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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS:

1. Megan Thee Stallion has announced a special project coming for the hotties missing her old music. The Texas rapper is releasing “Something for Thee Hotties: From Thee Archives,” a new project that will feature her freestyles and some other previously unreleased songs. 

 

The compilation album will be out on October 29th.

2. Cryptocurrency and NFT’s are taking the rap game by storm. Every day more and more mainstream artists (including Jay-Z) are finding innovative ways to incorporate their music into the metaverse as an investment and are launching their careers into the future.

3. Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft) will star in 'Magazine Dreams'.

 

The 32-year-old actor has boarded the cast of the new bodybuilding drama that will be written and directed by Elijah Bynum.

 

The movie tells the story of an amateur bodybuilder who struggles to find a human connection in the exploration of celebrity and violence.

COMMENT

THE WHISPER NETWORK: (2 STORIES!)

by: Matt Reynolds

 

The “Gay for Pay” P•rn Star Who Hatched a Million-Dollar Blackmail Scheme...Teo Brank found a lucrative side hustle arranging escorts for sex parties. But when his business soured, he turned to extortion.

 

Teofil Brank and Etienne Yim traveled from San Diego to Los Angeles in a Ford Focus hatchback, picking up a .357 Colt revolver on the way. They drove through the palm-lined business district on Sepulveda Boulevard and parked opposite a terra-cotta Starbucks close to Los Angeles International Airport, where Brank was about to pick up $1 million in cash.

 

Obtaining the gun from Yim’s friend Benjamin Williams was simple enough. He also gave them yellow-tinted goggles, earmuffs, a shooting bag and ammo. At Brank’s Koreatown apartment in L.A., they transferred the wooden-handled gun to a backpack.

 

Brank remembers doing a bump of coke before they pulled up at Starbucks. He told Yim that if anyone shot at him, he should shoot back. It was a cold night, and as Brank crossed the parking lot he had his hood up. He believed it was a necessary precaution.

 

“I don’t know if he’s out there with a sniper or something … if he’s going to shoot me,” he recalls.

 

Two weeks earlier, Brank had arrived at Yim’s San Diego apartment in a sleek black Audi R8 sports car and calmly told his French-born friend over beers that he was about to collect half a million dollars. He said he was blackmailing Donald Burns, a wealthy tech tycoon he met while escorting.

 

Soon after, Brank and Yim tore through the desert in the sports car to Las Vegas, where they would do cocaine and hang out in strip clubs, celebrating the coming payday. On February 17, Burns wired Brank $500,000 from a Goldman Sachs account. After Vegas, the two friends stopped briefly in San Diego, then continued to Brank’s old stomping ground, Sacramento, where he gave his brother $10,000, according to Yim. In a whirlwind of debauchery, they continued to San Francisco and then back down to L.A. Yim said Brank blew about $20,000 on hotels, clothes and bottle service. With heaps of cash and a $180,000 sports car, Brank could have stopped there, but he had sunk his teeth into Burns and didn’t want to let go. He wanted more. Much more.

 

At that time, Brank, or “Teo” to his friends, was one of the most famous actors in gay p•rn, despite being heterosexual. Although married to one woman and in a tumultuous relationship with another, the rugged, hawkishly handsome 25-year-old had found a niche in gay-for-pay p•rn, performing as Jarec Wentworth.

 

Born in Romania, Brank came to America as a toddler and grew up near Nashville and then Sacramento. He was the seventh of 10 children and, according to court records, lived in a physically and emotionally abusive household.

 

After graduating from high school in 2007, he worked in construction and as a residential painter. He married his girlfriend in Reno soon thereafter. By that time, he was already facing domestic abuse charges. After a drunken argument had turned violent, he assaulted her, leaving injuries on her head, back and neck. In March 2009, he was convicted and sentenced to four months in jail.

 

At 20, he responded to a Craigslist ad and began doing p•rn. He appeared in 31 scenes for the studio, Sean Cody, then moved on to Randy Blue, before landing an exclusive contract at Men.com. He also started working as an occasional escort, a common side hustle for gay p•rn actors. Indeed, for many actors, p•rn is just a shop window for their escorting services.

 

Brank was making a name for himself, but he had ambitions behind the camera. He wanted to start producing p•rn, or even mainstream movies, and settle down.

 

“Eventually, the money came through, and boom, I was starting to have my crew together,” Brank says. “I wanted to have my own studio.”

