Let’s start this post with some facts: being a musician is a precarious job. There’s no health insurance, pension plan, or any of those nice benefits that corporations may offer their employees. You’re a freelancer, essentially. The odds are against you at every step. It’s hard to get signed in the first place, and even when you are signed, the chances of success are like the chances of getting into Harvard. Record labels have a 95% failure rate. They need those 5% of successful musicians who get a platinum or gold album to keep them afloat. So yeah, a 5% chance of getting a gold album, that’s the percentage of applicants accepted into Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton.
It’s easy to get screwed over as a musician and it happens way too often. While doing research, I found enough to make a 4 part series on this! Really makes you hate the capitalist machine.
Recently, the first blog post I made about classic rock musicians who got screwed over by their managers and record labels, got a lot of traffic, almost 200 views in one day! It’s only smart to write a sequel if the first one is a success, so without further ado, here’s part 2 of that series about musicians who got ripped off. In this post, we’ll be talking about Heart, Mike Oldfield, Sam & Dave, The Beach Boys, and more. If you want to know more, keep on reading.
1. Heart – A sexist ad made the Wilson Sisters dump Mushroom Records
Heart got their start in Canada. They were signed to a small record label, Mushroom Records, in 1975 and released their debut, Dreamboat Annie, through that label. The album at first was only released in Canada and only sold 30,000 copies in the first few months. The band were worried that they would fade into obscurity and go nowhere, but suddenly the album was released in the US, where it took off and singles “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man” were hits, reaching the top 40 and top 10, respectively. It was incredible how they went from moderate regional success to nationwide household names. Early in their career, they got to open for Rod Stewart.
The Wilson Sisters are very much so feminists and one thing they will never stand for is being treated like sex objects. In those days, the women in the rock band got lots of attention and sex sells so the record label decided to create an objectifying inappropriate shock value ad to celebrate Dreamboat Annie selling a million copies. The ad was a mock National Enquirer cover with a large picture of Ann and Nancy sitting back to back topless, an outtake from the Dreamboat Annie cover photoshoot with a caption that says: “Heart’s Wilson Sisters Confess: ‘It Was Only Our First Time'”. It’s a creepy insinuation of an incestuous affair between the two sisters.
Sometime after that ad was released, Ann Wilson was talking to a fan after a show and he asked how her lover was. Ann at first thought it was Michael Fisher, her boyfriend at the time, but he was talking about Nancy. Ann’s blood was boiling and what resulted from that was her releasing steam, writing the hit, “Barracuda” – a diss track to sexist jerks in the music industry.
Here’s the ad in question:
A bridge was burnt with Mushroom all because of that ad. Heart already recorded some tracks for another album, but it wasn’t complete yet. To get back at Heart for leaving their contract, they released these unfinished tracks as the album, Magazine. The album carried a disclaimer that read:
“Mushroom Records regrets that a contractual dispute has made it necessary to complete this record without the cooperation or endorsement of the group Heart, who have expressly disclaimed artistic involvement in completing this record. We did not feel that a contractual dispute should prevent the public from hearing and enjoying these incredible tunes and recordings.”
A legal battle resulted after that. The band were not happy that they released an unpolished album that was only a couple weeks of work, compared to the year they spent on their debut. It was going to do them dirty. On top of that, the label tried to prevent Heart from recording more albums. In the end, Mushroom Records were forced to recall Magazine and allow Heart to finish it up and remix it. In return, Heart owed them one more album, and they were free.
While signed to Mushroom, they never increased the band’s royalty rate, even after they were proven hitmakers. In 1980, karma bit Mushroom in the butt and they bit the dust. Mushroom Studios, however, survived a few decades longer.
That wasn’t the end of the Wilson Sisters being sexualised by record labels. During their comeback in the mid to late 80s – height of the MTV era (when image was everything), they were dressed in more revealing clothes in music videos and one of their tours was known as the “(Leave It To) Cleavage Tour”. That was one of the conditions Capitol Records gave them when they signed them, we’re going to give you songwriters and craft this sexualised image. Yikes! But these were their most commercially successful years and that means a lot more money. Is it worth it though? Thankfully now, the Wilson Sisters are doing things on their own terms now and are much happier.
Here’s a real promotional image from that time:
Ann and Nancy were not thrilled about this, to say the least. Ann was body shamed constantly and suffering from panic attacks as a result and Nancy received backhanded compliments and felt a lot of pressure to look good.
