Thursday, December 30, 2010

Did 'You Can Run But You Cannot Hide' get caught up in IRS crackdown on sham ministries?

Annandale-based anti-gay hate ministry led by 'Bradlee Dean' was tied to a religious tax-avoidance scammer in Washington who was prosecuted for peddling 'sham ministries' in 2005. But why did it take until 2008 to begin to sever ties with him?

By Karl Bremer

The Annandale-based homophobic hate ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International (YCR) was organized as a self-described “sham” ministerial trust in 2005 by a bizarre religious group in Washington state that ran afoul of federal tax authorities for setting up such tax-avoidance trusts. Yet the controversial Wright County nonprofit, which paid thousands of dollars to have trusts created for itself and its mysterious sister nonprofit Old Paths Church, continued to operate as a “sham” trust until 2008, when it initiated legal action to sever its ties from the Washington group and its leader, IRS scofflaw Glen Stoll.

What YCR thought it was getting when it signed up for Stoll’s tax-avoidance program—and what drove the organization to take such drastic steps to remove itself from his trusts four years later—is unknown. YCR declined to comment for this article.

Details about YCR’s finances and real estate gleaned from property tax records and court filings raise more questions than they answer about the group’s tax status and its relationship with Stoll, his trust-creating business Remedies at Law, and the Embassy of Heaven, a fanatical religious cult in Oregon.

You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International is run by President Bradley Dean Smith of Annandale, who is better known to his followers as “Bradlee Dean,” and Secretary Jacob McMillian MacAulay, a/k/a "Jake McMillian," the only two paid members on the organization’s board. Other directors include Nicole Bengston, vice president; Heather MacAulay (Jake’s spouse), treasurer, Ron Stone, director; and Todd Bergren, director.

The group describes its charitable purposes and major program activities in its 2009 State of Minnesota Annual Report as “to reshape America by redirecting our youth morally and spiritually through education, music, radio, and street teams.” Much of the organization’s activities seem to revolve around Smith’s “Bradlee Dean” personna and the punk-metal-Jesus band he leads and drums for, Junkyard Prophet.

The group has come under fire in the past for bringing religious proselytization masquerading as anti-drug programs into public schools. More recently, however, YCR has become widely known for the controversial, homophobic on-air rants of Dean and his sidekick Jake on their weekly “Sons of Liberty” radio show, broadcast by local conservative talk station WWTC-AM. It’s through his “preaching” from that pulpit, which cost YCR $35,054 in radio time in 2009, that Smith has garnered the attention and scorn of everyone from Rachel Maddow to Anne Rice.

According to YCR’s 2009 IRS Form 990, Smith was paid $51,303 in compensation and $45,887 in housing allowance last year for a total of $97,190. Not bad for a “minister.” That’s nearly double his 2008 reported compensation of $27,433 (it’s not clear from its tax filings whether Smith received a housing allowance in 2008).

MacAulay was paid $42,028 in compensation and $24,869 in housing allowance for a total of $66,897 in 2009. That’s also nearly double his 2008 reported compensation of $21,522. MacAulay also received a $12,976 “minister’s housing allowance” in 2008. Four other “ordained ministers” with the group received a total of $41,555 in housing allowances.

An independent audit of YCR’s 2009 books stated that the “expected commitment” for ministers’ housing allowances in 2010 is $124,600.

Housing allowances for YCR’s “ministers” have come under scrutiny before. Whether “ministers” such as those employed by YCR would qualify for tax-free housing allowances in the eyes of the IRS is murky at best. The use—and abuse—of this special tax exemption for ministers has been the subject of considerable debate.

The IRS defines “ministers” as “individuals who are duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed by a religious body constituting a church or church denomination. They are given the authority to conduct religious worship, perform sacerdotal functions, and administer ordinances and sacraments according to the prescribed tenets and practices of that religious organization.”

The lofty salaries and housing allowances of YCR’s top two directors/“ministers” were fueled by soaring revenues for the controversial “ministry” from 2008 to 2009.

YCR reported a deficit of $41,478 on total revenues of $385,670 in 2008, according to the group’s IRS Form 990. By the end of 2009, YCR reported net assets of $197,081 on total revenues of $985,319—despite the fact that the group stated on its Form 990 that it did not “undertake any significant program services during the year which were not listed on the prior Form 990 or 990-EZ.”