 

But even in porn, there are few shortcuts. Those who step out of its shady glamour to find mainstream success are entrepreneurs with an acute sense of how to promote themselves for maximum profit. Brank had always wanted to make money. But he wanted it now, and Burns was his ticket to success.

 

A few weeks after the road trip, Yim was asleep in his apartment when Brank texted, “I need your help.” It was Wednesday, March 4, the day of their fateful ride to Starbucks.

 

Brank was going to collect the $1 million and wanted Yim to drive. Both men feared for their lives. Burns was rich and powerful. He rubbed shoulders with diplomats, business executives and politicians, including wealthy publisher Christopher Forbes and Rudy Giuliani.

 

During the drive from San Diego to Los Angeles, when Burns called Brank, he sounded anything but intimidating. He told the actor he was sending a courier, “Sean,” to deliver the cash. Brank wondered if “Sean” was really a contract killer.

 

“I’ve never broken a deal with you, and I’m in a really fucking bad spot now,” Burns said. “I’m trying to work the situation, but I’m getting fucked by my own side here.”

 

Brank arrived at the coffee shop and clocked Sean at the bar, dressed in a black jacket and jeans. 

 

Sean had been there for two hours, parking in the back corner of the lot and stopping to grab a sandwich from the Jersey Mike’s next door. He handed Brank the title to the Audi R8.

 

“And?” Brank said.

 

“It’s your lucky day,” Sean replied. “Ready to get paid?”

 

Brank wanted to do the handoff near the patio outside. Sean left and returned in his black Tesla. The trunk popped to reveal a locked backpack. Sean rummaged around for the key. Brank never got a chance to find out what was inside, as he was quickly surrounded.

 

“What the fuck’s going on?” Brank remembers thinking.

 

The yellow letters on the back of the agents’ blue jackets gave him the answer.

 

FBI.

 

This was no hit. It was a takedown.

 

When law enforcement ensnared Brank, Donald Burns was a 51-year-old business executive worth $138 million. He chaired internet communications company MagicJack VocalTec and was active on the political scene. The Republican, who did not respond to requests for comment on this story, had donated between $1,000 and $2,000 to Rudy Giuliani and to the group that attacked John Kerry’s war record, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. He had also occasionally donated to Democrats, including Barack Obama and John Edwards.

 

With his varnished public persona, pinched face, silvery brown hair and pinkish tan, Burns had floated on the edges of the p•rn industry for a few years now, pursuing actors at Sean Cody, which catered to subscribers with a fetish for straight men. He even invited the studio to shoot at The Razor House, his glass mansion in the wealthy San Diego suburb of La Jolla. He also owned properties in Palm Beach, Florida, and Nantucket, Massachusetts.

 

Burns met Brank in 2013. The actor told him he had the powers of persuasion and industry connections to help him. Burns in turn created a shopping list of men he wanted to solicit for s•x.

 

“These are the guys that nobody has ever cracked,” Burns wrote in a September 27, 2014, email to Brank (subject line: “Recruiting $22,000 of potential, lol”), in which he listed 11 Sean Cody actors. Burns offered his new de facto pimp between $1,500 and $2,500 for each actor he could deliver for s•x parties. He would fly the escorts out to his residences or hotels and then send them away with envelopes full of cash.

 

Porn actor Billy Santoro remembers Brank as a “very quiet, sweet guy.” Gay performer Jay Austin recalls that he was “really pleasant, professional and polite.” Zachary Sire, who broke the news of Brank’s arrest on the website Str8UpGayP•rn, says he was well-regarded among actors and directors.

 

Veteran actor and producer Michael Lucas notes, however, that many straight men enter the industry when they run out of other options.

 

“That’s why I think that often these people can be dangerous,” Lucas says. “Can’t you do something else than engage in some sort of homosexual activity? I think it’s desperate, and nothing good can come out of it.”

 

As a working actor, Brank was making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, according to a close friend, and the lower amount was more typical. The shelf life of most actors is five to six years, and those with longevity, such as actor Colby Keller, have a keen business sense, says retired actor Devon Hunter.

 

Although some observers believed that Brank, buoyed by drugs and his minor celebrity, had simply gotten in over his head, others knew how quickly he could turn venomous, lashing out at friends and advocates if he felt wronged or slighted.

 

Brank’s Men.com profile distills his approach to life. He likes burgers, hiking and driving across town. 

 

Best thing about him? “I’m a nice guy.” The worst? “I can be very mean if you get on my bad side.”

