Saturday, January 8, 2011


for everyone

“Lord” Timothy Dexter, an early American Forrest Gump

Timothy Dexter was an uneducated laborer in colonial Massachusetts. From age 8 he was a mere laborer, but at the age of 16 he scored an apprenticeship with a leather dresser. He did well enough to attract the attention of a rich widow. Unfortunately, as a commoner, he was hated by the upper class. They decided to play off his ignorance, lack of sophistication and predisposition to whacky investments. They convinced the dolt to ship coal to Newcastle, England (the major center of coal mining in England), to send warming pans and mittens to the tropical West Indies and got him to hoard useless whalebone.

The Success

Those idiotic investments made him a richer man. His coal arrived in Newscastle during a major labor strike, causing desperate coal merchants to buy his stock at a greatly inflated price. The warming pans made a great ladling device for the molasses industry and Asian merchants bought the mittens for export to Siberia. Even the whalebone was immensely profitable when found useful for making women’s corsets.
To celebrate his fortune, he did what all fashionable rich men did: self publish a vanity book. His misspelled and unpunctuated “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress” was published in 1802 and much panned by critics. Despite being nearly impossible to comprehend, the originals are now collectors’ items, naturally.
John Mytton

The Crazy

John Mytton was an English squire who gained notoriety for his eccentric behavior. He also got into Cambridge despite being expelled from every school he ever went to. He brought 2000 bottles of port wine to sustain him. He dropped out when he found it boring. He then spent over 750,000£ to be elected to Parliament, but quit after 30 minutes when he found political debates boring.
What he found not boring was drinking, outrageous bets and dinner parties. He was most infamous for riding a bear into a dinner. Even when the bear bit his calf he kept it as a pet, only having it put down when it killed a servant (servant were, at the time, slightly more expensive to replace than bears).He once rode his horse to the top of a hotel and jumped the horse off a balcony over several diners. He also killed his horse by having it drink some of his beloved port wine.
He was an avid fox hunter who would strip naked in the course of the chase. He also was a medical innovator, successfully curing a bad case of hiccups by setting his shirt on fire.

The Success

“Mad Jack” was the subject of a biography by his friend Charles James Apperly. It was so popular that several reprints had to be ordered. Original copies or early reprints sell for thousands of British pounds at auction.
William Price, Doctor of Crazy

The Crazy

William Price was a successful doctor who jumped on the crazy train during a visit to the Louvre in Paris. He saw an ancient stone with a Greek inscription he believed was from a Welsh prince no one else had ever heard of. He took the inscription to be a prophecy that he would liberate the Welsh people from England by reviving the druid religion. He became a popular lecturer about Welsh history and the need to revive the Druid religion, all while wearing a fox skin headdress and other bizarre clothing.

The Success

The most impressive accomplishment of his life was establishing the legality of cremation. He was caught in the act of cremating his infant son, who had died of natural causes. In court he proved that there was no law against cremation, allowing the practice to spread in England and revival of the Druid cremation traditions.
His prophecy of liberating Wales did not come true, but he is regarded as one of the best Welsh Patriots. In the town of Llantrisant, a statue was built in his honor, showing him in his traditional foxskin headdress.

Emperor Norton: San Francisco’s Royally Crazy Mascot

The Crazy

Many a man has seen his life change after a major business failure. Some bounce back, other drop out. But only one became the most beloved man in a major US city.
Such was the case with Joshua Norton, a businessman whose luck turned when he made a bad deal for Peruvian rice (surprisingly not slang for cocaine). Norton hoped to exploit a ban on rice exports from China. Unfortunately, so did everyone else, dropping the price of rice and wiping out Norton.
Norton was ruined and went into exile. But the failed businessman would not be kept down. He returned in 1858 and wrote letters to the local newspaper declaring himself “Emperor of these United States”. He later added “Protector of Mexico” to his title.
The newspapers, seeing this as funny, printed the proclamations. This encouraged Emperor Norton to issue more proclamation, such as dissolving Congress and ordering Army to do so by force. Failing that, he wrote to the Protestant and Catholic Churches to demand they use their god-ordained powers to name him Emperor.

The Success

Norton may have been a crazy bastard, but he was San Francisco’s crazy bastard. Despite his quirks, he was a beloved citizen. He would spend his days walking the city to make sure public spaces were in good repair. His royal proclamations included several benefiting his home city, such as demanding a $25 dollar fine for the High Misdemeanor of calling the city “Frisco”.
Despite having no means of support he ate at the finest restaurants for free, and the restaurant’s would have plaques stating “Appointment to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton I of the United States” to boost business. Local theaters always reserved balcony seats for him. When he did pay money, it was his own currency.
Once a young upstart police officer arrested Norton and had him committed to an insane asylum. This led to protests and scathing editorials. The Police Chief publicly apologized and freed Norton. Norton, who was benevolent eccentric dictator, pardoned the offending officer. After that, all police officers saluted Norton when they passed him on the street.
When he died he was given an expensive casket by local business leaders and his burial was paid for by the city. Thirty thousand citizens of San Francisco lined the streets to pay homage to their fallen eccentric emperor. He was immortalized by Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Neil Gaiman and Christopher Moore.
George Fabyan

The Crazy

George Fabyan was a wealthy cloth dealer that retired to focus on cryptography, the study of codes. He believed that Shakespeare’s works were really written by Sir Francis Bacon and trained many cryptologists to prove the point.
He even convinced a Chicago judge of the fact when he was sued by the filmmaker who thought a book on the subject would hurt a Shakespeare film release.

The Success

Fabyan cryptologists were essential to the US war efforts in World War I. The US Army didn’t have enough code breakers and relied on Fabyan’s people. They ended up cracking the German and Mexican codes and providing valuable intelligence to the US

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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