2. Mike Oldfield – Hid a message for Richard Branson in his album, Amarok
Mike Oldfield got famous at the young age of 19, with Tubular Bells, a part of which ended up being the theme song for The Exorcist. Chances are you know a Mike Oldfield song and you might not realise it.
An incredible talent, he played almost all of the instruments on that debut album. Like a lot of musicians, he struggled a bit and experienced some setbacks before the fame.
As a teenager, he and his sister, Sally, formed a duo called The Sallyangie and got a record deal and toured England and Paris, but he had a nervous breakdown after the duo split. He auditioned for the band Family, but was unsuccessful. At this point, he was living with his father and trying to figure out what to do. In 1970, he joined Kevin Ayers’ backing band as a bassist and played on a few of his albums. He also played guitar for a stage production of Hair, gigged with Alex Harvey, and did session work for the Arthur Louis Band.
Mike Oldfield started recording Tubular Bells in 1972 in a studio Richard Branson installed in a country estate north of Oxford. That studio was called The Manor Studio. Richard Branson, Simon Draper, and Nik Powell were in the process of starting a record label after earning money from a record store. That album was the label’s first release and was a huge success, topping the charts. Fun fact, Mike Oldfield’s follow up album, Hergest Ridge topped the charts before Tubular Bells did, but the latter dethroned it from #1. Mike Oldfield was a bit strange though. During this time, he didn’t tour or give interviews, likely because of his anxiety and because it’s hard to reproduce his music on stage.
Richard Branson was doing very well from this business venture. By the end of the 70s, he was worth £5 million. He started a record store and now he’s got an airline, rail company, bank, telecom company, a chain of fitness centres, and now he’s trying to get into hyperloop and space travel. Virgin are an empire.
While Branson was off making boatloads of money, Mike Oldfield was being screwed over. Mike Oldfield’s music isn’t the most radio friendly, and in the 80s, Virgin Records were trying to nudge him to make shorter, vocal based pop and rock songs. His album, Earth Moving had this style and did well in Continental Europe, but not in his native UK. The album wasn’t Mike Oldfield though and he wanted to get his revenge. So he made his angry protest album, Amarok. His goal with this one was to make an album that his fans will love and Virgin will hate. It was a sequel of sorts to Ommadawn, if anything. Virgin insisted that it be called Tubular Bells II, but Oldfield didn’t want Virgin to have any more Tubular Bells.
Hidden in the album 48 minutes in is a secret message in Morse Code to Richard Branson, saying “Fuck off, RB”. He offered a £1,000 prize to whoever could find the secret message first, but there was no winner.
Finally, on 1 January 1991, he was free from his contract with Virgin Records and the first album he released with a new label was Tubular Bells II.
3. Sam & Dave – Forced out of Stax after Atlantic split
The Dynamic Duo were one of the best known Stax acts. They were Sam Moore and Dave Prater, who both had a background in gospel and doo-wop music and started singing in church. They got signed to Atlantic Records in 1964, but worked with Stax Records in the mid 60s. Atlantic were Stax’s distributor so that’s how that relationship came about. Because of this Stax relationship, they could work with Isaac Hayes and David Porter, who wrote a lot of their hits. The Mar-Keys, Stax’s horn group, also worked on their songs.
Sadly on a side note, The Mar-Keys got screwed over because they contributed to the composition and songwriting of some of those hits, but didn’t receive any credit.
Sam & Dave got eight consecutive R&B chart hits, with a bunch of them crossing over into the pop charts. They were best known for the Hayes/Porter songs “Hold On I’m Comin”, “You Got Me Hummin'”, “Soul Man”, and “I Thank You”. They were a huge success, touring Europe as part of the Stax/Volt Revue. They were so good live that headliner Otis Redding didn’t want to be on the same bill with them again because he was so nervous going on after them.
In 1968, Stax and Atlantic severed their distribution agreement, meaning that Sam & Dave could no longer work with powerhouse songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter or any Stax backing/session musicians. They tried releasing singles written by songwriters Atlantic picked for them, but those flopped because they didn’t have that signature Stax sound and feel. Because of the flops and some fights, Sam & Dave broke up in 1970, but they reunited in 1971. It was thanks to the Blues Brothers in the late 70s and early 80s that they experienced a resurgence in popularity and interest.
4. Prince – Wrote “Slave” on his cheek, changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, and slagged off streaming services. His disputes with labels spanned his career.