 

After Brank delivered four men, a fifth date cancelled at the last minute. Burns asked Brank to return his referral fee. When the actor refused, Burns concluded Brank could not be trusted and decided it was time to dissolve their partnership.

 

In mid-February, about three weeks before the sting and subsequent arrest, Brank was sitting in his Mustang outside an LA Fitness in Hollywood when he got back in touch with the tycoon via text message. Brank says he was high but not too emotional: “Obviously, you can’t get really angry on weed.”

 

At that moment, Burns was on business at a shipyard in Vancouver, Washington. He read back Brank’s message. “So another month has passed, and you broke your word again. Tisk tisk.”

 

Burns had no idea what the actor was talking about and texted back a question mark. Brank replied with “the car” and added, “How can we work if trust is broken?” During the course of the conversation, Brank claimed that Burns had promised to let him drive the Audi R8.

 

“The $2,000 advance is an outstanding issue,” Burns typed. “You’re right that I’m not making a big deal out of it, but I’m not comfortable working together after that.”

 

“I can bring your house down, Don,” Brank typed back. “Don’t get me mad. I do have a Twitter and your photos. Lies can be made, or maybe it’s the truth.”

 

Burns’ reputation was his most prized asset. Brank tugged at its frayed edges and wound the thread tightly around Burns’ throat, posting a cryptic message through his Jarec Wentworth Twitter account to thousands of followers.

 

“Do any p•rn stars know a guy named Don? Yes, Don.”

 

Burns’ iPhone shook in his hands. An overwhelming sense of dread settled in his stomach.

 

“The truth that he knew about me that was so embarrassing and shameful was that I had been paying for s•x,” Burns testified during Brank’s criminal trial. “I was afraid that he would post that truthful information to his Twitter account and that information would spread like wildfire.”

 

“I want a new car, motorcycle, and both hands full of cash,” Brank typed. “Then I will erase it and you.”

 

Within days, Burns hired a criminal attorney and forensic investigators. On March 3, 2015, at the FBI’s towering office building in Westwood, Burns handed over his iPhone messages and proof of the $500,000 wire to Brank’s Wells Fargo account.

 

Brank had erased the tweet after collecting the money and the Audi. “Like we promised. Done.” 

 

Then he asked for car insurance and another $500,000. To stall the actor, Burns offered him $50,000 a year, over five years, for the rights to his stage name and Twitter account. FBI agents Joe Brine and Sean Sterle watched as messages arrived on Burns’ phone, and as Brank rejected the proposal.

 

“I want a condo here in L.A.,” Brank typed. “A bachelor pad. You have taste I like. Two bedroom max. Prefer one. I want $300,000 cash. I want this over ASAP like yesterday so you can be at peace.”

 

“Condo plus $300,000 or $300,000 and you buy your own?” Burns typed.

 

“They go for more though … 1 mill cash,” Brank replied.

 

Agent Sterle posed as Burns’ fixer, “Sean.” It made sense that he would own a luxury car, a Tesla. Sterle thought Brank would feel more at ease at a Starbucks.

 

“A million dollars and an expensive car … I mean, people have been killed for less,” Sterle testified.

 

After the sting, Brank was cuffed, booked and charged with extortion and making criminal threats. Yim was arrested and agreed to testify against his friend. Brank was denied bail and rejected a plea deal. From his jail cell, he wrote a rambling email, accusing Burns of raping him in a hotel room during a tryst with another actor (who Brank declined to name). In the same email, he said Burns had framed him and paid him hush money. He claimed the government had doctored his phone calls and erased key text messages.

 

This was a business dispute, Brank said. He was just claiming what he was owed.

 

When Brank’s trial began in July 2015 in a packed, stuffy courtroom inside the federal building on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles, he was confident he would get off.

 

Brank’s attorney, Seema Ahmad, gave an impassioned plea to the jurors. Burns had groomed Brank for a life outside of pornography as a model. He had never feared for his reputation because his dalliances were one of the worst-kept secrets in gay porn. He had even taken a former Sean Cody actor on a jaunt to Paris and showed him off to his high-society friends, helping him through college and paying his living expenses. He had mentored Brank, who in Ahmad’s retelling was more like a spurned lover than a criminal. This case was not about extortion. It was about broken promises.

 

“Donald Burns doesn’t get to decide that once Mr. Brank asks for a million dollars that all of a sudden now it’s extortion,” Ahmad said. “I understand that it sounds like a lot to us. A million dollars is pennies to Donald Burns.”

