Inspired by one of my last posts about Taylor Swift and her feud with Scooter Braun and Big Machine Records, I decided to make a mini series of posts about musicians who got ripped off. It happens a lot more than you think in the industry. So in this post, we’re going to look at 10 musicians who got screwed over by managers and record companies.
Being a world famous musician, sounds like a glamorous life, right? Flashy clothes, jet setting around the world, pretty girls, and lots of money. So you’d think. The first three are definitely true, but the last one isn’t necessarily the case. A lot of classic rockers who you thought were raking in the big bucks with album sales, weren’t exactly doing that.
Millennials who watched Nickelodeon will remember this being parodied in the Fairly Odd Parents episode, “Boys in the Band” where teen pop idol Chip Skylark admits that he is actually broke and is $6 million in debt to the record company, who pay for everything: clothes, car, mobile phone, pager, and pretty much everything else.
Why? Why was it so common for rock musicians to get ripped off by shady managers and leeching record labels?
Here are a couple reasons classic rock musicians got ripped off so often:
- No social media: You have nowhere to turn to when you get ripped off. Social media is great for spreading the word. Fans go on social media to support their favourites and signal boost what they have to say. Cancel culture works! A lot of it is about court of public opinion. If social media existed back then, I definitely think these musicians would have spoken out.
- Desperation: When you’re a starving artist and you finally get an opportunity to sign a record deal, you’re desperate. You’ve been eating Kraft Dinner and rice and beans for every meal for months and you want a way out of that life. At this point you can’t afford a lawyer so you’ll just sign any contract put in front of you. You have no time or understanding for legalese. And lo and behold they find out they signed this bad contract that is basically indentured servitude. No royalty pay, just a once off fee for recording.
- Racism: Black musicians were often ripped off and taken advantage of, hardly getting any royalty payments for songs they wrote, or having to share songwriting credits with people who had nothing to do with the song. Not only were black singer-songwriters not getting royalty payments (or if they got anything it was peanuts), their original versions weren’t as successful as the white musicians’ covers. White rock musicians getting famous off the backs of black rock and roll pioneers… Talk about adding insult to injury. You’ll see a couple cases about this in this series.
The music industry really isn’t any different than any other industry in this way. We live in a capitalist system and that means the boss wants to pay the workers as little as they can get away with. If they could pay you nothing at all, they’d do it. And they already do if you’re an intern. Wrote a whole story about that back when I was doing my thesis.
I guess the lesson from all of this is get a lawyer to read your contract and negotiate that stuff. Don’t be like Nikkie Tutorials who signed a bad contract with Too Faced that only paid her $50,000 for her collab palette. The brand sold over $10 million dollars worth of palettes with her name on it. That’s only half a percent of profits. Rip off!
Without further ado, let’s talk about musicians who got ripped off big time
1. Steve Marriott/The Small Faces/Humble Pie: Double screwed
Steve Marriott had really bad luck in the music industry. The Small Faces, while successful in the UK, never got popular in America. Don Arden, the father of Sharon Osbourne, was the band’s manager. The Daily Mail describes him as “The Al Capone of Pop” because he was so ruthless and feared. The Small Faces claimed that he kept all their hard earned money for himself. The Small Faces didn’t have anything to show for their successful tours, meanwhile Don Arden was driving around in a chauffeured luxury car. He allegedly spent £12,000 getting The Small Faces’ debut single “Whatcha Gonna Do About It?” in the pop charts.
When the Small Faces wanted to change managers and go with Ron Stigwood, Arden and some backup came to Stigwood’s office to teach him a lesson, threatening to throw him out the window if he were to take the Small Faces from him.
His motto was “Always fuck the artist before the artist can fuck you.”
Kenney Jones, the drummer of the band, said that Don Arden was a big help in getting the band their big break, to be fair. However, in 1976, a court ruled that he owed the band £12,000 in unpaid royalties. So the band got their money, right? No, this is Don Arden we’re talking about. He skipped town after making one payment.