Prince was a musical genius. Look through his discography and there’s something for everyone. All kinds of sounds from soul and R&B to pop, rock, psychedelia, new wave, and hip hop. And his behaviour was erratic. A lot of this might be explained by how he was treated by his record label, Warner Brothers Records. He said that the record labels give the musicians who make them money the least amount of power and money possible. He wanted complete freedom to release what he wanted when he wanted, but the label said no because they didn’t want to oversaturate the market – it’s counterintuitive. Makes sense because even the biggest fans can get fatigued with releases coming left, right, and centre. At the very least though, he wanted to be compensated fairly for his work because his music was so successful and made the label boatloads of money.
Labels thought of him as petulant and demanding, but sympathetic fans understood where he was coming from. Like with workers who sell their labour in a capitalist system for wages and create value for companies, the labels need the stars more than the stars need the label.
In the 90s, Prince had enough and rebelled against Warner Brothers because they refused to release music from his backlog and he felt that limited his artistic freedom. To stick it to the label, he said that he’s not Prince anymore, but an unpronounceable symbol, called Love Symbol #2. Warner Brothers had to send out floppy discs with the symbol in a custom font to media outlets so they could properly refer to The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, which is what they called him since that’s easier.
It’s similar to what Led Zeppelin did with their fourth album, technically the name of it wasn’t Led Zeppelin IV, but a bunch of symbols that you couldn’t pronounce. Both were ballsy moves and very iconic.
In order to break free from Warner Brothers, (The Artist Formerly Known As) Prince released his music as quickly as possible. Publicly, he’d perform with “slave” written on his cheek. By 1996, he was free and he released the aptly titled 36 song, 3 CD Emancipation.
Once his publishing contract with Warner Brothers expired in 2000, he went back to being called Prince again. However, his beefs with music industry corporations didn’t end there. Prince had issues with social media and streaming websites and services too. In 2014, the late adopter of social media deleted Facebook, Twitter, and almost all of his music videos from YouTube, citing no particular reason.
Even when he died, there were still disputes over his music streaming on YouTube and Spotify. For a while there, his music was completely gone from those platforms. After some negotiations between his estate and Universal Music Group, his music returned to Spotify in February 2017.
You could only stream it on Tidal, which Prince considered better for musicians. Jay-Z started Tidal because he saw a void in the industry: a musician-owned premium high fidelity music streaming service that pays musicians fairly and offers exclusives for fans. Musicians like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Daft Punk, Jack White, and Madonna also have partial ownership of Tidal. Supposedly, Tidal pays three times the rate of Spotify. Eric Harvey of Pitchfork was sceptical: these are A-list, top 1% musicians who can afford to not answer to corporations or record labels. They have enough money and enough fanbase to do things on their own terms.
Prince’s attitudes towards streaming were quite similar to those of Robert Fripp. Streaming services don’t pay musicians fairly, and that’s true. They’re not wrong – musicians should be paid fairly by these corporations, but it alienates potential fans.
The problem is you need your music to be where the people are. Sure, there’s a resurgence of vinyl and CDs aren’t dead yet. However, people are largely consuming music digitally because it’s so much easier, cheaper, and more accessible because there’s more music released now than ever before and people want to hear a variety of things for a low subscription price or even free. YouTube is free and Spotify is freemium. Not to mention, more convenient. So much less fuss and it’s better for the environment. Not embracing the internet is why businesses like Blockbuster and Borders shut down.
5. Little Richard – Only got $50 for Tutti Frutti
Black rock pioneers were especially screwed over. Little Richard innovated rock and roll with “Tutti Frutti”, a song with an iconic and memorable a cappella onomatopoeia intro of “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom”. The song stood out because it was loud and had a nice beat and rhythm to it. At the time, the song was considered provocative, with sexual innuendos and references to homosexuality. For our 21st century standards, this is nothing.
“Tutti Frutti” was a game changer. The sad thing though is that Little Richard got a horrible deal for it. He took the song to Art Rupe’s Specialty Records and he bought the publishing rights to the song for only $50, leaving him with a horrible deal: a half a cent royalty rate per record – meaning you sell two records and you only get a penny.
6. Buddy Holly – “That’ll Be The Day” was almost not released, but all was good in the end.
“That’ll Be The Day” was one of Buddy Holly’s biggest hits, but it almost didn’t see the light of day thanks to producer Owen Bradley. Owen Bradley didn’t like rock music and slowed down the tempo of the song and raised the pitch of Buddy Holly’s voice. He did him dirty and Decca Records were disappointed in the recording sessions and dropped Buddy Holly.