YCR lists the source of its income on its 2009 Form 990 as follows:

• $473,789 from “contributions, gifts and grants” ($238,338 in “noncash contributions” of vehicles and equipment)

• $444,126 from contributions collected by Street Teams. It claims its street teams “shared the gospel six days per week through the year” and “shared the message of Christ with over 250,000 individuals.” Street team members, each of whom is either a “certificated, licensed or ordained minister,” distribute CDs, DVDs and printed materials from tables set up at gas stations and special events, such as the Michele Bachmann-Sarah Palin rally in Minneapolis April 7 and the 2010 GOP State Convention.

• $29,787 from its annual reception for guests and donors (offset by $17,542 in expenses).

• $18,471 from five school assemblies, where issues including “drugs, alcoholism, suicide, sex, media, our country, our veterans and the Constitution” are covered (offset by $16,778 in expenses).

• $10,684 from contributions at a State Fair booth.

• $8,492 from training or church services conducted “at various churches in and outside the state of Minnesota.”

Bradley Dean Smith first set roots in Annandale on November 17, 2004, when he bought a lot on County Road 3 NW from Stephen B. and Barbie Jo Kalash on a contract-for-deed for $160,000. That same day, Smith assigned the contract-for-deed to an entity called “Old Paths Church,” which currently shares the same address as YCR and was registered with the State of Minnesota by Jake MacAulay, YCR’s secretary. The 2005 property tax statement lists “Old Paths Church, c/o Bradley Smith” as the property taxpayer.

Meanwhile, according to 10th District Court documents filed in Wright County, Smith and MacAulay attended classes offered by Glen Stoll of Edmonds, WA, who operated a business called Remedies at Law. There, they were promised they could buy what Stoll said were “established, exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable and assignable ministerial trusts” that would allow them to operate as a ‘free church’ that would be invulnerable to state regulation and control.”

For a fee of $6,500, they were told, Stoll would create three trusts that would give them “absolute tax-exempt status,” eliminate all federal tax return filing requirements, allow donations to the organization to be tax-deductible, and allow the organizations to retain control and enjoyment of all assets of the ministries. They would also be assigned a trustee to deal with all federal, state and legal systems.

According to court documents, Stoll advised his customers to transfer all assets to these trusts, and these asset trusts would be used to issue “grants and other disbursements.” Customers also were advised to stop paying all income and employment taxes and stop filing federal tax returns.
Stoll would assist his customers in creating “corporations sole,” entities established by law in some states for churches to hold title to property used in association with church activities. These ministerial trusts then would be created under the corporations sole.

Stoll advised his customers to complete a “Political Profession of Faith” that he claimed would enable anyone to create their own personal ministry. And he would assist customers in getting such things as ID cards from the “Embassy of Heaven Church” in Stayton, OR, which Stoll said helps people sever all ties to government and become “Citizens of Heaven.” The Embassy of Heaven Church, which describes itself as “God’s Government on Earth,” at that time already had a long and controversial history of clashes with government authorities.

But Smith’s own “Kingdom of Heaven” ID card, a copy of which was found in court filings, indicates he didn’t need any help from Stoll to get introduced to the Embassy of Heaven cult. His ID card states he was “baptized” on 11-17-02, the ID was issued on 9-30-03 and expired on 9-30-10.

Smith’s official record at states:

“On file is a signed statement by Bradley Smith renouncing allegiance to the world and declaring citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“We are fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Government of God, which was handed to the Apostles by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper (Luke 22:29), We fulfill the Great Commission by traveling from place to place using old and modern conveyances. Our government is not of this world, and we expect to be held accountable to the laws from which we come. Our conduct is not an offense if it not an offense in the Kingdom of Heaven.”


By April 2005, Bradley Dean Smith began the unusual transfer of property to the new trusts being created by Stoll. Stoll claimed to be a lawyer, but according to the Justice Department, he was not a member of or licensed with any state or federal bar.

A new warranty deed was issued April 29, 2005, for his Annandale property—this one from the original sellers to “Old Paths Church Ministries, State of Washington.” That same day, Smith filed an “affidavit of identity” stating that his earlier assignment of the contract-for-deed should have been to “Old Paths Church Ministries” and not “Old Paths Church.”

About the same time Smith started doing business with Stoll, the federal government swung into action against Stoll’s sham ministry mill.

On Feb.15, 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint against Stoll and his enterprises seeking a permanent injunction to prohibit him from engaging in a whole host of illegal tax schemes and conduct, and also seeking a complete list of all of his customers.

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Stoll on April 26, 2005. The judge’s order also required Stoll to provide the government his customers’ names, mailing and e-mail addresses, and Social Security and telephone numbers, and to notify customers of the injunction.

“People who buy into tax-fraud schemes are buying nothing but trouble—past due tax bills with interest and penalties and the possibility of criminal prosecution,” said Eileen J. O’Connor, Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division. “The Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service are committed to stopping the promotion of tax fraud.”