This wasn’t the only time Steve Marriott was screwed over. No, it happened again with Dee Anthony, and worse yet, he allegedly had mafia connections to the Genovese Crime Family. After he left the Small Faces, he started Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, that was the band he was in before Frampton Comes Alive.
Humble Pie hired him as a manager in 1970 and he pushed them to have a heavier sound and focus on the American market. Anthony had a lot of experience managing successful acts like Tony Bennett, The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Ten Years After, Joe Cocker, Savoy Brown, King Crimson, Montrose, Devo, and ELP.
As Humble Pie were getting some success with the single, “30 Days in the Hole”, Steve Marriott began to realise that he’s not getting his well deserved money. They were touring America and gained prominence by touring extensively and releasing Rockin’ The Fillmore. He believed that Dee Anthony was syphoning his money to promote his cash cow Peter Frampton.
Steve Marriott was under the impression that Dee Anthony was looking after paying his taxes, but in the late 70s, Revenue informed him that he owed £100k in back taxes. He had to leave the country, or else he’d go to jail. He was so broke that he had to collect glass bottles and steal vegetables from a nearby field to survive.
When he demanded Dee Anthony tell him what happened to his money, allegedly he was taken into a meeting room in New York City with John Gotti, Frank Locasio, Paul Castellano, and members of the Gambino Crime Family. He quickly dropped the matter.
Sadly, he never got the money he deserved and was struggling for the rest of his life trying to start pub bands to stay afloat, even having to move into his sister’s spare bedroom. Because of bad past experiences with record labels and managers, he turned down lucrative deals, angering bandmates. I wonder… What if he were alive today? Would he have success because of 60s nostalgia? I think so.
Dee Anthony’s three rules? “Get the money, remember to get the money, and don’t forget to always remember to get the money.”
2. Tommy James: Me, The Mob, and The Music
Another rock star who got screwed over by a manager with mob connections, and they’re not alleged this time. This time, it was Morris Levy. Tommy James said in an interview that his relationship with Levy was complicated. He saw him as a father figure, but at the same time, he was shady. He was friends with Alan Freed (who accepted payola and had conflicts of interest like taking credit for co-writing Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” because he gets money the more it’s played), founded and controlled one of the largest independent publishing companies, and owned one of the most successful independent record labels of the 50s and 60s – Roulette Records.
Tommy James said in his book, Me, The Mob, and The Music, that Morris Levy was “The Godfather of the music business.” Levy was a big guy at 6’3″ and 230 lb, who would close the deal by threatening you. Definitely not someone you want to mess with. However, he did say that Morris Levy was a music marketing genius who knew a hit when he heard one, “a natural born salesman.”
In the end, Morris Levy was arrested and convicted, but because he died, he never served a day in prison. The FBI investigated him and the alleged infiltration of organised crime in the music business in the 80s. He was arrested in 1986 at the Boston Ritz Carlton and around that time he sold Roulette Records for tens of millions of dollars. In 1988, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $200k. He was free on bail during his appeal and because he died of cancer before he had to report to jail, he got out of having to serve a day in the big house.
A court found Levy liable in a posthumous lawsuit for $4 million in a case initiated by Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant of The Teenagers. Santiago and Merchant claimed that they only got $1,000 for “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”, which sold 3 million copies. Santiago testified that Levy told him “Don’t come down here anymore or I’ll have to kill you or hurt you.”
To Levy, music was just a commodity to be sold.
3. Jimi Hendrix: Was he murdered because his manager owed money? [Just a theory, not a fact]
Jimi Hendrix, like a lot of celebrities, his death is one of those mysteries with a lot of conspiracy theories. One of these conspiracy theories is that Jimi Hendrix was murdered by his manager, Mike Jeffery, who owed debts to the mafia and the IRS. Former Animals roadie James “Tappy” Wright said this about former Animals manager and former MI5 spy Mike Jeffery allegedly confessing:
“As we are talking, Mike began to get very agitated and pale. ‘I had no bloody choice, I had to do it’. ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘You know exactly what I’m talking about. It was either that or I’d be broke or dead’.