Now here’s the problem: Buddy Holly was confident about his songs and wanted to regain the rights to his material, except that Decca had those rights and could do what they wanted: shelve the songs or release them. Luckily, Buddy Holly’s manager, Norman Petty, helped him get a deal with Brunswick Records for The Crickets (Buddy Holly’s band) and a solo deal with Coral Records. Ironically, Brunswick and Coral are subsidiaries of Decca, so Decca couldn’t get rid of him.
Nowadays “That’ll Be The Day” has a legacy and is considered one of the best rock songs of the late 50s.
7. Chuck Berry – Alan Freed got credit for “Maybellene”, which was a form of payola
It was common practise in the 50s payola days for some record companies, like Chess Records, to give songwriting or publishing credits to DJs who helped promote a record. The songwriters who were victims of this were usually black rock or R&B musicians. Ergo, Alan Freed got a songwriting credit for popularising “Maybellene” on his radio show.
He so aggressively promoted “Maybellene” and in fact, he played it for two straight hours one day. Not only did Alan Freed get credit, so did this guy that Chuck Berry didn’t even know. A guy named Russ Fratto, whom the Chess Brothers owed money and was their landlord.
In a Rolling Stone interview in 1972, Chuck Berry said that Alan Freed never helped in the songwriting and only got songwriting credit because he did Chess Records a favour.
What made Chuck Berry special is that he wrote his own songs, sang, and played guitar. Joe Edwards, owner of Blueberry Hill, said that there was no one else who could really do all those things so well until Bob Dylan got famous in the 60s.
He was the first black musician to really find success performing songs he wrote. Still, he got screwed over. In the 50s, he had no idea that he had a case and lawyers could have helped him get the sole songwriting credit he deserved. Luckily, in 1986, a court ruled in his favour.
8. Sam Cooke – Just a Theory: Did Allen Klein have a role in his death?
Trigger warning: Story contains mentions of murder and rape.
Sam Cooke’s story is tragic. He was considered one of the best soul musicians of the late 50s and early 60s. His life was cut short on 22 December 1964, when he was shot and killed by Bertha Franklin, the manager of the Hacienda Motel in LA.
The infamous Allen Klein, who screwed over many a musician with his buy/sell agreements. He had a company that was the middleman between the musician and the record label and that company would make the records and sell them to the label. Through this company he’d also deposit any advances and royalties musicians got so they wouldn’t have to pay huge amounts of tax (this was the time of the UK’s 95% supertax, so it makes sense why this happened a lot). With this arrangement, he made his clients rich, but himself richer with fine print in the contracts that favoured him.
In 1963, he met Sam Cooke through a DJ named Jocko Henderson, who hosted lavish live R&B shows at the Apollo. Sam Cooke was established at the time and got multiple top 10 hits in the late 50s, making RCA Records a lot of money. Still, he wasn’t getting paid as well as he could have been. Allen Klein forced the label to do a thorough audit. After the audit, Cooke’s contract was renegotiated: a five year contract and $100k cash advances for two years and $75k for two option years. Sounds nice, right? Well… it wasn’t.
Sam Cooke trusted Allen Klein and his advice of creating a holding company called Tracey Ltd, but he was betrayed. Sam Cooke was originally the owner of Tracey Ltd, but Klein sneakily changed the paperwork to list him as the owner and Sam Cooke as an employee. Owning the holding company meant that Allen Klein owned the rights to all of Sam Cooke’s recordings made since his contract renegotiation. On top of that, in the first year, in lieu of getting $100k in cash, he got $100k in preferred Tracey stock. He wouldn’t be taxed on that stock until he sold it.
Sam Cooke was murdered at the age of 33 right before Christmas at a motel he was staying at in LA. The murderer, Bertha Franklin claimed that she shot him in self defence because he broke into her office, asked where the woman who accompanied him was, and attacked her, but friends of Sam Cooke disputed that claim.
Elisa Boyer, the woman who was with Sam Cooke, said that she had escaped being kidnapped and almost raped. Her story has been called into question though because of inconsistencies between her story and bystanders. For example, diners at the restaurant Sam Cooke was at said that Boyer went to the motel with Sam Cooke willingly.
The coroner’s jury’s verdict was that it was a justifiable homicide, but people close to Sam Cooke disagree. When Etta James saw Sam Cooke’s body, she questioned the accuracy of the official version of the events. There’s a theory that Allen Klein had a role in his murder, but there’s no concrete evidence of this. The mystery will likely go unsolved.