Smith and MacAulay continued transferring assets of YCR and Old Paths Church to the new entities being created for them by Stoll, even after the temporary injunction had been issued against Stoll.

On June 21, 2005, the Old Paths Church Ministries PTA trust was established. Smith was listed as an agent of the trust and a “Director of the Family Defense League,” which was the corporation sole created by Stoll under which two of the three trusts were held.

A permanent federal injunction was issued against Stoll June 27, 2005.

On July 11, 2005, another warranty deed was issued for Smith’s Annandale property, conveying it “as a gift” from Old Paths Church Ministries to Old Paths Church Ministries PTA (Washington State).

YCR Ministries transferred its assets to another trust, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide PTA. These included: office equipment, three televisions, an aquarium, fountain, 16 Coca Cola bar stools, one Coca Cola cooler, 39 Coca Cola artwork pieces, 63 pieces of framed art, eight Macintosh computers, a recording studio, drums, PA system and fog machines.

YCR, Inc. transferred its assets to a third trust, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide Ministries PTB. Those assets included a 1997 Polaris Indy snowmobile, a 2005 Honda Rincon ATV and a 1994 Prevost bus.

Smith and MacAulay apparently continued to operate YCR and Old Paths Church under the trusts created by Stoller until early 2009. It’s not known whether they followed Stoll’s illegal tax-avoidance advice during those years.

Property tax statements for Smith’s Annandale property from 2006-2009 list “Old Paths Church Ministries PTA, Director Family Defense League Trustee” as the taxpayer. A new house was built on the property in 2006, using a construction mortgage of $336,552 issued to Old Paths Church Ministries and signed by Smith. The property’s estimated market value rose from $92,700 to $361,600.

The year Smith moved into his new house in rural Annandale in northern Wright County, he moved his controversial YCRBYCH “ministry” to downtown Annandale in the city’s former fire hall. He told the Annandale Advocate at the time that his group and band would put Annandale on the national map.

Court documents indicate that Smith and MacAulay found out about the federal injunction against their friend Stoll in 2008, and that in September 2008, they claim Stoll told them there wasn’t any injunction.

That’s not entirely surprising, since as recently as this fall, according to a Justice Department spokesman, Stoll has continued to thumb his nose at the injunction order’s demands, which included informing his customers on the injunction. Indeed, his Remedies at Law website shows little indication of compliance with the order, and he appears to be continuing to offer some kind of ministerial trust advice.

The Justice Department sought to have him jailed for contempt in June 2006. Stoll remains in contempt of the 2005 injunction order with at least $50,000 in fines hanging over his head.

According to court documents, Smith’s and MacAulay’s attorney advised them to sever all ties with Stoll, demand his resignation from their trusts and return all property from the trusts. Stoll refused, and on December 9, 2008, a summons and petition was attempted to be served on Stoll’s address, where a person there “refused to accept the documents” and “slammed the door.”

In affidavits filed with the court, Smith and MacAulay’s attorney stated that “The trusts that (Stoll) creates for their customers are shams, devoid of economic substance.” Stoll’s “false and fraudulent schemes” induced at least 30 customers to participate in their “illegal schemes” through at least 89 corporations sole and 47 ministerial trusts.

On March 27, 2009, District Court Judge Stephen Halsey granted Old Paths Church, Inc. and YCR, Inc. their motion for a summary judgment against Stoll that terminated Stoll’s trusts, removed Stoll as trustee, transferred assets from the trusts back to the two original entities, and awarded attorneys fees plus the $6,500 they paid Stoll to create the sham ministerial trusts.

Smith purchased the property back from Old Paths Church, Inc. on July 29, 2009, for $349,200. On August 14, 2009, another warranty deed was issued for the Annandale property from Old Paths Church, Inc. to Bradley Dean Smith. The Old Paths Church mortgage was satisfied, and a $367,344 mortgage was registered from Mortgage Depot in Bloomington to Smith. And the taxpayer of record for the former Old Paths Church property is once again listed as Bradley D. Smith.

Smith managed to get a swimming pool installed at his “parsonage” before the title transferred, though. A building permit was issued by Wright County for the pool on June 4, 2009, listing Smith as the applicant and Old Paths Church Ministries as the owner. It’s not known who paid for the installation.

While Bradley Smith and Jake MacAulay may have shed themselves of Glen Stoll and his sham ministry mill, YCR’s critics still consider them to be running a sham ministry.

In a Minnesota Independent report on the group’s ministerial housing allowances last year, a former IRS attorney told reporter Andy Birkey:

“No one can qualify for (the housing allowance) unless they are licensed or ordained ministers … I doubt that all five of the members of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide would meet that requirement. I mean, some of these guys are musicians.”