 

Brank watched from the defense table. He was emaciated, and worn down by stress and sleepless jailhouse nights. His brown hair brushed the collar of his shirt, buttoned to the top. He wore no tie and his dress pants were beltless.

 

On the first day of trial, Burns walked through the double doors at the back of the courtroom, strutted toward the witness box, and was sworn in. Brank followed his every move, but Burns did not make eye contact. The only time the businessman acknowledged the porn star was when he had to identify him for the court.

 

Dressed in a blazer with a handkerchief in his top pocket, Burns was well rehearsed, and he glanced at the jurors just enough to make a connection, despite his vaguely pompous air. His fear of Brank felt real, and as much as the defense wanted to paint him as a cold, calculating businessman who had indulged his most sordid fantasies, he came across as a victim, not an exploiter.

 

Brank felt that his defense team did not ask the right questions of Burns and other witnesses, and that they were ignoring his suggestions. He came to believe that the public defenders were in cahoots with the government prosecutors. Ahmad admitted that she did not have the “smoothest relationship” with her client. Brank says that he butted heads with everyone in her office too. He wanted to take the stand to plead his case, but after a mock interrogation, his attorneys shot the idea down.

 

“They wanted me to sit there like a damn trained dog,” Brank says.

 

That gave prosecutors free rein to portray Brank in whatever manner they chose. They filled the screens in the courtroom with a blurry surveillance image of the p•rn star, his sharp eyes peering at the jury zombie-like from beneath his gray hoodie.

 

“One of the girls is like some fake-ass Christian or religious chick dating some dude that works at a church,” Brank remembers. “I’m like, ‘I’m fucked on this.’”

 

The defense rested on the second day of the trial, after calling three witnesses, including Sean Cody executives Jason Bumpus and Matthew Power. As the jurors shuffled out of the courtroom on Thursday, July 9, the outcome seemed inevitable, the weight of the evidence too much to bear. By lunch, they had found Brank guilty on all counts.

 

As the clerk read out the verdict, Brank crumpled, pressing his head to the table. He buried his flushed face in his hands and held back tears.

 

“They took me back to the cage. I was just like, ‘This isn’t real. It couldn’t have happened.’ But it happened,” Brank says.

 

At his sentencing hearing in the fall, Brank wore a white jail uniform, his voice breaking as he apologized to Burns.

 

“I do regret my actions, and I don’t give any excuses for it. I did what I did,” Brank said.

 

Ahmad asked for leniency. She said Brank’s father had beaten him, sometimes chaining young Teo to his bed with nothing but a bucket to piss in. His mother had thrown knives at Brank and his siblings and given them sleeping pills to pacify them when there wasn’t enough food to go around, she said. After his mom tried to hang herself in the family garage, Brank had watched as his father cut her down. He had abused steroids, which can cause aggressive, manic behavior, the attorney added.

 

Even taking that into account, U.S. District Judge John Walter was still convinced Brank was “motivated by plain, old-fashioned greed.” He sentenced him to five years and 10 months in federal prison and, with Burns watching from the back of the courtroom, ordered him to pay the victim $500,000 in restitution.

 

For Jarec Wentworth, the show had been over for months. Now the curtain came down on Teofil Brank.

 

Under different circumstances, Brank might have gone on to greater things. Sire, who covered the trial for Str8UpGayPorn, believes the actor could yet make a comeback.

 

“He was a good actor,” Sire says. “Some of these guys, they show up on set and they can’t get hard, they can’t get a boner. They can’t have sex. They just aren’t good at having sex. But he was really good at having sex, and he did everything too.”

 

Speaking from prison in Victorville, California, Brank is no longer remorseful. Though vague about his plans on the outside, he says he intends to hire a forensic analyst to review the audio recordings and text messages used at trial.

 

“I’m not the kind of guy that rolls over. I’m not the kind of guy that fucking gives up and turns the other cheek. You cross the fucking line, you’re done. You’re my fucking number one enemy,” Brank says. “The truth will come out, and that’s how it is.”

Convicted murderer Woody Borgella has been sentenced to 15-years-to-life in prison for the shooting death of his (former adult star) live-in girlfriend in their Midwood apartment.

 

A jury convicted Borgella, 31, for shooting Lora Ann Evans in the chest, killing her. Borgella and Evans, a former adult actress turned self-help writer, had a short and tumultuous relationship that came to a head when Borgella ended a financial dispute with gunfire.

 

“This defendant killed a woman in cold blood and casually walked away without looking back. Now that he will be spending the next 15- years or more behind bars, walking away from what he did will not be an option,” said District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, in a statement.

