Monday, October 27, 2014

Fantasy Basketball 2014-15

Just had my draft for my fantasy basketball team. I've played in this league with this group of guys for, I don't know, 8 or 9 years now. I pay less attention to NBA basketball than I used to, but it is a way to stay in touch with some friends and it is still a good time. We play a rotissere (sp?) type of scoring with nine categories and 10 player positions with three bench spots. What all that means is that we score simply by adding up each category throughout the season to determine placing. So for instance, out of the 10 teams, if at the end of the season my team has accumulated the most rebounds, I get 10 points in that category. If I had the second most rebounds, then nine points, and so forth. Add all the categories at the end of the season and you have your placings. The categories are Shooting Percentage, Free Throw Percentage, Points, Three Pointers, Assists, Steals, Rebounds, Blocks and Turnovers (of course, you want the least amount of those). We have a Point Guard spot, Shooting Guard, another Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward, another Forward, two Centers and two Utility spots (any position).

My personal strategies include: in the first round, get the best rated player available. That's easy. Then get the best power forward and best point guard you can. That is because PF and PG are the key positions that offer the widest range of great stats. And I do not draft any Spurs. I love the Spurs, but while Popovich is a brilliant coach in keeping his players fresh for the playoffs, that means a stat killer for fantasy. Also, the more balanced and more they all share the load, the less likely you have fantasy studs stand out. In fantasy, the selfish players are often who you want. I also have an ever evolving 'do not draft' list.

With all of that out of the way, here is how the draft went. I got the 5th pick (out of 10 teams), and it snakes (so the 1st pick doesn't pick again until 20th, and then 21st and so forth).

Round One (in this order):

Lebron James
Anthony Davis
Stephen Curry
James Harden
Chris Paul (DEZ pick)
Kevin Love
Russell Westbrook
Carmelo Anthony
Serge Ibaka
Kevin Durant

Lebron 1st was a no-brainer. This round went relatively according to most of the draft magazines, websites, etc. Durant would normally compete with Lebron for the #1 spot, but the fact that he is injured and not expected back for almost two months explains his drop. I was wondering where he would go. I like my pick of Paul, although with him there are always injury concerns. But when healthy, he usually leads the league in steals and is up there in assists and also scores alot. Durant's injury also explains Westbrook's jump. I was a little surprised that Ibaka went so high. Anthony Davis is not exactly a superstar in real life, but fantasy sports is not about real life, it is about numbers. And most projections are that Davis will blow up, fantasy-wise, this season.

Round Two:

DeMarcus Cousins
John Wall
Al Jefferson
Kawhi Leonard
Blake Griffin
Chris Bosh (DEZ pick)
Damien Lillard
LaMarcus Aldridge
Kyrie Irving
Kyle Lowry

I drafted Kawhi last season (violating my No Spurs policy, and was disappointed because of what I stated above). Griffin will kill free throw percentage. I held my nose when I drafted Bosh, I can't stand him. But with Lebron out of Miami and Wade always having one foot in the ER, it is really Bosh's team. If you look at Bosh's numbers last season when Lebron was out, they approached his all-star numbers of old. Plus, he's got something to prove this season.

Round Three:

Joakin Noah
Nicolas Batum
Al Horford
DeAndre Jordan
Dirk Nowitzki (DEZ pick)
Goran Dragic
Mike Conley
Ty Lawson
Kobe Bryant
Derrick Rose

Interesting round. I wanted Batum bad, but he was taken a few picks before it got to me. I think Jordan will be a bust this season. Dirk in the middle of the third round is pretty damn good, I say. I know he's old, very old. But he is still reliable and hasn't really broken down much yet. Let's just hope this isn't the season when it happens. Most fantasy guides had him ranked higher, so I was glad to take him here. Kobe and Rose are the real wild cards here, though. They could both return to form and be the steals of the draft, but I was staying away from both this early. It is true that the Lakers this season are basically Kobe and the Staples Center janitorial staff, but he is old, coming off injuries he's never had...I'm just not feeling it. Could be very wrong, though.