Added Alex Luchenitzer, senior litigation counsel for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State:

“Are they just five people who just decided to get together or are they ordained by an organized religious body? It it’s the former, it’s probably not what the IRS intended.”

Interestingly, one of the Justice Department’s complaints against Glen Stoll and his sham ministries is that they “falsely advise customers that if their residence or real estate is titled in the name of the ministerial trust, then the participant can use and maintain it as a tax-exempt parsonage or management housing.”

YCR declined to comment on its “ministers” or their housing allowances.

Questions remain about other aspects of YCR.

What is the relationship between the elusive Old Paths Church Ministries and YCR? They share the same address and at least one of the same officers—Jacob “Jake McMillian” MacAulay. Is this the “religious body” that ordains YCR’s “ministers?”

An extensive internet search turns up no references to Old Paths Church in Minnesota or its activities, events or services, other than the former address of the “church” in Plymouth. That address is a small office building housing several small commercial businesses, according to one current tenant, and is not a “church” at all. Old Paths Church, Inc.'s address registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State is identical to the Annandale address registered for YCR with the SoS.

Yet Old Paths Church or Old Paths Church Ministries—they are one and the same, according to court documents—was the taxpayer of record for Bradley Smith's residence in French Lake Township in Wright County from 2004-2009.

On its 2008 and 2009 IRS Form 990s, YCR reported “grants” to Old Paths Church Ministries in the amounts of $43,851 and $37,700, respectively.

A search of the YCR website turns up only one curious reference to Old Paths Church—this “Statement of Faith” that appears to be largely lifted from this "Statement of Faith" for an Old Paths Christian Church in El Paso, TX. However, a spokeswoman for Old Paths Christian Church in El Paso says they have no connection to Old Paths Church—or any other organization—in Minnesota.

YCR declined to comment on Old Paths Church or its relationship with the nonprofit.

Some also question whether YCR crosses the line from ministerial work to political work.

The YCR Articles of Incorporation filed with the State of Minnesota in 2008 state:

“No substantial part of the activities of the corporation shall be carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and the organization shall not participate in, or intervene in (including the publication or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”

Yet YCR had a booth at a political rally for Michele Bachmann’s congressional campaign April 7, 2010, that featured former half-term governor Sarah Palin. And the group also was invited to set up shop at the 2010 Minnesota GOP Convention.

Perhaps the biggest question looming is whether Smith, MacAulay and their “ministers” lived by the tenets of their tax-dodging sham ministries from 2005 until 2009, when they severed all ties to Stoll and his trusts. Smith’s pursuit of these tax-avoidance trusts, and his renouncement of his allegiance to the world and declaring citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven suggests that he may have a proclivity toward not paying taxes.

If so, are they now liable for back taxes, penalties—or worse? Or was it an IRS enforcement action that prompted their divorce from Stoll in the first place?

Unfortunately, the only person who can answer all these questions is Bradley Dean Smith, and he’s not talking.

Top photo: Billboard on the outskirts of Annandale, MN, home of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International.

Middle photo: You Can Run But You Cannot Hide Internatonal's world headquarters downtown Annandale.

Bottom photo: You Can Run But You Cannot Hide's booth at Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's political rally with former half-term governor Sarah Palin last April in Minneapolis.

All photos by Karl Bremer.

If you're interested in learning more about "Bradlee Dean" and his You Can Run But You Cannot Hide "ministry," check out some of the youtube videos of his radio programs, starting with the one below. It's not pretty.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pawlenty judicial appointment is former lobbyist for convicted money launderer Frank Vennes Jr.

Is pick further Pawlenty payoff for campaign contributor Vennes?

By Karl Bremer

The relationship between Tim Pawlenty and convicted money launderer and cocaine/gun trafficker Frank Vennes Jr. got a little thicker last week with Pawlenty’s appointment of Plymouth lawyer Jamie L. Anderson to the 4th Judicial District Court. Anderson is a former lobbyist for Vennes, working on criminal justice issues from 2006-07. Anderson currently works for Howse & Thompson, P.A., the law office of Vennes’ former personal attorney, Craig Howse.

Pawlenty, as you’ll recall, signed onto a 2002 letter requesting a presidential pardon for Vennes, who has been implicated but never charged in the Tom Petters Ponzi swindle. Pawlenty subsequently took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Vennes and his family.

Howse also has political ties to Pawlenty. He and his wife, Lisa, have contributed a total of $5,600 to Pawlenty’s campaigns since 2002.