“I have to say that it did confirm suspicions that I had, that a lot of people had, only everybody was too scared to come forward and say anything. He was telling me, I didn’t ask and to be honest I really didn’t want to hear this.”
Tappy said that he never tried to find corroborating evidence and didn’t tell anyone at the time except for a close friend, Bob Levine, who was part of Jimi’s management team in New York, who told him to disappear because he knew about this.
Another theory is that Jimi was “waterboarded with wine by mafia hitmen”. A paramedic who was at the scene said that the door was wide open and they knew he was dead as soon as they walked in. The on-call registrar said that there was an extraordinary amount of wine spilled all over, saturating his clothing and hair and his body was full. This is all alleged though.
Jimi’s death being a murder is just a theory – not a fact, but Jimi being scammed out of money is a fact, that did happen.
Allegedly, according to some Hendrix biographers, Jeffery took some of Hendrix’s income from his music and funnelled it into offshore bank accounts in the Bahamas.
Noel Redding saw him walk off with briefcases full of banknotes and once he questioned Mike Jeffery, he was fired from The Experience. Former member of the Animals and ex-manager of Jimi Hendrix Chas Chandler didn’t like the way Jeffery did things and he parted ways and returned to England, letting Jeffery have control.
Jimi Hendrix wasn’t making a great deal of money and the costs of recording music were skyrocketing because of his love of jamming and experimenting for hours in the studio. The cost of recording Electric Ladyland was $60,000. Jimi also spent money like it was going out of style: buying cars and even buying nine guitars in one weekend. He was incredibly generous to his friends and would pay for anything they damaged. Buddy Miles claimed that Jeffery gave Jimi LSD before a concert to sabotage his group, The Band of Gypsys.
Like a lot of these shady managers who scammed musicians out of their money, Jeffery promoted The Jimi Hendrix Experience and helped them get fame all over the world by insisting on constant touring to get his name out there and where the money really was. He had business savvy and knew how lucrative the band merch market is.
Mike Jeffery died in a plane crash over Nantes, France in 1973, on the way back from Mallorca. He had a fear of flying and would book multiple flights and choose which one to go on to lessen his risk of dying in a plane crash, supposedly.
In 2006, Jimi Hendrix’s family threatened to take legal action over a $15 million sale of the rights to his hits like “Purple Haze” and “Voodoo Child”.
4. John Fogerty: Speaking of lawsuits… Here’s a ridiculous one
Former CCR singer John Fogerty was sued by Fantasy Records (CCR’s old record label) for sounding… like himself. The case ended up in the Supreme Court in 1994 and ultimately, John Fogerty won. And no, this isn’t The Onion. Here’s the backstory:
In 1970, John Fogerty wrote a song “Run Through the Jungle” that was on the CCR album, Cosmo’s Factory. A good song, but it got more attention 15-20 years later but not necessarily for the reasons that Fogerty wanted.
In 1985, John Fogerty released a solo song called “The Old Man Down the Road”, which was on his comeback album, Centerfield. Not only that, but there were a couple diss tracks on the album towards Fantasy Records boss Saul Zaentz: “Mr Greed” and “Vanz [Zanz, originally] Kant Danz”. The former doesn’t mention Zaentz by name, but it’s pretty clear it’s about him given the history between the two of them. The latter song caused Zaentz to sue Fogerty for defamation because it’s about a pig who can’t dance, but will take your money. In response to the lawsuit, Fogerty changed the title character to Vanz.
Now for the meat of the lawsuit. Sauz Zaentz claimed that the song had the same chorus as “Run Through The Jungle” and sued John Fogerty for plagiarising himself. Fantasy Records still owned the publishing rights to CCR’s songs. Fogerty won the lawsuit because he could prove the two compositions were different, but have a similar swamp rock style. So yay! He won, however, he owed his lawyer a million dollars. So he countersued for his legal fees. The appeals court said he wasn’t entitled to them, but the Supreme Court ruled in his favour with all the justices siding with John Fogerty.
