Springtime's natural and financial storminess
Pushed to the back
of the tax-break line

This magic tax moment

Jay Black is in big tax trouble.

Yeah, I asked, "Who?" too. But since the Associated Press story was tagged "taxes," I kept reading.

Jay_and_the_americans_lp_cover_2 Turns out that Black was the lead singer of the 1960s group Jay and the Americans. OK. That does ring a bell from back in my youth. Then it all clicked when I learned that this was the group that sang "This Magic Moment." I do remember that, although I couldn't have told you who sang it. According to the AP, the group also had hits with "She Cried'' and ''Cara Mia'' (which I don't remember at all) before breaking up in 1973.

Well, ancient history aside, Jay and the Americans are facing a critical juncture here in 2006.

Seems that Black, who was born David Blatt but changed his name for musical purposes, owes the IRS $500,000 in back taxes. He's also in the midst of a bankruptcy battle, thanks to a nasty gambling habit.

To help cover his tax bill, Black's willing to sell the name Jay and the Americans to the band's original members, who want to reform under that moniker. They're offering $100,000.

Black, however, is fighting recommendations by bankruptcy lawyers that he auction off his other performing identities of Jay Black and Jay Black and the Americans. According to the AP, Black says he needs the names so that he can keep touring:

''I am trying to dig myself out of this black hole. If they take my name away, it would be my total ruination. It would be like forcing Elvis to sell his name to someone else. How can an impostor perform as Elvis?''

Hhmmm … In addition to a gambling problem, it seems that ol' Jay might be just a tad delusional. Comparing himself to Elvis? Okie, dokie … whatever …

Perhaps he's simply a victim of our celebrity soaked society. Everybody, it seems, gets their 15 minutes. Countless gossip publications, crammed with tidbits on even the most tangential celebrities, have out muscled other publications to control prime newsstand space.

And television is not content to simply cover celebrities. American Idol and similar shows are devoted to making household names out of average Joes and Janes and Kellys.

So in this atmosphere, who am I to dismiss Black/Blatt as merely a C- or D- or even a Z-lister? He obviously is still well-known enough, at least by one AP editor, to warrant the wire service coverage.

But you gotta draw a line somewhere. And I refuse to go to any incarnation of a Jay and the Americans reunion tour that might roll into Austin!

Celebrity tax infamy: Jay isn't the first personality to run afoul of the tax collector.

The most famous, at least in my estimation, is fellow Texan Willie Nelson. He owed Uncle Sam $17 million in taxes, interest and penalties after investing in some ill-designed tax shelters. Willie lost everything but, as singer/songwriter Bruce Robison notes, he just hit the road and played more shows and eventually cleared his tax debt.

Willie also faced his tax troubles with the best attitude I've ever seen, joking, "$17 million ain't much if you say it fast."

More recently, Richard Hatch survived the machinations of his fellow CBS reality show castaways, but he couldn't outwit, outplay or outlast the IRS. A federal court jury convicted him of tax evasion for not paying taxes on his Survivor winnings, money he earned as a Boston radio show co-host and another $28,000 in rent received from one of his properties. Sentencing is scheduled for May 16.

Then there's Barry Bonds. While he's hot on the trail of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron for major league baseball homerun records, he also could be our next big-name tax cheat. As I noted here, you can bet that the IRS will be breathing down Barry's neck if reports in the book "Game of Shadows" about Bond's unreported baseball sideline income turn out to be true.

Capone_2 And of course, one of the country's most vicious criminals was not brought down by lawmen because of his heinous acts like murder, but by the tax man. Al Capone's crime? Not reporting his illegal earnings.

Today's Tax Tips: Jay and other Americans bitten by the gambling bug need to read this story on how the IRS deals with your winnings.

Willie wannabes who are looking for ways to keep some cash out of IRS hands should check out this article for tips on how to avoid buying an abusive tax shelter.

Hatch and other landlords can get a refresher course via these FAQs from TurboTax on taxes and rental property.

Bonds isn't alone in trying to make a little extra off a side job. But all entrepreneurs need to know how to handle the taxes on their self-employment ventures. Get IRS guidance here.

And as for Capone clones, fuggedaboutit! Ill-gotten gains are indeed part of your gross, and taxable, income. The IRS doesn't care how you got your money, it just wants its cut! Find out what the tax collector considers taxable or nontaxable here.

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