Howse also was chairman of the Fidelis Foundation, which donated over $1.4 million to Minnesota Teen Challenge, an organization with close ties to Vennes and Pawlenty. Vennes and Pawlenty’s wife, Mary, served on the board of Minnesota Teen Challenge together.

The Fidelis Foundation, based in Plymouth, Minn., is a nonprofit organization “organized to assist Christians in discerning, clarifying and implementing God’s call and direction in their life,” according to the group’s tax filings. The organization used to lease office space from Howse for $1,300 a month.

Vennes also was heavily involved in Fidelis, which invested over $27 million in the Petters Ponzi--more than $4 million of it from Minnesota Teen Challenge.

Pawlenty has yet to explain his apparently close personal relationship with the ex-con Vennes.

H/t to Andy Birkey at Minnesota Independent.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Michele Bachmann celebrates the 'season of gimme'

By Karl Bremer

Most people think of Christmas as a time of giving. Michele Bachmann thinks of it as a time of “gimme.”

Two weeks before Christmas and a mere six weeks after Bachmann raked in an obscene $13.5 million—mostly from outside the 6th District—to get re-elected, Bachmann has already sent out her first plea for money in the 2012 campaign.

According to The Hill, Bachmann, who is still sitting on nearly $2 million left over from her 2010 campaign, sent a desperate email to supporters Dec. 14 designed to strike fear in their hearts about a rematch with Democratic challenger Tarryl Clark in 2012:

“With Barack Obama at the top of the ticket she’s likely hoping to ‘ride his coattails’ to victory and see me defeated once and for all,” Bachmann wrote.

“And it appears she may be starting to amass an even larger war chest then she did in this last election cycle. FEC records show that my opponent raised more money then any Democrat (sic) challenger in the entire country, and she has the capacity to raise even more money if she challenges me again.”

Bachmann went on to ask for donations to bankroll her 2012 re-election bid and to “support my outspoken opposition to Obama’s socialist agenda.”

It’s bad enough that Bachmann has desecrated the holiday season with her begging. With her crass holiday appeal for campaign cash, Bachmann also has put herself in direct competition with the hundreds of legitimate charities and nonprofits in need that rely on end-of-the-year donations to shore up their budgets. But why support food shelves when you can help fill the tank of Michele’s tour bus?

It’s a testament to how out of touch Bachmann is with her constituents that she sees nothing wrong with horning in on Christmas to shill for her campaign two years from now. But her cluelessness comes as no surprise to anyone who follows her mean-spirited voting record.

About 7 percent of Bachmann’s constituents are unemployed, and many are set to lose their benefits unless a one-year federal extension is passed as part of the tax-cut “deal” between Obama and Republicans. Yet Bachmann cited extension of unemployment benefits to her out-of-work neighbors as the primary reason she virulently opposed the tax-cut package.

Foreclosure rates among Bachmann’s constituents are at record levels, and yet Bachmann, a wealthy congresswoman living in a million-dollar manor on a golf course, has voted against virtually every foreclosure-relief measure that’s come before her as well.

This kind of tasteless yuletide pitch for political contributions is a new low in fundraising, even for a parasite like Bachmann. Minnesotans should respond with lumps of coal for the congresswoman instead this holiday season.

Photo illustration of Michele and Marcus Bachmann by Ken Avidor.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lil' Band O' Gold: A Southwest Louisiana Swamp Pop Jukebox

'One part Coonass and three parts Buena Vista Social Club'

By Karl Bremer

When a band stacked with some of the brightest musical stars in Louisiana has to go to Australia to find a label, you have to wonder about the state of the recording industry today. But that’s the circuitous route swamp rock supergroup Lil’ Band O’ Gold took from Down South to Down Under to get their second release in as many decades waxed—literally.

Often described as a Cajun version of the Traveling Wilburys, bandleader and charismatic Lafayette, Louisiana, guitar slinger C.C. Adcock has his own analogy: “One part Coonass and three parts Buena Vista Social Club. Except unlike Buena Vista Social Club, the cats in Lil’ Band O’ Gold were all working when we put the band together. We didn’t have to go out and find them in their homes.”

Adcock would know. He’s the instigator behind Lil’ Band O’ Gold.

“Louisiana’s one of the last places—southwest Louisiana for sure—where you can still go hang out with your heroes,” Adcock reflects in a documentary film about the band. “I mean, a lot of times, you can even start a band with ‘em. That’s what we’ve done with Lil’ Band O’ Gold.”