In the end, Zaentz sold his stake in Fantasy Records and John Fogerty signed with them again after that. Fogerty felt misled about investing and managing his royalty earnings, which led to him losing money. When Zaentz died in 2014, Fogerty said that he felt almost nothing. Although, 40 years ago he said that he wanted to dance a jig on his grave.
In the end, the lawyers are the true winners in these situations. Taking a big corporation to court isn’t easy and if you’re the little guy (or even a big rock star) you’re at a disadvantage because those corporations and wealthy rock and roll managers can afford a dream team of the best lawyers money can buy. You have a lot to lose, while the corporation isn’t gambling as much.
Want to read more about classic rock diss tracks? Read this blog post I wrote about rock and roll diss tracks.
5. Queen: Freddie Mercury wrote a diss track about the band’s ex-manager
Another rock band who signed a bad deal and wrote a diss track about the manager who ripped them off. Yes, even very educated people can be the victims of a bad deal.
Queen were formed from the ashes of Smile, whose lead singer – Tim Staffell – left for a band that didn’t get any success and they got the best possible person to replace him, Freddie Mercury. He changed the band’s name to Queen, then John Deacon joined and they were all broke and trying to look for a label to sign them.
Finally in 1972 they got a deal with a production company called Trident after being noticed at De Lane Lea studios. Here’s the deal: we manage you, you get all the studio time you’d like in our state of the art studio (in the odd hours, when no one’s there), you get a pittance, and you don’t own the rights to your songs. How’s that? Notice something off?
But they were desperate with no connections and needed a break into the industry. Getting a high profile as a musician and recording an album is a catch-22, like searching for any job. Need experience for a job. How do you get the experience? Get a job. Brian May said that the deal Queen signed with Trident was in retrospect, “probably the worst thing we ever did”.
The band were riding the Struggle Bus in those days and here are the signs: they took public transport, had to work day jobs, shared clothes, and were still on the same basic wage of £20/week as they were from the beginning after 3 albums. The managers had lavish houses with pools and drove luxury cars, while one of the band members, John Deacon, couldn’t even get £2,000 for a down payment on a home for him and his wife.
Anyway in 1975, they got out of that deal, signed with John Reid, recorded the masterpiece that is A Night At The Opera, but not without saying some parting words for Norman Sheffield with the diss track “Death On Two Legs”. And a diss track it was. Harsh lyrics like: “Do you feel like suicide? (I think you should)” and “Should be made unemployed then make yourself null and void”
While the song didn’t mention him by name, it was clear who they were talking about and Sheffield sued the band and their record label, and they ended up settling out of court, but through that he outed himself.
In the end, Queen made millions and Norman Sheffield passed away in 2014. Brian May, being the class act he is, posted condolences on his website.
6. Elvis: Even the King dealt with shady behaviour from the industry
Here’s something that might surprise you about Elvis: He never toured outside the US. To put it in perspective, his contemporary, Buddy Holly, who died at 22 played in more countries than Elvis did. Why didn’t Elvis tour overseas? He surely had fans in Europe, Japan, and Australia. The only other country he played in was Canada, and that was only once in the 1950s.
It’s all thanks to his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who managed him throughout his whole career until his death. He was an undocumented Dutch immigrant who was allegedly wanted back in his home country, so he told Elvis he couldn’t leave the country because he feared that if he went with someone else, Elvis would dump him like yesterday’s rubbish. To keep Elvis from accepting offers from overseas, the Colonel made excuses like security and venues are bad. What?
Not only did Parker screw Elvis out of touring the whole world, he screwed him over financially. Parker took 50% of Elvis’ earnings for himself. The typical rate that a manager takes is 15-20%.
He gambled and owed debts to casinos, gambling for 12-14 hours at a time and betting large amounts of money. It was an unhealthy coping mechanism for him starting in the mid-60s when Elvis’ career was in decline. At one point he was a “consultant” for Hilton Hotels, allegedly because he owed them $30 million at the time of Elvis’ death and had to work off his debts. After he accrued even more debt, he was evicted from his suite.