The rest of my team (in order of drafting): DeMar DeRozen, Thaddeus Young, Trevor Ariza, Brook Lopez (actually a mistake, my computer disconnected and I had someone else queued up), Patrick Beverly, Luol Deng, JJ Reddick (happy to get him, I had him last season and before his injury, he was a three point monster), DeMarre Carroll, JR Smith (kind of a joke, but it was late in the draft and this is a bench spot) and Andrew Bogut.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

RIP Jack Bruce, 1943-2014

It should tell you something that although the rock power trio Cream featured Eric Clapton, he was not the most interesting (or arguably even the most overall talented) member of that trio. Jack Bruce-singer, bassist, composer-was. Although Cream was shortlived (1966-68) they had a huge impact. It was three virtuosos, all, sometimes with musical violence, fighting for attention. At times, especially in the live setting, that made for overindulgence and chaos. But when it clicked, it was incredibly exciting and visceral listening. Clapton is Clapton, and this was his guitar god period where he wasn't afraid to be a bad-ass. Ginger Baker on drums was a virtuoso as well, but listen closely to many of Cream's songs, and you will hear the bass guitar acting as a second lead instrument along with Clapton's more obvious guitar, flying with the same speed and creative fire. But on a bass, which is harder to do. (One of the best examples is on the live "Crossroads" from Wheels of Fire, which is one of Clapton's finest moments as a guitarist. Clapton also sings lead on that one. But listen closely, underneath Clapton's guitar fireworks, what Jack Bruce is doing is just incredible.) Bruce was one of the all time great rock bassists (up there with John Entwistle, Chris Squier or Sting), acknowledged by many of his peers as a four string deity. He had jazz chops, really, playing with a fluid style, often on a fretless bass. He was also behind many of Cream's hits as a songwriter, and sang most of their tunes as well.

For most casual classic rock listeners Jack Bruce's story ends with Cream. But he went on to release many challenging, daring solo records (and was working right up to Spring of this year). If you are at all curious, his Songs For a Tailor (1969) ***** and Harmony Row (1971) **** are superb and worth searching out, revelations to listeners only familiar with "Sunshine of Your Love" or "White Room." In my book, they are more adventurous than anything Clapton put out post-Cream.

ABOVE; "Crossroads" by Cream. Listen to all three musicians here, but especially Jack Bruce's bass.

RIP Jack Bruce.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

More Class of 2015 Rockhall Thoughts

Upon further reflection, I have some additional comments regarding the 2015 crop of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You should first read the previous post (below) if you haven't already, wherein I discuss each nominee and give my personal vote and prediction. Also, JMW and I have a lively discussion regarding Joan Jett and women in the Rockhall in general in the comments.

These more recent classes are by their nature more controversial and more open to debate than the earliest ones. I mean, who is going to argue that Elvis Presley should not be in? "You know, I don't know about them Beatles." The first four or five classes were givens. But the fun stuff comes in more recent times.

More on Sting. I cannot forgive 1993 forward. As much as I love 1985-91, there is just too much badness for too long after. It is inexcusable for a man of his talents. He traded integrity for chart success, dumbing down his lyrics and his sound. And since The Police have already been separately inducted, I must say "no" to Sting.

One of the things that I always enjoy about the announcement of the nominees (even moreso than the announcement for the actual inductees, actually) is that it gives me an opportunity (or excuse) to explore the music of some artists that I may have overlooked in my music listening career. That hasn't happened much this time around (although perhaps I should listen to Nine Inch Nails a little more than I have), but there are some repeat nominees here whom I did explore when they were nominated previously. Two in particular. I am now a pretty big fan and admirer of Kraftwerk, and the first time that I delved into their music was due to a previous nomination.

Also The Marvelettes. They get a little lost in the Motown shadow of The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. A few years back when they were nominated I downloaded a hits collection. I love it. A little grittier and sultrier than the shimmering Supremes or sunny Martha and the Vandellas. The early hits are vintage Motown girl group stuff, but their later songs are more sophisticated soul. If you haven't, I highly recommend checking out The Marvelettes. (The record was The Ultimate Collection by the way, a generous 25 track collection that is wonderful from start to finish). I prefer them over Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas.