Lil Band O Gold is an amalgamation of some of Louisiana’s most respected players drawn from a thick stew of musical genres. The common ingredient among them is swamp pop, a local delicacy grown in the French-speaking parts of Louisiana known as Acadiana and Southeast Texas from the seeds of rockabilly, blues, country swing, R&B and Cajun music. If it comes from South Louisiana and it ain’t Cajun or zydeco, chances are it’s swamp pop.

The band’s roster reads like a who’s who of the region’s finest instrumentalists, vocalists and songsmiths: Steve Riley, master Cajun accordionist and leader of his own band, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys; Warren Storm, 73-year-old raven-haired drummer and veteran of countless swamp pop and R&B classics over the past half-century with the driving force of a locomotive and voice of an angel; Dave Ranson, stalwart longtime bassist with the Goners behind Sonny Landreth and John Hiatt; David Eagan, one of America’s premier songwriters and a gentle giant on the keyboards; Dickie Landry and Pat Breaux on saxophones, the go-to reed guys of the stars who play like they’re joined at the hip—and the heart; Richard Comeaux, pedal steel player par excellence and leader of his own band River Road. At the throttle is Charles Clinton Adcock, a vastly underrated guitarist who cut his teeth playing behind Bo Diddley and Buckwheat Zydeco and is a devoted keeper of the swamp pop flame.

Lil’ Band O’ Gold released its eponymous first album on the Shanachie label in 2000, a stunning debut that showcased the extraordinary array of talent in the group. It went unnoticed save for the fans who had the good fortune to stumble upon them in Louisiana—most likely at a festival of some kind—and developed a long-distance love affair with them.

Like all things in Cajun Country, nothing moves very fast unless you’re on the dance floor. Work began on “The Promised Land” in 2002, but it would be the better part of a decade before the new record would see the light of day, albeit by way of the Southern Hemishere.

Aiming for a roadhouse jukebox sound in both the song selection and sonic atmosphere of “The Promised Land,” explains Adcock, the band cut each song to a vinyl disc before transferring it to digital format. The result is a sound as full and broad as the Mississippi River that wraps around you like a sticky Louisiana night, propelled by a driving rhythm that would peel the asphalt off a back country road.

But the story of how it got to vinyl takes more twists and turns than the Mighty Mississippi. The project was plagued by a series of setbacks that could never have been anticipated that made the already-challenging job of recording a widely-scattered band like this even more impossible.

“For a short time we were in bed with a major label,” says Adcock as he sifts through the early history of the record. “We had a friend at the label who gave us enough money to record a couple songs—(David Eagan-penned) “Spoonbread” and (Bobby Charles chestnut) “I Don’t Want to Know.” It was a good afternoon in the studio.” Those two versions of the songs ended up on the final record, but that’s as far as it went with the label.

Tarka Cordell, Adcock’s longtime friend and co-producer of his own solo debut record, heard the songs and became an instant fan.

“Tarka comes from a great record-producing family,” says Adcock. Famed producer and Island Records A&R man Denny Cordell was his father. “I had tons of ideas for new songs—way too many—and Tarka helped condense those down.”

The band used to hang out in a joint called City Bar in Maurice, Louisiana, recalls Adcock. “I kinda wanted it to sound like the jukebox at City Bar. With four singers in the band, I thought the record could be listened to like a juke box. I wanted songs from different eras, musically and sonically. “So Long” is a ‘60s Allan Toussaint song, “Last Hayride” sounds stoned ‘70s … I always had a list of songs under my bed that Lil’ Band O’ Gold should do. I think David did too. So David and I started gathering up our ideas—gathering up feathers and wishbones to see if we could make a chicken.”

Between all the other commitments of band members—an occupational hazard of a “supergoup”—the project sputtered along in fits and starts for a couple of years until Cordell called Adcock from London in early 2005.

“I told him I was getting revved up for festivals, for the Ponderosa Stomp. He got envious and said ‘I gotta get in on this.’ So he decided that under the auspices of making a film, he’d get to hang out with us for six weeks.”

Cordell came down to Louisiana with a film crew and followed Lil Band O’ Gold around Cajun Country.

“We were playing all these shows and hanging out with my friends. And then in September, (hurricanes) Katrina and Rita hit. The film and all the parties and good times took on a different tone than they had captured on film. As the months passed after Katrina, there were so many questions about what was going to happen, what was going to get rebuilt.”

In early 2006, Adcock continues, “Tarka was checking back in with us about how the rebuilding was going. It was different in Lafayette—we were helping everyone else out. Lafayette was kind of spared—it’s literally kind of high ground.