 

Borgella was convicted for murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon.

According to the district attorney, Borgella and Evans were in a heated argument. Evans was on the bed, armed with a knife, struggling to keep Borgella at bay. A roommate heard the commotion and entered the room to break up the fight when Borgella drew a gun and shot Evans once in the chest, killing her.

Borgella fled on foot and ditched the gun behind a neighboring building. He remained on the run for two days before turning himself in to the 70th Precinct.

The outlet reported that Borgella met Evans when Evans was unemployed and homeless. He invited her to move into his Ocean Avenue apartment he shared with two childhood friends.

Before moving to Brooklyn, Evans worked in the adult film industry under the names Lori Alexia and Penna Piererra. She quit the industry to pursue a music career, and also launched a self-help website.

After the shooting, cops told reporters that Borgella had been named as the attacker on three separate domestic violence reports, although none related to Evans. He also had five prior arrests for drug possession, robbery, assault and theft.

COMMENT

TINSEL CONFIDENTIAL:

Story Behind The Song.....

The “Thong Song” was never meant for Sisqó, but once he heard the track he couldn’t let it go. Although the instrumental was originally intended for Michael Jackson, producers Tim & Bob were won over by Sisqo’s enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

 

The memories of Sisqo's breakthrough hit “Thong Song” come flooding back to the 38-year-old like he's back in the kitchen of his Baltimore County abode, where he penned the undergarment ode with his cousin Marquis "DaKidd" Collins nearly two decades ago at the age of 19. At that point -- weeks before he received a mix of beats from producers Tim & Bob to create songs for his 1999 debut, Unleash the Dragon, and years before Billboard would name the "Thong Song" chorus one of the greatest of the 21st century -- the Dru Hill frontman did not know what a thong was.

 

"I had never seen one before," he tells Billboard. "Apparently none of my friends had actually seen one, before because in 1999, there wasn’t a whole lot of thongs being worn unless it was in some sort of swimsuit ad. I just remembered first seeing one and it was like... you ever seen The Ten Commandments, when Moses went up and his hair was black, and then he came back down and his hair was all silver? That was literally the joke I was making with [my] silver hair. [The thong] was stone tablet-ed into my mind." 

 

The beat for "Thong Song" was the last of 22 tracks he received from Tim & Bob that initially sampled The Beatles' 1966 classic "Eleanor Rigby." To prevent paying Michael Jackson (whose estate previously owned the publishing rights to The Beatles catalog) and a clearance fiasco, Sisqo rewrote the strings section and hired violinists and cellists to tackle the beat. "A lot of people think that those strings on the song is the sample, but it’s live," he says. "I wrote it enough that it’s nowhere near 'Eleanor Rigby.' If you try to play 'Thong Song' and 'Eleanor Rigby' together, you can’t even hear the similarities. Trust me, if there was a similarity, Michael Jackson would have been doing the remix to the 'Thong Song.'" 

 

Once the production was in place, Sisqo began writing the track. He envisioned himself in the club, seeing a woman with her specific choice of underwear peeking through her dress. "I was basically thinking to myself, What do I feel when I hear this track?" he recalls. "If I was in the club and this track was playing, what is it that I could possibly be looking for? It was almost as if the track itself took on the appearance of whomever this scantily clad woman was with this scandalous dress."

 

Specific lines bring up certain memories for the formerly-platinum-haired singer. For "Not just urban, she like the pop / 'Cause she was livin' la vida loca," Sisqo notes that he paid Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" writers in order to reference the 1999 hit. The "Dumps like a truck" lyric was also slang for a woman's shapely backside, for those still wondering. "Anybody that was trying to make a joke, the context of the lyric does not say anything to the effect of she took a dump like a truck or nothing like that," he says. "She had dumps like a truck, so that joke is old. Nobody can use it no more. You sound stupid. Stop it."

 

For the chorus, Sisqo recalls the time that one of his cousins recounted to him and a bunch of male friends a date he had the night before that ended with the woman handing him her a "thong-th-thong-thong-thong." Everyone around him doubled over in laughter, but Sisqo heard a perfect hook for his next single. "This is a masterpiece -- you can’t just throw something in there," he says. "And I was like, wait, let me try and see if it works up in there. [sings] I like it when the beat go/ Baby make your booty go/ Girl I know you want to show/ That what? Sing it with me. That thong-th-thong-thong! And everybody said 'Aw snap!' and started doing the robot. We were laughing at first like it was a joke, but then later we laughed all the way to the bank." 

