Airways) is the investment in the fleet, the ability to grow scale, we’ve diversified into the 767 which is the platform that a number of our customers integrated into their operations as well. We also had a very conscious effort dating back to 2006 and moving forward, that we needed to grow and diversify and not be overly-dependent on U.S. military demand for cargo and passenger service.        
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(Photo Courtesy of Scott Wright)
Evergreen International Airlines (1975-2014)
 
Manning:  Looking back, Evergreen International appeared to be a broadly diversified company--from oil exploration to helicopter services. But the company still failed. As you look at their business model, are there any segments that might be of interest to Atlas in the future that you’re currently not pursuing?  For example, offering modified 747 aerial tanker services to the U.S. Forest Service as Evergreen did? 
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Flynn: I think we’ve taken a somewhat different tact than Evergreen—and they were very diversified, as you said, a lot of that driven by the vision of Delford Smith, their founder. But where we diversified, for example, was into aircraft dry leasing. Our historical business and our core is ACMI operations.
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We were able to expand on that by introducing fee-MI services, where our customer owns the aircraft, but we’re operating the aircraft and maintaining it, and providing the network logistics for that. A few years ago, we didn’t have any aircraft under CMI operations. Today we have 14 under CMI operations. From that, we were able to pivot into passenger charter operations as well. Then, the third area that we’ve developed is, indeed, dry leasing. We’ve invested over a billion dollars into the dry leasing business, over the last 15 months or so. We have over 10 aircraft now in dry leasing – six of which are triple-sevens. So, we’ve taken a different approach towards diversification. What we’ve told our investors is that ACMI is our core. We’ll continue to manage our fleet with a view towards modernization—which could mean additional dash 8’s. But we’ll also continue to invest in Titan, which is our dry leasing subsidiary—there also with a focus on freighters.     
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(Photo Courtesy of Atlas Air)
Manning: I noticed in your Strategic Growth Plan for 2014 that military transport demand is declining. In light of this development, you see opportunities to grow into segments outside of that.
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Flynn: Yes, that’s exactly right. I think that anybody who has been participating in military service cargo or passenger services had to expect that demand would contract, as we’ve withdrawn from Iraq and the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. So, it was urgent, in a way, for us to develop additional areas of our business model. And again, we’ve made an investment the dash 8’s. That was about a billion and a half dollars in those assets and they’re performing well for our customers. And then we did a parallel investment into Titan over the past couple of years, which—if you were to look at our 10-Q for the First Quarter, you’d see a strong growth and contribution in both ACMI and in dry leasing—which offsets the contraction in military (flying), and military will further contract as we complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan over the next year or whenever the (Obama) Administration’s timetable is. I’ll just clarify. There will still be some ongoing military opportunities for business—passenger charter and some cargo. But it’ll be at a much smaller level of operations, more consistent with the pre-9/11 environment than what it’s been for the last thirteen years.
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(Photo Courtesy of Atlas Air)
Manning: What were some of the considerations that went into your decision to order the new Boeing 747-8 series aircraft for the Atlas fleet?
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Flynn: Well, there were several. We knew that at some point in time, customers and we ourselves would be looking for—consistent with our view, the most modern and fuel efficient aircraft available in the market. Aircraft from the freight perspective that would produce the lowest cost to move a kilo or a ton of cargo from Hong Kong to Cincinnati, or Shanghai to Frankfurt—number one.
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Number two, we’ve been operating Boeing freighters for quite a long time—and believe they are excellent freighters—and believe that the 747-8 would be just another great extension of the 747 line from over 40 years ago now. So, what does the 747-8 offer? Well, it offers several things. It offers greater cargo-carrying capacity, substantially-improved fuel efficiency, it utilizes the new gen-ex engines that are being used on the 787, it incorporates a lot of the design features of the 787, including the wing design. It’s an all-metal aircraft. It’s not a carbon fiber aircraft. But it takes advantage of the engineering and design features of the 787. From an ownership point of view, we anticipate that the long life, or the full life maintenance costs to maintain the 747-8 and the engines will be lower than even the full-life maintenance costs of the 747-400’s. So, our view is that it’s a great freighter that certainly something that our customers would want. From the economic point of view it would be a great investment for the company and generate solid returns for us and for our shareholders.
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(Photo Courtesy of Atlas Air)
Manning: Are you satisfied with Atlas’ current fleet composition of Boeing 737’s, a 757, the 767’s, 777’s and 747’s or do you foresee any changes?
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Flynn: Well, you’ve basically run down a list of the freighters that are available in the marketplace. We manage our fleet aggressively. Certainly, I could envision a certain amount of 747-8’s. But in doing so, we would likely reduce the number of 747-400’s. It wouldn’t necessarily be additive. But in exchanging our 747-400’s or exiting our 747-400’s and adding the dash 8’s, there is, I think, real earnings upside potential in that for the company and value for our customers. I expect that we’ll also continue to invest in Titan. So, there the 777 is a very attractive aircraft from a leasing point of view, and I suspect that there will be opportunities to invest in 767’s as well—767’s for freighters. The smaller aircraft, the 737’s and the 757 are probably more opportunistic. The fleet is just smaller. It has more limited application than the other aircraft do, so we’ll probably want to invest in the mid-size and the larger freighters just so we’ve got the best opportunity to deploy them across the market.