“Me and Dickie shared this place downtown Lafayette. We fancied ourselves as downtown New York SoHo. The music was the first thing back in 2006, so Tarka said we gotta come back down and finish this story. He and I couldn’t stand it anymore. We were champing at the bit to make this record. But the problem that’s always been with Lil’ Band O’ Gold is that we’d see each other onstage and shoot it out of a cannon for a couple of hours and it worked. But if C.C. Adcock wanted to get everyone together and rehearse a few songs, you should see the eyes roll. So Tarka was able to unify us and bring us together and was able to put some cash together to make the record—give everybody a little money so they could get freed up for a couple weeks and hang out in the studio. And we filmed it all.”

Swamp pop legend Tommy McLain was brought in to sing “Memories,” a plaintive ballad he co-wrote with Adcock. Northern Louisiana rockabilly stalwart Kenny Bill Stinson was added to the mix on several tracks. And the incendiary former Clifton Chenier sideman Lil Buck Sinegal, a regular guest at the band’s live shows, was recruited for guitar duty on the hard-charging “Ain’t No Child No More.”

The presence of five distinctive vocalists on the record—Adcock, Riley, Eagan, Storm and McLain—allowed greater latitude in the song selections because they all occupy different spaces. More of a challenge in the mixing, says Adcock, is the blending of accordion, horns and steel guitar. “They all occupy the same frequency, so they all sort of become one streaming sound, sort of intertwined.”

The band wanted to stay as true as possible to that City Bar jukebox sound, and the idea of mastering it to vinyl evolved.

“It came out of night after night of us sitting around all night talking about vinyl. We went to this old studio that Warren used to go to—great vintage gear, mics, consoles, everything’s gun-metal gray. We had all these mixes laying around, and the cream rose to the top.”

The record took another tragic twist in the road when Tarka Cordell committed suicide in April 2008.

“He was my best friend in the whole world,” Adcock says. “After he died it really galvanized me and the band and his brothers to go out and make sure that his legacy could be heard.”

Three weeks earlier, Cordell had sent Adcock a letter with his track-by-track critique of “The Promised Land.”

“Great record. Needs little,” he concluded.

“It was hard,” says Adcock. “We tried to go about the business of honoring his legacy. Every time something worked out for us, we just sort of looked at each other and said ‘Tarka.’ But we were able to go back and honor his wishes” in the final edits.

“I had the record vinylized,” Adcock enthuses. “I took every mastered track on the record up to New York to this vinyl guru—Andy Vandette—who arguably has the greatest record lathe in the country. He pressed each song to its own 12-inch vinyl record at 45 rpm. When you’re listening to your disc, you’re listening to a record, a needle on a record.”

The documentary film “The Promised Land: A Swamp Pop Journey,” was released in 2009, with help from Tarka’s brother, Barney. It premiered at South by Southwest in Austin and was screened several times in Louisiana before it went on the international film circuit, including Cannes.

But the record was still in the can.

“There are some crazy Aussies who come around to Jazz Fest and like Lil’ Band O’ Gold,” Adcock chuckles. One of them saw the film in 2009, followed by the band’s performance at New Orleans’ Chickie Wah Wah nightclub. The next thing they knew, they were contacted by Dust Devil Records, and the record was released in Australia in March 2010, followed by an Australian tour.
“The Promised Land” delivers on the band’s mission to make a real jukebox record. There’s a warmth, honesty and heartfelt respect for the music over the musician that permeates every song, without the excesses of other “supergroups.” The sum of this band truly is greater than its individual parts.

It’s like a swirling shot of musical absinthe that splays your senses wide open and oozes over them in thick aural landscapes of Acadiana. Never mind that the songs have percolated from such non-swampy and disparate sources as ELO’s Jeff Lynne (“Hold On Tight”) or Mickey Newbury (“Sunshine”). By the time Lil’ Band O’ Gold gets done stitching them together, they fit like different patches on the same handmade quilt.

“It was important for me to do this little Australian thing because it’s like brick-and-mortar,” says Adcock. “I’m proud to have it. We sound so good. It’s just important to keep this thing going. I feel more compelled than ever to get this record released here.”

Yet as good as this record is, as an Australian import, its market is destined to be limited until they can find U.S. distribution.

It must get tiring to continually be described in so many words as “the greatest band you’ve never heard of,” despite the solid-gold resumes of its individual members. Part of the sentence meted out by that description is self-imposed as everyone in the band has “day jobs” elsewhere and can’t perform, tour or, as Adcock noted, rehearse like a fulltime band.

Yet Lil’ Band O’ Gold has been “discovered” by a slew of heavyweights.

Robert Plant jumped onstage with the band at Tipitina’s in New Orleans in 2007, and the two collaborated on “It Keeps Rainin’,” a track on a tribute to Fats Domino.