 

While the hook was the last piece of the track to come together, Sisqo says he nearly wrote a second verse but felt it would ruin the track's club allure. "Words just wouldn’t come for a second verse, because you pretty much would ruin the song if you start to say what happened after she blew your mind with this thong," he explains. "It’s probably gon’ be like [sings] 'We walkin' down the aisle/ Now we gettin' married.'" He decided to use modulation to make the rest of the song feel like a different verse. 

 

"This is pretty much like my 'Thriller' -- it’s like a moment in time," he says of the iconic track. "Granted, I still love writing, I still love creating, but that specific song, within the arsenal of songs I’ve written, is a bit of an anomaly. You can never write another one of those kind of songs."

it's rumored that Sisqo even sung "The Thong Song," at his wedding.

By: Brian McCollum

 

For years, a Detroit singer-songwriter diligently pursued his music career, building a reputation and making a steady living.

 

Through it all — as he hustled, performed and promoted his work — Teddy Richards deliberately muzzled one of the most compelling selling points at his disposal:  

 

He was the son of Aretha Franklin.

 

“I learned quite early, especially when dealing with journalists or people tied to the industry, it was very easy to be exploited as ‘the son of Aretha,’” he says. “If you’re trying to do something in your own name, making your own way in the world, it’s going to be impossible if that’s how people know you. It would allow them to ignore your accomplishments.”

 

It’s not that Richards wasn’t publicly tied to Franklin. For 30 years, he played guitar as part of her touring ensemble, sometimes joining her in the studio. And that’s exactly how he described himself in his own press releases, marketing materials and interviews, where Richards was merely a “guitarist in Aretha Franklin’s band.” His mother was a “supernova,” he says, and he wanted his own light.

 

Now, at 58, Richards says he has grown comfortable in his own skin, confident in his accomplishments and his development as an artist and producer. And he is at last ready to publicly link his own work to his Queen of Soul mom, recording an album to be released March 25 — what would have been Franklin’s 80th birthday.

 

“I feel internally I don’t have to be as stern with myself anymore about that,” he says. “At this point, I’ve proved myself to anyone paying attention.”

 

The yet-to-be-titled release will include a cover of Franklin’s 1973 hit “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Going to Do),” a song that holds a special spot in Richards’ heart: It was his first boyhood experience with his mom in a recording studio. He sat in on a session produced by Arif Mardin and featuring Donny Hathaway on piano.

 

Richards was born in 1964 to Franklin and her husband-manager Ted White, becoming the singer’s third son. White, who was portrayed by Marlon Wayans in MGM’s “Respect” biopic, died one year ago this week. His birthday is also March 25.

 

“That seems like a perfect day to release a record in both their honor,” says Richards, who now splits his time between Michigan and southwest Florida with his wife.

 

Franklin and White divorced in 1969, and Richards was raised by his father in Detroit. He grew up with an eclectic musical taste, scrolling the local radio dial and finding himself enchanted by pop and rock as much as the R&B he was immersed in. By the time he was 8, he was listening to Frank Zappa, and it was off to the races.

 

His lifelong fascination with the airwaves led to the launch of Think Radio, a new free-form online station programmed by Richards.

 

“It’s an opportunity to do one of my favorite things in life: find a friend and say, ‘Check this out, listen to this.’ I don’t get much interaction time with friends and music listeners like I did in high school, making mixtapes and the things we used to do,” he says. “The station allows me to put all the impactful music out there, the stuff I’ve loved, and hope it moves somebody else the way it moves me.”

Richards was a relative guitar novice when he headed to Michigan State University in the early '80s, but his skills quickly matured as his band the Preps gigged around East Lansing, playing bars and frat parties and eventually landing opening slots with bands such as Modern English.

 

His mom took notice. In 1984, with a two-night stand booked at the Chicago Theatre during Thanksgiving week and needing a guitarist, she asked Richards to join her band onstage. He had to borrow an amp from a friend.

 

“I was terrified,” he says. “I’d never done anything of that magnitude.”

 

But things clicked, and Richards became a regular part of Franklin’s touring group. It was a job that left plenty of room for his own musical ventures: Having recently sworn off flying, Franklin was now playing just 15 or 20 dates a year. Still, it was enough to help strengthen his chops.

 

“It was by her grace that I was allowed to grow and become an even better musician,” he says.

 

But Richards’ musical pursuits weren’t initially encouraged by his father, who had done his own time in the entertainment trenches and had misgivings.