In the 80s, a judge ruled that Parker’s management practises were unethical.
When Colonel Tom Parker died in 1997, he was worth less than $1 million. A lot of money to a normal person, but considering he was the King of Rock and Roll’s manager, you’d think he would have been worth a lot more.
7. The Beatles: Could have made even more money
Yup, even the biggest musicians got screwed over and made bad decisions, so it wasn’t just obscure ones. In 1963, before Beatlemania, the Fab 4 made a big business blunder: signing away a majority interest in their songwriting to a struggling music publisher for peanuts. You can play Monday morning quarterback now, but The Beatles had no idea they’d be the biggest band of the 60s and all of classic rock. “Love Me Do” was released as a single and was poorly promoted, so Brian Epstein tried to find a good publisher.
The publishing company was Northern Songs – owned by Dick James and Brian Epstein and Lennon and McCartney only getting 20% each ownership of the company. George Harrison wasn’t happy with it and wrote “Only a Northern Song” expressing his discontent. George also started his own publishing company, Harrisongs.
Even Paul McCartney called it a slave contract. By those standards though, they weren’t getting the worst deal in the world. It was a time when a lot of musicians didn’t write their own songs so getting the right publisher was crucial so it could be covered widely. And the deal was better than what Little Richard and Chuck Berry got.
Music publisher Dick James claimed that forming a company with Lennon, McCartney, and Epstein would be win-win for everyone because they’d make more money in the long run. For British sales, it was a 50-50 split, fair, but for overseas sales, Dick James took 50% straight away and the Beatles and Epstein only get 25%. Times have changed and the standard percentage songwriters get is a lot higher.
Now here’s the problem. When Brian Epstein died, John and Paul wanted to renegotiate the publishing deal, but instead Dick James and his business partner sold their shares to Associated Television (ATV) without consulting with John and Paul, giving them an opportunity to buy their shares. Their manager Allen Klein tried to get Apple Corps to buy ATV, but no dice.
In the 80s, Paul McCartney collaborated with Michael Jackson and he talked to him about how lucrative music publishing is. Michael Jackson joked that he was going to buy Paul’s songs, but it turned out he was serious. Michael Jackson ended up buying ATV’s catalogue of Beatles, Springsteen, Stones, and Elvis Presley songs for $47.5 million in 1985. Paul McCartney had a chance to buy it, but he turned it down because it was too much money. Yoko Ono also chose not to bid. Michael Jackson sold some shares to Sony, and then Sony bought Jackson’s shares for $750 million in 2016.
In 2017, Paul McCartney sued Sony/ATV over ownerships of songs that he wrote, and in 2018 they settled out of court.
8. The Rolling Stones: Didn’t make the big bucks until the 70s, surprisingly.
The Rolling Stones had a manager from 1965-1970 by the name of Allen Klein, the president of ABKCO Industries. His managing and negotiating style was abrasive and that alienated the people around him. The friendly Paul McCartney couldn’t trust him and would rather let the Beatles legally dissolve (split) than have Allen Klein milk them.
He used to work for Morris Levy’s Roulette Records and during that time he stood up for musicians getting screwed over by the mafia connected record label owner. To be fair to him, he got better deals for lots of musicians: The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, The Kinks, Lulu, Donovan, and Pete Townshend. However, here’s the rub: to keep the taxman away from them, he held the money for them in America and paid it to them piecemeal over 20 years. Klein invested this money and anything he made off of it, he kept.
In the case of The Rolling Stones, they weren’t happy with their contract with Decca Records and their young co-manager Andrew Loog Oldham thought that Allen Klein was a trustworthy and experienced guy and he negotiated their contract from them getting $300,000 guaranteed to $2.6 million guaranteed. That’s more money than The Beatles were making.
However, Mick Jagger, who studied at the London School of Economics before dropping out to be a famous rock star, started getting suspicious of Klein because he inserted himself as a profit participant all the time, like buying out Andrew Loog Oldham’s share in the band. He also put the Stones on the back burners because he considered The Beatles to be his priority. There was good reason not to trust him, like when he deposited £1.7million into his own US account rather than the Stones’ UK account.