Bob Dylan caught their set at the 2003 New Orleans Jazz Fest and was so knocked out he tapped Dickie Landry to sit in with him for his nighttime show.

And Elvis Costello, Dr. John and a gang of other notables sat in with the band at a House of Blues tribute to Bobby Charles during Jazz Fest this year.

Authenticity doesn’t always sell in an age of superficiality. But Adcock remains on the hunt for an American label that’s buying it.

Stranger things have happened. Seattle native Jimi Hendrix had to go to England before he could get the attention of the American market. Maybe things in the music business aren’t so different these days after all.

"The Promised Land" by the quarters

The Promised Land/Lil’ Band O’ Gold
2010 Dust Devil Music DDCD0110

“Spoonbread” comes up on the first quarter with a fat, swelling accordion entrance accompanied by a bevy of vocalists and the siren call of a pedal steel. David Eagan’s homespun, authentic lyrics invite comparisons to The Band in their finest moments of pure Americana:

“Pass me down that spoonbread baby,
You ain’t eatin’ like you know you should,
Got a little peas, got a little gravy,
Pass me down that spoonbread baby,
It ain’t money but it sure tastes good.”

The hook is set with Warren Storm’s crystalline cover of Bobby Charles’ classic lament “I Don’t Want to Know.” The band gets deep in your soul as the waves of sound push Storm to falsetto reaches that even Johnny Adams would have envied.

Another quarter in the jukebox and up comes C.C. Adcock swaggering through the door with “Teardrops,” a swamp pop nugget from Eddie Schuler, founder of Lake Charles label Goldband Records, and Shelton Dunaway of Cookie and the Cupcakes.

Steve Riley’s up next with “Ain’t No Child No More,” a raucous romp through the bayou with stinging Clifton Chenier sidekick Lil Buck Sinegal and Riley battling it out for lead.

Eagan comes back into the singing rotation on his own wistful “Dreamer,” showing why anyone who’s anybody has beat a path to his door to record his songs. Paired with Storm’s take on Mickey Newbury’s “Sunshine,” it makes for a sterling midpoint in the record before launching into a rocket-fueled arrangement of Adcock’s “Runaway Life.”

A radically different version of “Runaway Life” appeared on Adcock’s Lafayette Marquis record a few years ago as a Cajun two-step guitar-fiddle duo.

“Tarka heard the rock and roll version and really liked it,” Adcock says. “He always wanted a “Promised Land” on the record, but how could you top Johnny Allan’s version? So he thought “Runaway Life” could be our “Promised Land.”

Storm tumbles out another polished gem with Dubliner David Kitt’s “Faster and Faster,” putting a late-night sheen on this tender ballad.

Eagan’s swirling Wurlitzer and Riley’s thumping squeezebox compete for attention in “Hold On Tight,” which remains surprisingly true to the original hit from British popsters ELO.

Then it’s back to the “Godfather of Swamp Pop” as Storm takes a steel-guitar-drenched amble down a country road on yet another sparkling Eagan composition, “Hard Enough.”

Pineville, Louisiana, swamp pop legend Tommy McLain and Adcock tag-team on the record’s acoustic sweet spot, “Memories,” with an assist from Eagan and Ranson and a horn duet as thick as cane molasses.

Riley steps into a French-Cajun roadhouse and commandeers the full strength of Lil’ Band O’ Gold to pump out “Evangeline Rock,” with Storm showing no age as the engine behind this tour de force.

Adcock offers us a glimpse of the underside of Louisiana politics circa Edwin Edwards in “The Last Hayride,” a not-so-tender ballad with the barbed perspective you’d expect from a bare-knuckled rocker.

“A silver fox with a golden tongue,
Yeah, you played it smart and kept ‘em dumb,
You really kept ‘em dumb,
Lawd, you really kept us dumb.”

Finally, Allan Toussaint’s “So Long” brings the horns to the front for a lazy shuffle out the door at closing time. It’s the last quarter in the City Bar jukebox, and it feels like a night that’s come to its proper end.

All photos by Karl Bremer

1, 2, 3 & 6: Lil' Band O' Gold, C.C. Adcock and Warren Storm, Chickie Wah Wah, New Orleans, LA, April 2010
4 & 5: Tarka Cordell and C.C. Adcock, Louisiana Music Factory, New Orleans, LA, April 2005

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In Memorium: Frank Zappa, 12.21.40 - 12.4.93

Frank Zappa, 11.28.81, Northrup Auditorium, Minneapolis, MN. Zappa is playing a scorched Stratocaster that was once owned - and set on fire - by Jimi Hendrix. The guitar has been the subject of much discussion over the years, and was sold at auction a few years ago.
Photo by Karl Bremer