 

“What he emphasized in our home was not showbiz but education,” Richards says. “He was about staying as far as away from it as possible. He knew the pratfalls, the things most people don’t think about, in the music business. He wanted to put me on a different track.”

 

Richards graduated from MSU in 1986 with degrees in telecommunications and clinical psychology. But the music bug had bit. By the '90s, he was playing solo shows regularly around Detroit, ultimately landing a gig with Borders Books and Music, performing at the company’s stores in the Midwest and South.

 

There were high-profile spots — including a series of opening dates with the Red Hot Chili Peppers — and a growing European presence. Richards signed with a German record label and carved out an overseas niche for himself.

 

Behind the scenes, he made his way into commercial work, creating themes for auto ads, the NFL on CBS and the like, often alongside Detroit producer-engineer Urban Kris (Eminem, D12).

 

In the mid-'90s, a chance meeting with INXS led to an ongoing creative relationship with that group’s keyboardist and lead songwriter, Andrew Farriss. Richards says the Australian took him under his wing — where “I was working as a peer, but feeling like a student under his tutelage.”

 

“I was a bar star, playing loud rock guitar. Working with Andrew, for the first time, I started to understand structure, the master plan to a song, and not just winging it,” he says. “I started to really understand the correct way to write, be it a rock tune, a soul tune, a modern piece of music. He had a major impact on my becoming the musician and producer I am today.”

 

The two wrote more than a dozen songs together, some of which will make their first appearances when Richards releases his album next spring.

 

Unlike Richards' 2006 release, “Gravity” — an album of guitar-based rock — the upcoming record will feature a more diverse set of sounds and styles. And Richards says he’s pleased with his vocal growth: Where in the past “I might get lucky while singing,” these days he’s confident in his ability to offer texture and dimension.

 

“This is a very important album for me,” he says. “There’s a lot of musical growth. It’s less guitar-oriented and more songwriter-oriented. I’m a much better singer, much better producer, much better guitarist.”

 

Three years after his Franklin’s death, Richards says he remains awed by her musical legacy while continuing to take pride in new milestones — such as Rolling Stone magazine’s recent coronation of “Respect” as the greatest song of all time.

 

His long years of reticence about attaching his solo career to her train came from a reflective stance. He’d had what he calls “eye-opening” encounters with other children of celebrities — many struggling with that role and even some, Richards says, who seemed stunted for life.

 

He was happier to pattern himself on the likes of Kate Hudson and Norah Jones — the daughters of Goldie Hawn and Ravi Shankar, respectively — who forged their own paths in the arts, distinct from their famous parents.

 

“To some folks, it might look like, ‘He was denying his own mother.’ It’s not that at all,” Richards says. “I love both my parents dearly. But it’s important to be your own man, stand on your own feet, handle your own business.”

 

For Richards, the passage of time and his comfort in his own life’s work have him eased him into a different kind of headspace.

 

“If you’re able to establish your own successes — big or small, they’re still yours — it allows you to release your grip a little bit,” he says. “This is the package I’ve been given, and I’m going to make the most of it for the greatest success in life, with the greatest quality I can.”

TRUE CRIME UPDATE!

On November 3, 2020, Quawan "Bobby" Charles, a 15-year-old African American boy, was found dead in a sugar cane field in Iberia Parish, Louisiana.

 

He had been reported missing on October 30, 2020, after leaving his house in Baldwin, Louisiana with a friend, 17-year-old Gavin Irvin, and Irvin's mother, Janet, both white.

 

After Charles's parents reported their son's disappearance to police, the department "gave no indication" that they were investigating it, according to attorneys. After his body was discovered, a preliminary autopsy by the coroner's office determined that the cause of death was "likely drowning". The death gained national attention following the release of a graphic photo of Charles's mutilated body posted to the internet by his family. It is being investigated as a homicide.

 

Charles was first reported as missing from his father's home in Baldwin, Louisiana on October 30, 2020. Prior to going missing, he had started attending a new school. His last known whereabouts before his disappearance, according to his father, were with his friend, 17-year-old Gavin Irvin, and Irvin's mother, Janet, both white, who picked him up from his father's house at around 3 pm while his father was out shopping. According to Charles's father, Kenneth Jacko, neither he nor Charles's mother were familiar with Irvin and had not given the Irvins permission to pick Charles up. Irvin would later state that both boys wanted to spend time together that day, but Charles left the Irvins on his own. According to attorney Ron Haley, one of three civil rights attorneys representing Charles's family, Charles's mother was scheduled to pick him up from his father's house to get a haircut at around the same time he was picked up by the Irvins. By 7 pm, his father had forced open Charles's locked bedroom door to find that he was not there, prompting him to contact the Baldwin police department.