I always feel that I have to defend Paul Butterfield Blues Band when they get nominated. Many people haven't even heard of them or they are dismissed. They shouldn't be. Rarely are they in the top 5 or 6 of any nominating class, but they are still important and great. East-West is a brilliant album, and especially the title track is hugely influential on jam bands to come. Butterfield and Bloomfield were also brilliant musicians.

Finally, a discussion of each crop of nominees would not be complete without whining about who is still not in the Hall. So here is my list of snubs, the asterick means that they have been nominated before, but not inducted. I do not necessarily like all of these artists, but they have good arguments. Notice the Hall's disdain especially for metal, prog and the 80's in general. Like them or not, some of these snubs are inexcusable when Percy Sledge and Linda Ronstadt have been enshrined.

CLASSIC ROCK/60’s and 70’s: Chicago; Lou Reed*; Love; MC5*; Steve Miller Band; Steve Winwood*; Big Star; Blue Oyster Cult; Canned Heat; Capt. Beefheart; Cheap Trick; Doobie Brothers; JJ Cale; Jimmy Buffett; Joe Cocker; Meatloaf; Monkees; Nick Drake; Paul Butterfield Blues Band*; Richard Thompson; Richie Havens; 13th Floor Elevators; Roxy Music; Steppenwolf; T. Rex; Zombies*...

EARLY ROCK AND ROLL/R&B/BLUES/SOUL: SRV*; Kool & the Gang; Bill Withers*; Chic*; Commodores; Dick Dale; Johnny Burnette and the R&R Trio; Lightnin’ Hopkins; Neville Brothers; Rick James; Sonny Boy Williamson; War*; The Spinners*; Marvelettes*; Barry White; Link Wray*...

PROG: King Crimson; Yes*; ELO; ELP; Jethro Tull; Moody Blues...

METAL/HARD ROCK: Deep Purple*; Judas Priest; Motorhead; Ozzy Osbourne; Iron Maiden; Thin Lizzy; Megadeath; Motley Crue; Pantera...

NEW WAVE/80’s/80’s ALTERNATIVE: Cars; Devo; Duran Duran; Journey; Cure*; Joy Division/New Order; Replacements*; Pixies; Smiths*; Sting*; Bon Jovi*; Church; Def Leppard; Depeche Mode; Dire Straits; Echo & the Bunnymen; Eurythmics; INXS; Janet Jackson; Los Lobos; Misfits; Television; Tina Turner (solo); Whitney Houston; Sonic Youth; Morrissey; Bjork; Black Flag; Husker Du; Kate Bush; New York Dolls*...

RAP: Ice T; NWA*; Erik B. and Rakim*; LL Cool J*; Africa Bambaataa*...

OTHER: Kraftwerk*; Willie Nelson (if Johnny Cash and Hank Williams are in, then where is Willie?); Can; Fela Kuti; Flying Burrito Brothers; Frank Sinatra; Gram Parsons*; John Coltrane (Miles is in); King Sunny Ade; Merle Haggard; Tom Jones; Townes Van Zandt; Brian Eno; Count Basie; Duke Ellington; Silver Apples; Weird Al Yankovic (there is actually a good case to be made here); Django Reinhardt; Ella Fitzgerald...

90’s AND FORWARD: Flaming Lips; Jane’s Addiction; Soundgarden; Stone Roses; Green Day*; NIN*...

BACKING GROUPS(leaders are in or have been nominated, but these crucial backing groups for them have not): Wailers (Bob Marley), Belmonts (Dion), Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa), Double Trouble (Stevie Ray Vaughan, who is nominated this year)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Today is one of my favorite days of the year – the nominees for next year’s class in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced.

Overall, this is a pretty eclectic list of nominees. You can tell that they are finally letting go of the 60’s and 70’s and moving into the 80’s and 90’s. You have the potential, for the first time probably, to have a class entirely comprised of artists who were in their prime in the 80’s or after.