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Manning:  Will Atlas remain an all-Boeing operator, or have you considered Airbus at any point as part of your fleet composition?
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Flynn:  Well, right now the only freighter that’s being offered is the A330-200 and that’s a very good freighter. But what we haven’t seen a lot of ACMI opportunity for that freighter. And so the fullest suite of offering right now is by Boeing. I understand that Airbus may be considering an A350 freighter, and if they do, that certainly is something we’d look at. But I don’t know if they’re committed to that freighter yet and what the timing or the delivery of those units might be. But in terms of the large wide-body freighters, there really only are Boeing freighters—the 777, the new 747-8 or the 747-400. There is no large freighter from any other manufacturer.
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(Photo Courtesy of Atlas Air)
Manning:  In years past, airlines such as Champion Air and Sun Country relied heavily on relationships with travel agencies. What is your assessment of the demand for leisure passenger charters?
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Flynn: I would say that we’re actually learning about that, Michael. We first started passenger operations as a CMI operator for SonAir, a subsidiary operator of Sonangol—who is the Angolan state oil company. And what they were looking to do is to have a dedicated service in a luxury configuration between Houston and Luanda to serve the U.S. and Angolan oil and energy companies. That actually got us into passenger operations—that’s how we started. After a year of flying for Sonangol, we were qualified to offer services to the military and we submitted an application to be considered for military operations and were approved by the Air Mobility Command. So, we began passenger operations for the U.S. military. What we found was that there is, indeed, a passenger charter market that’s a commercial passenger charter market, and we’ve been somewhat successful in that over the last couple of years. Basically, that drives higher utilization on the aircraft that we have for the passenger operations for the military. Going forward, I’d say we’re still in the learning mode. How big is that market? What would be the right investment to be in that market? And then you raised a very good question: What are the best sales and distribution channels? Most of commercial passenger charter operations come from well known brokers. So, I’d say we’re in the learning mode and haven’t decided how much more investment might be required, and what would be appropriate for us going forward.
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Manning: Recently, Lufthansa Cargo has postponed a decision on whether to accept Boeing 777 freighters. We’ve noticed that Air France-KLM, Singapore, and Japan Airlines have all reduced the number of freighters they operate. This trend must bode well for Atlas. What are your views on these developments?
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Flynn: It’s interesting as you point out that several very well known freighter-operators—we might consider them some of the pioneers of freighter operations internationally--are changing their business mix around their cargo and freight operation. But others are growing and other parts of the world are growing and creating new opportunities for us as we see higher rates of growth in some of the emerging markets and emerging economies. So I agree with you. It does create a new opportunity for us. Either with traditional airlines, in terms of providing ACMI or CMI operations for them, or working with airlines that are just beginning to really develop their freighter operations and freighter profile, and working with them to help them grow their business, and thereby grow ours as well.
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Manning:  What are your thoughts on the IATA request for its members to shave 48 hours off shipping times? The agency contends that out of the 6.5 days on average it takes to get air freight from door to door, only a few hours is actually spent in the air. Is Atlas changing its procedures with freight forwarders and ground handlers to meet this challenge?
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(Photo Courtesy of Seth Jaworski)
Flynn: I was at the conference in Doha just a week and a half ago, and that was discussed and that’s being discussed at the Cargo summit as well. I think what IATA is underscoring is that there is a need to accelerate the process by which freight is tendered to a forwarder or broker—whoever the receiving party is. And then ultimately move the destination, and it’s either available at the door for pickup or delivery and they are focusing on the process, as opposed to the actual flight time, cause flight times are what they are and certainly not more than that. I think there’s a number of questions there. I think it’s the right focus though, because air freight is expensive. By nature, if you look at what moves air freight it perishable, it’s time-sensitive, it’s high value—there are any number of considerations. I do think there are opportunities to take time out of the supply chain. So, what does Atlas do here? We continue to develop, I think, a suite of information products that our ACMI customers can use and our charter customers can use. That information, more than anything can be uploaded into their supply chain system so they can provide for their own operations and to their customers, an in-transit visibility on the air product. And hopefully, better information can flow back to origin and forward to destination, so that more time and coordination can be made with customs, clearances, airport operations and either door pickup or door delivery.
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(Photo Courtesy of Atlas Air)
Manning: What can we expect from Atlas and it’s subsidiaries in the foreseeable future?
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Flynn: Our very firm belief here is that air freight is a growth industry and an important part of the economy. We’ve made substantial investments to be a leading provider of very high quality services to our customers—and to add to that—to be advisors and consultants to our customers as they think about their operations and their businesses. We will continue to invest in our company in our fleet. I do think that we do have a very deep understanding of global air freight and international markets. I think you’ll see Atlas continuing to not only grow with longstanding customers, but develop new customers, and maybe more so in the emerging north-south market between Latin America and the rest of the world and between South Sahara (East-West) Africa from the Middle East, which is a well established market already.

My thanks to thank Bonnie Rodney and William J. Flynn for making this interview possible.