Let’s get into detail about the tax sheltering thing: Allen Klein started a publishing company called Nanker Phelge, where the band’s earnings were held. It was also the pseudonym for the band’s collaborative (not Jagger/Richards) compositions. Nanker was a revolting face Brian Jones would make and Phelge was the surname of a flatmate.
In 1969, the band’s contract with Decca Records ended and they dumped Klein and opted for starting their own label with distribution by Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic Records.
They owed Decca Records another single by the time they said they wanted to leave, so to get back at the record label, The Rolling Stones released a song called “Cocksucker Blues”, also known as “Schoolboy Blues”. They wanted to make the most sexually explicit song to stick it to them because they can’t make money off a song that references anal sex and blowjobs. It was never released officially.
However, Decca Records retaliated by releasing a compilation album called Stone Age. The band didn’t approve of this, but it sold very well, reaching the top 10 in the albums charts.
Because Allen Klein owned the publishing company, he also owned the band’s recorded music catalogue from those successful years: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, “Get Off of My Cloud”, “Paint it Black”, “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Honky Tonk Women”, all those were his. He also had the rights to: Rock and Roll Circus, Made in the Shade, and some greatest hits compilation.
In fact, he made a lot of money off the Stones’ best selling album, Hot Rocks 1964-1971.
There was a decade of litigation between The Rolling Stones and Allen Klein. He dragged his feet over royalty payments and released compilations of their old songs they recorded in the 60s, and even claimed that because The Stones wrote some of the songs on Exile On Main St were composed while they were under contract with ABKCO, ABKCO should get ownership of those songs and they are entitled to release another compilation album, Metamorphosis.
In 1972, the band won a $1.2 million settlement for unpaid royalties earned in America (essentially the advance Decca paid that was withheld). Then, in 1975 there were more lawsuits and as a result a $1 million payment for non-payment of songwriting royalties. Then, in 1984, Jagger and Richards sued to break their publishing agreement with ABKCO because they didn’t pay royalties. What a mess.
I guess the lesson here is people who have done good things for you can also do very bad things for you later on.
9. The Who: Managers squandered their money on drugs and a lavish lifestyle
Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were aspiring filmmakers looking for an undiscovered band to make a movie about. They went from two friends who were aspiring filmmakers to the fifth and sixth members of The Who. They helped the band get a residency at the famous Marquee Club and helped create their mod image: arrows in the logo, iconic photos, encouraging them to play more R&B covers, and classic simple dress sense. Lambert encouraged Pete Townshend to write songs. They were an important part of the band and helped them get big, no doubt, like getting them to tour America to increase their popularity in such a huge market.
Kit saw The Who play at the Railway Hotel and witnessed Pete Townshend smashing his guitar. He thought it was satanic looking, but intriguing and told Chris Stamp that he had to see them perform and so they were working on a film about them, until they realised they had a serious rock band that could make it big and dumped the whole documentary project. The Who chose them to be their managers and dumped Peter Meaden, who gave them the name The High Numbers.
In 1966, Lambert & Stamp also started a record company called Track Records, originally founded to give The Who more creative liberty. That label also signed Jimi Hendrix. The label folded after a decade.
Before The Who recorded Tommy, Kit Lambert helped them stay focussed and motivated and typed up a script to help them understand the concept album.
Sounds like they were good managers, right? What could possibly go wrong? A lot. Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp became addicted to hard drugs, spent the band’s royalties on drugs, and didn’t show the same work ethic as before. They lived like rock stars even though they were supposed to be managers. And Kit Lambert ended up broke, having to couchsurf or live with his mum.
Tensions grew in the band. Pete Townshend and Keith Moon sided with Lambert and Stamp, while Roger Daltrey had a feeling that they were being ripped off. Pete Townshend accused Roger Daltrey of being money hungry. In 1972, Roger Daltrey performed an audit of the band’s finances and saw that Lambert & Stamp weren’t keeping adequate records. They were ousted the following year while the band were recording Quadrophenia and Bill Curbishley replaced them.
