Jacko Coughs Up $$$ in Taxes on Neverland | How Warner Music Squandered $18M | Jerry Lee and Pals Kick-Start Grammys

Jacko Coughs Up $$$ in Taxes on Neverland

Michael Jackson, who may or may not wave at the Grammy audience on Sunday night, paid some taxes last week.

According to records in Santa Barbara County, Jackson finally satisfied a state tax lien on his all-but-abandoned Neverland Valley Ranch in Los Olivos, Calif. The total, according to the assessor’s office, came to just over $600,000, including penalties and fees.

The payment doesn’t cover the $23 million for which Jackson is still in default on loans he’s taken against Neverland. Fortress Investments is now two weeks past its foreclosure deadline, which means it could start proceedings against Jackson at any time.

Jackson, sources say, may have arranged for a time extension through his former (and maybe current) pal, Ron Burkle.

Meanwhile, a Jacko appearance at the Grammys this Sunday remains a question mark. The former King of Pop simply is not prepared to perform in any way, but he may be acknowledged in some form for the 25th anniversary of "Thriller."

If he comes to the show, odds are Jackson will stop afterward at the private celebration for Motown founder Berry Gordy, who’s being honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences as an "industry icon."

How Warner Music Squandered $18M

Listening to the conference call on Wednesday from Warner M. Group and Wall Street analysts, you could almost laugh out loud.

WMG’s Edgar Bronfman Jr. essentially let himself be pickpocketed to the tune of $18 million last year on a scheme so ridiculous it was sniffed out in the press almost before it happened.

Bronfman trusted the $18 million to Bulldog Entertainment, a concert promotion company cooked up by 32-year-old Joe Meli, a New Yorker whose concert promoting was limited to small clubs in South Carolina.

Bulldog created a series of concerts in the Hamptons called Social@Ross, at which guests were charged $3,000 a ticket to see a rock superstar and have a catered dinner. There were five shows altogether: Prince, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Dave Matthews and James Taylor.

The first show, featuring Prince, was an expected mess. Prince was paid $1.5 million and laughed at the audience. Bronfman was seen moving around the lavishly expensive, temporarily constructed venue on the grounds of the very fancy Ross School in East Hampton, watching his money go down the drain.

Joel, according to sources, was paid $2 million for his show. The other artists would seem to have received similar fees. Since ticket sales were minimal at best, Bronfman wound up paying those fees.

Oh, to think of such money completely wasted as Warner does nothing to develop or promote new artists. Its one attempt, in which it brought a bunch of newbies to the Sundance Film Festival, backfired last month. Most everyone had left the festival by the time the WMG performers were scheduled to entertain filmgoers.

The Bulldog fiasco has a lot of oddities built into it. In keeping with Bronfman’s unbelievable business strategy, not one of the artists featured in the Social@Ross shows were on any of his labels. So there was no synergy even between the WMG $18 million investment and the shows. There was no chance to sell CDs or downloads or anything off the investment.

Ironically, Prince, the opening act, had long ago left Warner Music after writing the word "Slave" on his face in his videos and changing his name to a symbol to break his contract. Taylor also is a former Warner artist. His and Joel’s record catalogs are with Sony. Matthews is with RCA, also part of Sony BMG. Petty always has been somewhere in the Universal Music Group.

So to recap, Bronfman, whose label has but one hit — a monster-selling Christmas album by Josh Groban, which now is off the charts — and who has laid off hundreds of employees and developed no new artists in four years, simply threw away $18 million. And it may have been more than that. Rich Greenfield of Pali Research figures that the investment actually equals a $30 million loss.

In the company’s new quarterly report, filed with the SEC, WMG says simply of its Bulldog disaster: "We have now exited that business." Actually, the business exited them.

The good news is that Warner has just made an offer to buy the assets of Death Row Records for $25 million, including catalogs from Tupac Shakur and the Notorious BIG. They have no sense that this music is over, filed away in the early '90s. The "songs" included on the CDs are by and large not possible to re-record ("cover") by modern artists because they aren’t songs.

This will go nicely with the 2005 purchase of Bad Boy Entertainment, Sean "Diddy" Combs’ former empire, after it stopped having hits of any kind.

When you’re hot, you’re hot!

Jerry Lee and Pals Kick-Start Grammys

The Grammys got a kick in the pants Wednesday night when true legend Jerry Lee Lewis and superstar John Fogerty put in appearances for a program at the Wilshire Ebell Theater called "Sounds of Change."

Jerry Lee is 72 but was spry as ever when he took to the piano and boogie-woogie’d runs up and down the keys on "Great Balls of Fire."

"I’m playing this by request," he said, after leading the house band through a lesser-known standard. Producer Phil Ramone was among those in the audience who jumped up and gave Jerry Lee a standing O for his trouble.

Fogerty appeared later, playing "Fortunate Son" and the more recent "Déjà vu All Over Again" to equal enthusiasm. Other guests included contemporary soul stars Ryan Shaw, Musiq Soulchild and Christine Michele, all of whom impressed.

Shaw is really a superstar in the making — what a voice! (Unfortunately, one other artist for the night, Natasha Bedingfield, in a pink gown, was miscast to make the finale resemble "Legally Blonde Goes Gospel.")

Still, the Grammy Foundation did a nice job presenting its 10th annual music preservation project. I like that AARP sponsored the night — you’re as young as you feel!

Meanwhile, the Foundation’s sister group, MusiCares, is gearing up for its big Friday night gala honoring Aretha Franklin as Person of the Year. It’s the hottest ticket in years, as everyone in town wants to be there to hear the Queen of Soul rock Hollywood to its core!

PS — This year, if you want to feel like you’re at the event, there will be a special live auction, with bidding in real time, at www.auctionnetwork.com. If you’re into one-of-a-kind rock memorabilia, then check out the site. You won’t be disappointed.