Richard gets rich, we get a visit
When I was visiting Richard in Miami I looked in the business section of the paper each day and checked stock prices. We had a few thousand dollars invested; I was hoping to see prices go up. After buying the house, we didn’t have much in the way of extra cash. The new house was larger than those we had rented; Vicki wanted furniture. That meant antiques, not cheap stuff from Levitz (where we bought our first furniture when we moved from an apartment to a rented house when Patrick started to crawl. We wanted a yard for him to play in.) We’d be okay in a few months; what we needed to do was convert inventory into cash. Vicki had been hearing that story since we started; she knew it wasn’t that simple.
We were so low on money for the first few weeks after closing on the house that I asked Glen Midcap to put the utilities in his name. He was a homeowner, already had established credit, and would not be required to pay any deposit. We had utilities included with our rentals, had zero credit, and would have had to put down hefty deposits. Our credit, we once had some, had gone down the drain during those few months when Paul and I made the first albums. I couldn’t pay all the bills and cover the cost of the albums at the same time. We were not getting our investment back as quickly as we hoped. I fell behind on credit card payments and our car was repossessed. All the money went into the business. I quit my job as a medical laboratory technician at Kaiser Permanente and became a full–time bootlegger. I expected to make money quickly; I quickly found out it wasn’t that simple. Glen came to the rescue; that would later turn out to be one of the worst decisions I ever made. Some things come back to haunt you, that one surely did.
We advanced credit to many dealers; it helped them get started selling our records. I always figured it this way: sure, someone might not pay, but if they don’t, they will never get more records from us to sell. If they sold the first batch and made money, they’d want to do it again. Since we kept issuing new LPs, a person would have to be a really bad at math to not pay their bill. Only once did we get burned: I shipped $1,100 worth of records to a store in Memphis (of all places) and got the runaround when I finally called (“I’ll check with the accounting department/the bookkeeper is on vacation/etc.”). Our loss: less than $250, postage included. His loss: we put out ten more albums. If he had sold ten copies of each, he could have made more than twice what he “saved.”
Many of the dealers were overseas; the postage was significant, and the amount of credit extended was often thousands of dollars. Every single one settled their account before reordering. One, Richard Weize in Germany, now heads Bear Family Records. They are famous worldwide; Bear Family has released box sets on dozens of artists that have been lauded for their creativity, and are testimony to diligence and dedication. When Richard Weize prepares an oeuvre, it is the final word. You will never encounter anything even close in quality; comprehensive is an understatement.
I kept a running record of those that owed us; we set lots of people up in business and I’m happy we did. We carried between $25,000 and $40,000 on the books every month for the last couple years; each of those that owed us had ordered and reordered many times. We were way ahead, even if we never collected another dime. Katsuo Sazo in Japan was a faithful customer. He would place an order for $2,500 to $3.000, I would ship it sea mail, and a check would arrive a few weeks later. One day I noticed that Mr. Sazo’s account had been outstanding for months. What to do? Before I could do a thing a registered letter arrived, brimming with cash, and a note from his wife explaining that he had passed away. She apologized for not having contacted us sooner; it was taking her some time to get his affairs settled. That, my friends, is honor. That is class. The people we dealt with, customers and dealers alike, were a cut above.
And then there was the dealer in France, the one who owed us $7,200. I had sent him three separate orders, each a couple months apart, and had not received payment for a single one. Paul knew him, Jean–Marc knew him; both vouched for him. I started to wonder; so did Paul. Perhaps he had gotten in over his head. We were wondering what to do, if anything, when I received word that a fellow from France, not the man who owed us money but his partner, would be visiting Los Angeles and would stop by to pay the bill. It sounded too good to be true; it almost was.
He arrived, all right, and I picked him up at the airport. The first thing he did when we got back to our house was to fish out a big pile of hundred dollar bills and square things away. Sacre bleu! It turned out his main reason for coming to L.A. was to try and interest audio dealers in a very expensive line of speakers. They looked magnificent, judging from the classy photos in the fold–out information sheet. The specifications indicated performance that would equal that of the best on the market. Alas, he didn’t bring samples.
This explained the delay in paying; all their money was probably tied up in this speaker venture. At any rate, a payment such as we had just received was pure profit; he was my new best friend. This was April of 1979; we had just purchased our house two months prior and the money was sorely needed. He had a few businesses to visit in an attempt to get them to order the speakers; then it was back to Paris. We had an extra bedroom; I offered to let him stay with us. I had an ulterior motive: I knew a couple people that owned stereo stores. If he would send me a sample pair of each of the three models, I would hawk them to those dealers. He had to realize that no one was going to order speakers from a new company just by looking at them in a pretty brochure; they would take them on consignment only. I was thinking I could wind up with a pair for myself if I landed some sales. The top–end model was priced at $6,999 retail for the pair.