Chris Stamp claimed that none of the money went missing, it was just not in the books. He finally admitted after he went to rehab that they were “out to lunch”.
10. Badfinger: A tragedy – half the band died of suicide because of it
Before “My Sharona” and “What I Like About You”, there was “Come and Get It” and “No Matter What”. The story of power pop pioneers Badfinger is one of the most tragic stories of classic rock and since it’s such a sad story, I only think it’s right to end the blog post with this last, but certainly not least story of a band getting screwed over. Screwed over so badly, that two members: Pete Ham and Tom Evans took their lives.
So who is the bad person we’re pointing a finger at? The band’s manager, Stan Polley. In April 1970, manager Bill Collins was in the US scouting prospects for a tour and he met Stan Polley. By the end of the year, the band signed a business management contract and Polley started Badfinger Enterprises. The deal was awful: any money they got from touring, recording, publishing, and songwriter performance royalties went into holding companies owned by Polley. What could possibly go wrong? Taxes are high in the UK.
The band had a good first impression of Polley, seeing him as a powerful man and a father figure. He had experience managing Lou Christie and Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat, and Tears. However, the band saw the dark side of Polley with his dubious financial practises. The band members would only get a few thousand dollars each, while Polley pockets (pardon the pun) $75k.
By 1972, Apple Records were facing troubled times and Stan Polley told the band that Allen Klein wanted to cut their royalty rate and make them pay for their own studio time. Yikes! Polley’s other clients, Lou Christie and Charlie Calello. The sessions for their last album for Apple went horribly. They tried to get Todd Rundgren to produce it, but he left because of a financial dispute. The band tried to self produce, but Apple Records weren’t satisfied with that, so the band had to hire producer, Chris Thomas, last minute. Once the band fulfilled their deal with Apple, they moved onto Warner Brothers Records, where they had to release an album every six months and got a $3 million contract.
In this period, Stan Polley established an escrow account that was mutually accessible between him and the label for safekeeping. So the label thought… He never revealed the account’s whereabouts to Warner Publishing and ignored them whenever they requested information about the account. After an advance vanished, Warner Brothers sued Polley. Polley went ghost and the band were left broke.
Financial issues are a common reason that there’s turmoil in a relationship, and that was the case with Badfinger. Creative force Pete Ham was annoyed that Joey Molland’s wife was getting involved in band politics. Pete Ham suddenly quit at the end of 1974 during a management meeting because of this. Polley tried to pitch Ham as a solo act to different labels, but no dice. He rejoined in time for a tour because if he wasn’t there there wasn’t really a Badfinger. Their album was withdrawn and the follow-up was rejected. Shit hit the fan.
In early 1975, their monthly salary cheques weren’t clearing. Pete Ham was especially worried because he and his girlfriend bought a £30,000 house and had a baby on the way. The band desperately tried to get tours independently, but they were turned down because of their restrictive contract with Stan Polley. On April 23, Pete Ham got a call saying that all his money was gone. He went out with bandmate Tom Evans and got drunk. He drank 10 whiskies, got home at 3 AM and hanged himself in the garage. He was 27, only days away from turning 28. His suicide note said:
“Anne, I love you. Blair, I love you. I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. Pete. P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”
Tom Evans took his life in 1983 after fighting with Joey Molland over royalties for “Without You”. He was 36. He rejoined Badfinger in the late 70s for some comeback albums, but there were no major hits. They planned to tour, but they got stranded in the US with no tour dates, food, or cash. As well, they were under duress from physical threats. When Tom Evans returned to England, he found himself sued for $5 million for abandoning his touring contract. Those close to him said that he never got over Pete’s death. A “rock and roll ripoff” indeed
If you want to read about more musicians ripped off by the industry: You can read parts 2 and 3 here.
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Sad stories, especially Badfinger. That diss track by Queen was justified it seems. Leonard Cohen isn’t a classic rock musician but he also got screwed over by his manager late in his career. Luckily Cohen didn’t lose his sense of humor despite the setback and went back on the road.