There is also a “fan’s ballot” again this year. If you go to the Rockhall and Museum’s website (link on the side) or Rolling Stone magazine’s website, you can cast your votes. The top five in the fan voting will be one ballot in the voting amongst the Hall inductees, music insiders and critics who vote. Basically one in about 500 ballots. Still fun, though.

Recall that the rules are as follows: you are eligible 25 years after your first record or single. The criteria is allegedly innovation, influence and “musical excellence.” Whatever that is in rock and roll.

I would say that all but one of these nominees have a good argument for eventual induction, if not this year. And I like the one who shouldn’t be there, I just don’t think they are quite Hall of Fame material, that’s all.

So here they are. After the list, I will tell you what my “fan ballot” looked like and then give you my actual prediction.
In alphabetical order…

Paul Butterfield Blues Band: One of the few 60’s era artists in this group, they are clearly somebody’s pet project on the Nominating Committee, as they appear every several years or so. I am a fan and a great admirer of their sophomore effort, East-West (the title track is groundbreaking). Butterfield was a great singer and harp player, guitarist Michael Bloomfield was one of those genius junkie stories in the music’s lore. The bi-racial composition of the band at a time when that was unusual was bold and their adherence to Chicago blues roots plus bringing it forward with rock and roll energy and unusual experimentation all make them worthy in my book. Not a chance of induction this year, though.

Chic: Somebody REALLY wants them in. If I am not mistaken, they now hold the record for the most nominations at nine. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards are both hugely important figures, as producers as well as musicians. They were one of the better dance/disco groups, and excellent musicians as well. Hall-worthy, sure. But if they have not been selected by the voters eight times previous, I don’t see that changing with a ninth nomination.

Green Day: This is the first year of eligibility for them, and I think they are a shoo-in. I am not a fan, but they are a critical darling (leftie manifesto American Idiot sealed the deal for many, I am sure). The Hall loves the punk ethos, and then when they get arty on top of that. I don’t argue against their credentials.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: I dig Joan Jett. She is supercool and rocks. I just don’t think she is Hallworthy. No innovation. Several of her biggest hits were rockified covers or songs written for her by others (good songs, I love her “Crimson and Clover” cover and “Light of Day” was written for her by Bruce Springsteen). Influence? I think she influenced female rockers more with her attitude and look vs. the actual music. Is that enough? But as the only woman on the ballot (other than Chic’s singers, but Chic is more about Rodgers and Edwards), she has a good shot at getting in.

Kraftwerk: The most influential artist in this whole group? Good argument for it. They are basically ground zero for modern synth and electronic music. Krautrock gods. The only problem is that many people have never heard of them. Those that have heard of them have only heard of them, but not actually heard their music. I don’t think they will make it, but they are probably the most deserving of all of these nominees. On a scale of 1 to 10, their influence is at 11, their innovation is a 10 and musical excellence up there as well.

The Marvelettes: Not as big as, say, The Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas, but they were also an important Motown girl group. In fact, they had Motown’s first number one hit, “Please Mr. Postman.” I would never say that any of Motown’s first tier (or second tier, on which the Marvelettes reside, as all of Motown’s first tier acts have long since been inducted) don’t deserve induction. They do. I doubt they will make it this year, though.

Nine Inch Nails: aka Trent Reznor. Another first year eligible nominee. Reznor’s induction chances this year are less certain than Green Day’s, though. He/they are a definite eventual inductee. Out of all of these nominees, I probably know the least about their music. But by reputation, I figure they are worthy.

NWA: Like them or not, repelled by them or inspired by them, you cannot deny their importance. As far as influence, I think they are second only to Kraftwerk in that department amongst these nominees. Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Wren, DJ Yella…these guys defined gangsta rap in the 1990’s. And this induction would go to honor Dre and Cube for their later work as well, probably. Dre is perhaps the most important rap producer ever, and Cube was one of the most talented and provocative rappers in this violent subgenre. Uncompromising and controversial, it is clear that the Nominating Committee (or some members of it) want them in, as they didn’t nominate any rap/hip hop competition this time around to split votes. I think they make it in this time and definitely deserve it.