 

Haley stated that when the family reported the incident to the police, the department responded by suggesting to them that Charles may have gone to a football game and asking whether he had a troubled past, also waiting until three days after the initial report to ping his cell phone. Haley also stated that the Baldwin Police Department "gave no indication over the next few days that they were searching for the teen or actively investigating his disappearance." The department neither alerted local news nor contacted Louisiana State Policerequesting an Amber alert in regards to Charles's disappearance.

 

In a recorded interview with Janet Irvin by a private investigator hired by Charles's family, she stated that her son and Charles "smoked some weed" together before Charles ran away from the Irvins' residence, and that she did not report his running away that night. Witnesses said they later saw the Irvins packing their belongings and moving out of their mobile home following Charles's disappearance. 

 

The Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office stated that it was not informed about Charles's disappearance until November 3 after one of his parents contacted them. According to the Iberia Parish Bureau of Investigation, Charles's body was discovered on November 3 in a sugar cane field about 20 miles away from Baldwin, near the village of Loreauville.

 

Haley suggested that officers did not show a "sense of urgency" in responding to the disappearance report, and that he believes his death and the slow response time by police were both racially motivated. The ACLU of Louisiana demanded a full, independent investigation into Charles's death.

 

In a news release from November 5, 2020, the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office stated that it was investigating the "suspicious circumstances" surrounding Charles's death, adding, "Investigators have interviewed multiple individuals and collected physical evidence which is being processed."

 

The office later published another statement, sharing that they were "actively tracking" the whereabouts of those who were with Charles prior to his death and that they obtained video evidence from an unnamed individual which indicated that Charles was alone in the field where he died both before and after the video was taken. Police stated that they never requested an Amber alert because footage from his departure showed him voluntarily leaving his home with two people and there was no evidence which suggested that Charles had been abducted. The death is being investigated as a homicide.

 

A preliminary autopsy report by the coroner's office stated that the cause of death was "likely drowning" due to findings that Charles had hyperinflated lungs and muddy water in his airways but no injuries, adding that the cause of his facial condition was likely "aquatic animals" and that there was "no evidence of antemortem trauma". 

 

Charles's family's lawyers said that they had not authorized the public release of the preliminary autopsy report. Charles's family also denied the claims of drowning put forth in the report based on the nature of Charles's remains. In a picture posted online alongside a GoFundMe campaign by Charles's family requesting an independent autopsy, he appeared disfigured.

 

The taking of the photo by Charles's mother was inspired by the decision of 14-year-old lynching victim Emmett Till's mother to hold an open-casket funeral in 1955, and the two incidents were compared across social media.

 

A preliminary report from an independent autopsy by local forensics company American Forensics suggested that the state of his remains was "consistent with drowning" with "no evidence of trauma or natural disease". An autopsy report prepared by the Louisiana Forensic Center and released by Charles's family on February 8, 2021 revealed that, after taking drugs at the Irvins' home, Charles was seen crawling in culverts alone near a school, acting combative, and threatening to kill himself, indicating that he may have been experiencing a psychotic episode.

 

According to investigators for Haley's law office, members of the Irvin family and their "inner circle" stated that Charles had been high on a hallucinogen. A toxicology report conducted by NMS Labs stated that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.014% with 4.7 ng/mL of blood of THC present in his system, which lawyers for the family said proved that he was not high on hallucinogens and that his death was therefore not accidental.

 

On February 9, 2021, Janet Irvin was arrested on charges of failure to report a missing child and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and was arraigned in the 16th Judicial District Court, where her bond was set at $400,000.

 

Janet Irvin, who was arrested in February in connection with the Quawan "Bobby" Charles case, has bonded out of jail. 

 

On Tuesday, April 13, an Iberia Parish judge reduced the bond set for a Irvin who was booked Feb. 9 with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile and failure to report a missing child. 

 

At the time of her initial arrest, Irvin's bond was set at $300,000 for the failure to report charge and $100,000 for the contributing charge.

 

According to the court, 16th Judicial District Judge Anthony Seleme reduced Irvin's bond Tuesday down to $15,000 for the contributing to delinquency of minor charge, and $75,000 for failure to report a missing child.

 

Irvin has been required to wear an ankle monitor and have no contact with the victim's family following her release from jail.

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