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Leonard went back on the road because he was ripped off. He made more money in his 70’s to 80’s than he made in his previous history. He was at his best too. I seen him 3 different times during that period and he was awesome. In a way as horrible as it was for him to realise he was broke in his twilight years was also the impetus for LC going back on the road. He and we were fortunate in that he had an amazing second career right up until he passed away. Like you say he had a great sense of humour re the rip off. His sense of humour, self-depreciation and ironic refection was so funny.
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I’m surprised more artist didn’t go after the manager’s life! Fuck them ,they deserve it!
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[…] Musicians Who Got Ripped off By Record Labels […]
[…] the first blog post I made about classic rock musicians who got screwed over by their managers and r…, got a lot of traffic, almost 200 views in one day! It’s only smart to write a sequel if the […]
[…] on musicians who got ripped off by managers, record labels, and other industry people. You can read parts 1 & 2 here. There will also be a part 4 coming out […]
[…] His financial situation got worse and worse and by 2009, he ended up on the dole living in a van and occasionally, cheap hotels (supposedly that’s how Sly Stone chooses to live and he’s not homeless). Allegedly, his manager, Jerry Goldstein cut off his access to royalties after a debt agreement. He sued his manager in 2010, saying that he didn’t get royalties in a 20 year period between 1989 and 2009. Finally, in 2015, he was awarded $5 million in damages, but the decision was overturned because Stone assigned his royalties to a production company in exchange for an ownership stake. Musicians are manipulated and sign dodgy deals all the time. […]
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[…] Classic Rock Musicians Who Got Ripped Off by Managers and Record Labels Part 1 […]
[…] band were thinking of releasing this album under another name, but their manager, Don Arden (yes, that same one who ripped off The Small Faces), insisted on having the name recognition and keeping it as Black Sabbath. Ian Gillan didn’t […]
[…] Classic Rock Musicians Who Got Ripped Off by Managers and Record Labels Part 1 […]
[…] Every record label has that one who got away most notably Decca with The Beatles. In Charisma’s case that band were Queen, but it wasn’t like they didn’t try to sign them. In 1972, Queen were a pretty unknown band and they were trying really hard to get a record deal. A friend of Queen’s, Ken Testi lived with a Charisma employee Paul Conroy and they were talking about Queen and Strat wanted to sign Queen and made an offer of somewhere between £20k and £25k. Strat being unconventional, he didn’t care so much about money or business as it was about whether or not he liked the music and he really liked the music. Queen rejected the offer and used it as leverage in negotiating deal with other labels and they instead went with Norman Sheffield, who ripped them off. […]
I was STUNNED today to read an article about Richard Drapkin who wrote DEVIL IN HIS HEART which the BEATLES of course recorded with the change in lyrics-AND HE RECEIVED NO ROYALTIES? THIS IS BADFINGER LEVEL BAD! hope this isn’t true-please someone tell me it’s not so!
I knew it was a cover, but I didn’t know he never received royalties. Incredibly sad. So many musicians and songwriters got ripped off. 😞
[…] to check out my blog posts on musicians who were screwed over by their managers and record labels (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). That series is one of my most popular and if you liked this blog post […]
Regarding The Stones, Andrew Oldham had negotiated a forward-thinking deal with Decca where the ownership of the masters reverted to the band when the Decca contract lapsed. As Decca were still smarting after rejecting The Beatles, they were willing to bargain in order to sign the Stones.
Around 1966/67, the band were soured on Oldham by Klein and gradually phased him out. Andrew Oldham would NEVER have cheated the band out of the royalties and ownership of the Decca material and if he had an inkling as to what Klein was perpetrating, he would have warned them against it.
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That’s interesting! Thank you for sharing!
[…] Classic Rock Musicians Who Got Ripped Off by Managers and Record Labels Part 1 […]
[…] most informed choice. Last thing I want is to end up telling a cautionary tale and end up just like the musicians who got screwed over by bad record deals or shady managers. It’s all nerve-wracking, but it’s […]