For the next three days he taxied around L.A. during the day and we all went out to dinner each night. We made the rounds to our favorite restaurants, enjoyed elegant meals, and were introduced to fine wine. This man knew his wine. Be it beef, veal, chicken, or fish, the wine he ordered was the perfect complement. Champagne, bottle of red, bottle of white, he knew what blended perfectly with the entrée. Day four; he was still here. Company is like fish, after three days it smells. He showed no signs of leaving. I asked, “When’s your flight back?” “I haven’t made the reservation yet.” Groan. How was I going to get rid of this man? He was nice, but we’d run out of things to talk about and he was getting tiresome. Vicki had had it; she said, “Tell him to go stay at a motel if he wants to hang around any longer.” I was angling for those “free” speakers. How to keep everyone happy? I said, “Let’s go to Vegas for the weekend.” And we did. We chartered a plane; it was a little two–seater Cessna that was only $300 each way. One of us had to sit next to the pilot; Vicki grabbed that honor on the way out. We saw a couple shows, had more fine meals and excellent wine, and headed back Sunday night. This time Frenchy got the front. He looked a little green as we approached Burbank Airport; the plane dipped suddenly on the approach, the interior needed a hosing down after we landed. He was gone two days later; I never got any speakers. We never got another order for records. Paul later learned that not only did he not make a single sale, he ran up a hotel tab of a few thousand while he was here. Really? He stayed with us; just what was he doing in L.A. hotels in the daytime? Cherchez la femme.
A few weeks after I returned from Miami I got a call from Richard; it was spring of 1979. Richard told me that my checking the stock prices each day had stirred some old feelings. He said he was once a broker, had a good friend that still was, and this friend did real well in the commodities market. Richard, I had found out during my visit, was prone to hyperbole. Why, Pappy’s prize bull couldn’t fill in a month of Sundays, as many bags of steer manure as Richard in an hour. Harmless enough, Richard just liked to portray himself as a big shot. That was fine with me; if he felt better doing things that way, let him have his fun.
Richard said that he was going to give his broker friend $10,000 and let him buy and sell commodities as he saw fit; he proposed I do the same. “I’m sorry, Richard, I’m just not able to right now. We bought a house a couple months ago, and I just don’t have any spare cash.” In truth, I thought he was nuts. Playing the commodities is like playing the horses, only riskier. Sure, some people make lots of money; most would have been better off trying their luck in Las Vegas. The odds are better. We left things like that; a few weeks later I wondered how Richard was doing.
“Richard, how are you making out with the commodities?”
“We didn’t do very well at first. I lost $5,000 and gave my man another $5,000 so he would still have $10,000 to work with. He’s made most of it back.”
Just as I thought. Had I gone along, I would never have sunk in another five grand. I might have pulled out and thought I was lucky to have anything left. I asked again a month later and Richard was ecstatic. “We put it all into silver and he ran my $10,000 up to $80,000. Now we’re into gold.” Sure you are, I’ll bet you are. Even if what Richard said were true, I never would have made that kind of money. If my five thousand had turned into twenty, I would have cashed out. Doubling my money would have been more than I expected.
As it turned out, every word Richard said was true. This was when the Hunt brothers from Texas manipulated the silver market. Silver rose to nearly fifty dollars an ounce before the scam was apparent and everything came crashing down. Gold followed suit; Richard plunked $80,000 into gold futures on a margin account. Forget the math, every time gold rose a dollar Richard made $100 for every contract he owned. He had 8,000 contracts! Gold went straight up; it gained $300 an ounce from the day Richard bought his contracts until the day Richard locked in his profit. Timing was key. The day before gold started going straight down Richard sold short the same amount he had bought long. Whatever happened to gold did not matter to Richard any longer. He was ahead two point four million dollars! In just three months Richard had become rich. Good for him. I knew I never would have risked money the way he did. I might have made money had I ridden Richard’s coattails, but never would I have stuck it out for as long. Overall, I might have missed a chance to make fifty thousand dollars.
I would visit Richard again the following winter. He was no longer in Miami; he had moved to Stuart, FL. One of his neighbors was Burt Reynolds. Richard had purchased a piece of property with two houses and another building that he was using as an office and shipping center. Richard lived in one house, his parents in the other. Workers with a backhoe were busy behind the house digging a hole for the swimming pool. Others were busy with the pier: Richard’s property was right on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. Still, some things never change. The whole scene made me think of The Beverly Hillbillies. The houses were lovely; all the furnishings looked like they came from K–Mart.