Lou Reed: Already in as a member of Velvet Underground, if he gets in for his solo work he’d be a two time inductee. He was nominated once many years ago, I bet they gave him another shot due to his death earlier this year. Nothing raises your profile like dying. But I say he clearly deserves induction for his solo work. One of the most uncompromising, challenging, and interesting rock artists of the last 40 years, Lou has done it all. I would love to see him get in, but I’m not sure he will in this competition.

The Smiths: YES! One of my main complaints about the Hall has been their dismissal of the 80’s in general as a worthy period in music (they love the 60’s and 70’s, and seem to want to leapfrog the 80’s and get right to the 90’s), but slowly they have started to acknowledge the decade. The Cure were nominated a couple of years ago, last year saw a surprise nomination for The Replacements (neither were inducted). Here is another absolutely essential 80’s group. How fun would it be to have this year’s Rockhall fight be Morrissey vs. his former bandmates? I’m afraid, though, they will meet the same fate as The Cure and Replacements and not make it in.

The Spinners: Look, I’m not going to complain about any important R&B artist nominations, as this genre (and blues) are so much in the DNA of rock and roll. Daryl Hall, in his acceptance speech last year for Hall & Oates, admonished the Hall for generally overlooking Philly Soul, and The Spinners nomination may be a response to that. Love this group, but I doubt they get in.

Sting: Hmm. This is tough. He is already in with The Police, so this would be solely for his solo work. I mean, how do you deal with this? His first four solo records (I’m including the live Bring on the Night) were brilliant and daring in their way in that he made a real break from The Police’s sound and forged his own identity. But then? Horrible, saccharine, generic, lazy (especially considering his abilities) work. I find his work from Ten Summoner’s Tales forward infuriating. I guess I wouldn’t be upset if he got in (The Police are one of my favorite bands and his early solo work I adore), but he needs to be punished severely for most of the 90’s and beyond.

Stevie Ray Vaughan: FINALLY! It is ridiculous that this is his first nomination. Year after year he appears near the top of most “biggest snubs” lists. He almost singlehandedly revived blues as a vital musical form in the 80’s and set it on a healthy track for beyond. He also influenced a generation of guitar players. Who doesn’t love this guy? Even if you don’t listen to him much anymore. But do you notice that his name looks a little odd there? A little bare and lonely? Where is the "& double Trouble?" I find it odd and dumb that his crucial band Double Trouble was not nominated with him, especially in light of the Rockhall righting past wrongs over the last several years with inducting backing bands like Springsteen’s E Street Band, James Brown’s Famous Flames, Smokey Robinson’s Miracles, etc. years after their leaders were inducted. I mean, Double Trouble (Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Reese Wynans) were essential to SRV’s sound. If Stevie were still alive, I think he would demand that his band go in with him, he wouldn’t be happy with going in alone. I always said that when they finally get around to nominating him that he’d be a sure thing, and I don’t see any direct competition this year, so I say he definitely gets in.

War: Great group that melded soul, rock and latin sounds in the 70’s. I especially like their shortlived collaborations with Eric Burdon. A longshot for induction this year.

Bill Withers: Nice. Fairly eccentric artist who walked away from the industry before he needed to. He is as respected as a singer-songwriter as he is an R&B artist, and wrote some fantastic, funky and lasting songs. Wouldn’t mind seeing him go in at all, and I’m a little surprised that this is only his first nomination.

So there they are, your nominees for the class of 2015. Assuming there will be five inductees this year…

Dez’s Ballot:

Stevie Ray Vaughan
The Smiths
Lou Reed
NWA or Sting
: I cannot decide yet on my final slot. I don’t listen to NWA much, but they are hugely important. See my Sting discussion above.

Dez’s Predictions:

Stevie Ray Vaughan
Green Day
Lou Reed
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
(I hope I’m wrong here)

What do you think? Predictions?

Monday, October 6, 2014


JMW was disturbed by being confronted with Phil Spector's frightening mug in the post below whenever he checked in at GNABB. So per his request, I have posted something less scary.