Don’t get me wrong; I really liked Richard. He had a terrific personality and was always upbeat. Richard just came on a bit strong and I found him easier to take in small doses. He also loved to talk. There was a stretch of a few months when Richard called nearly every night; it was always just after the late news. It was 11:30 in California, 2:30 back in Florida. I suspected the bars had just closed and he was lonesome. “Sam, Richard Minor, how ya doin’?”
That was how every call began. Then Richard would start to talk. How he could talk. It was strictly a one–way conversation; I could not have gotten a word in edgewise unless I yelled. It only took a couple calls before I knew what to do. I didn’t want to hurt his feeling so I simply put the phone down after the first thirty seconds; an hour or so later I would pick it up and shout, “Richard! Richard! I’d love to go on talking with you but I really have to get to sleep. We’ll pick it up here next time you call.” Then I would hang up. Thus, Richard’s calls were never any real bother; they usually took less than a minute of my time. I used to joke with Paul and say I would have to start asking Richard to give him a call when I hung up. Paul threatened to change his phone number and said we’d only communicate by mail if I ever did that. Richard had called Paul a few times but Paul always said he was on the way out the door and would call back. Poor Richard. I’m happy he made all that money; I wished it could have made him happy. He was destined to never get over the girl who pulverized his heart.
While Richard got richer, Paul and I concentrated on turning our huge inventory into cash. We had released five albums in the last five months; all were selling very well. Two were single LPs, two were double albums, and the other was the box set. Dealers were reordering those and all our other LPs. Customers that had, for some reason, failed to order one album or another now seemed intent on completing their collection of Vic’s albums. New mailings were back to the standard one point two percent response; we were buying names and sending out ten to twenty thousand catalogs a month. We began to build up some cash reserve. Sales of paraphernalia, videos, and films were doing well. All we had to do was stick to selling and not make any big buys; we just might make some money at this racket after all. One thing we agreed on: there would be no new LP for a few months. We could do the second volume of the ’68 Special studio material anytime we pleased; we also could put out that alternate Aloha Show if we wanted.
I kept on trying to track down other engineers from Radio Recorders during this time, but to no avail. I did have a couple solid leads, but it meant making trips to the valley and to the beach; I would find time for that later. Radio Recorders, however, entered into the picture again. Our friend who had struck out trying to get outtakes from films had started a fan club. He got in touch with Thorne Nogar and arranged for his group to tour Radio Recorders’ studio; Thorne promised to play them some outtakes. When I heard that I knew I had to be there. Just as we had done with RCA and the Hayride tapes, I would smuggle in a recording device and nab what was played.
This time I was determined to get a better quality recording. I asked around and heard about a miniature reel–to–reel recorder called Nagra. It clipped onto the inside of one’s pants and the microphone looked like a tie clip. This was real spy stuff; it was also really expensive. There was only one place in Los Angeles that carried it; they wanted three thousand dollars for this gadget that would fit in the palm of your hand. It recorded at 1 7/8 ips, the same speed as cassettes, and after making the recording they would take the tape and mount it in a cassette shell. I wasn’t about to plunk down that kind of money without being sure it would do the job; I really only needed to use it once but it wasn’t a rental item. I struck a deal: I would leave a $3,000 deposit, take it for a weekend, and if it performed satisfactorily I would buy it. Sure I would.
It turned into a wasted evening. I stood close to the speakers, listened to song after song, and all I heard were the same released versions that we all knew. What happened to the outtakes? Thorne said that these were all he had. He did finally play one, a terrific arrangement of “I Beg of You.” It caught me off guard and we asked him to play that one again. I positioned myself as best I could, everyone nearby knew not to speak, and we let the Nagra do its thing. The fidelity was so poor that we couldn’t release it. It was nice to listen to, a treat to know a drastically different version of this song existed, but we didn’t have a quality recording to put on an album. We might have in our earlier days; now, after the ’68 tapes and the outtakes, we were spoiled. I brought the Nagra back on Monday, explained that the fidelity may have been acceptable for voice recording but it was not good enough for music, and got my deposit back.
It was back to getting rid of inventory, more mailings, and now and then reordering albums or paraphernalia when the stock got low. Summer was here. The weather, always delightful in L.A., was perfect: nothing but sunshine and blue skies. I was over in Hollywood on the morning of July 3, 1979; I had to get more copies of the Kung–Fu magazine. It was getting near lunchtime, the afternoon looked open, Robert and Glen were taking care of packing and shipping, and I called Vicki. “Hi, how about lunch at Damon’s (our favorite steak house in Glendale)?” “I’d love to, but there are two FBI agents sitting here waiting for you to come home. They want to talk with you.”