Sam Cooke’s family, even 55 years after he was murdered, never received a cent of royalties or any benefits from his music. But guess who got all that money? Allen Klein and his family. What a leech.
Eventually, Allen Klein’s dishonest ways caught up with him and in the 70s he was pursued by the IRS, convicted of a misdemeanour charge of making a false statement on his 1972 tax return, and served two months in jail.
9. The Clash – Got back at their label with a double album
The Clash are one of the best known punk bands and it’s for a reason. Their discography is one of the most diverse in classic rock: punk, rockabilly, reggae, ska, disco, funk, hip hop even – so everyone can find a Clash song they like even if they don’t like punk. They got so many hits in just a short amount of time.
The band also had socialist views. Joe Strummer said this about why he identified as a socialist:
“I believe in socialism because it seems more humanitarian, rather than every man for himself and ‘I’m alright jack’ and all those asshole businessmen with all the loot. I made up my mind from viewing society from that angle. That’s where I’m from and there’s where I’ve made my decisions from. That’s why I believe in socialism.”
Back when I was a cynical (but still left wing) anti-SJW I was sceptical and thought how could a successful rock band be anti-capitalist? Capitalism is what got them that lifestyle and boatloads of money. But recently, I’ve read into The Clash’s history and I found out that the record label screwed them over. Now it makes sense why they were anti capitalism. Punk rock is music of the proletariat, it’s anti-elitism and anti-establishment, it’s egalitarian, and a working class movement. If it doesn’t have those characteristics, it’s just bootlicking with punk rock aesthetics.
Like any other rock band, when you get signed to a label, you’re going to have to give up creative control because the label only care about making boatloads of money. The Clash were no exception to this. They had problems with their label like their debut not being released in the US (weird because that’s the biggest music market), releasing singles they didn’t like without consent, and just being overly controlling and telling them to be more commercial and clean – aka boring. In fact, they wrote the anti-establishment and anti-corporation “Complete Control” about their experience with the label.
The Clash wanted to have an epic follow up to their 1978 album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, but CBS Records weren’t having it. They didn’t see eye to eye. CBS cared about money and The Clash cared about their fans and wanted to give them their money’s worth when they bought their album. They reached a compromise with CBS to package the new album with a free accompanying single.
The Clash being the punk rockers that they are gave CBS Records way more than what they asked for. They gave them the single and an album’s worth of b-sides for the single. All of this was recorded on CBS’ dime.
In the end, those tracks made up the legendary double album, London Calling. It sold two million copies and received widespread critical acclaim. And it was a good value for the fans: Same price as a regular album, but double the tracks.
10. The Beach Boys – Abusive manager father and quack psychotherapist got 25% of copyright to all of Brian Wilson’s songs
Trigger warning: Discussion of abuse.
The Beach Boys: happy sunshine music, but behind the scenes there’s a sad story. They were three brothers: Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson. Their cousin, Mike Love was in the band too and their close friend, Al Jardine. Brian Wilson was the main songwriter and leader of the band, and outside the band he’s considered one of the biggest geniuses of the classic rock era. So many hits came from that brain.
Murry Wilson was the father of the Wilson Brothers and was their manager, until they fired him in 1964. Murry was a working class guy who had a factory job and wrote songs. Later on, he started a machining business. A couple of these songs, “Two-Step Side-Step” and “I’ll Hide My Tears” were minor successes. He got his children into music and according to Brian Wilson, he gave them ambition. Murry though was abusive physically, mentally, and financially to his children. He’d drink and hit them, grab them, whip them, shove them, slap them, and call them names.
As manager, Murry Wilson was domineering and manipulative, but a tough negotiator, getting them a record deal and twisting some arms at Capitol when they put the band on the back burner because of Beatlemania (The Beatles and Beach Boys were on the same record label in the US). On top of the physical and mental abuse, he was abusive financially. One of the most controlling things he did was put in place strict rules for when the band were on tour: no flirting with women, no cussing, no drinking – gotta keep up that squeaky clean all-American image. On top of that, he’d fine them if they broke those rules – $100 in the early days, but on their 1964 Australasia tour, he’d fine them $1,000 – deducted from their touring income. Basically, no fun.
Murry Wilson was fired in 1964 after incidents during the recording of “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “I Get Around”. Brian Wilson said that having a family band is great, but when another generation (particularly parents) is involved it’s a mess.
After Murry Wilson was fired as the Beach Boys’ manager, he managed and produced The Sunrays, a Beach Boys soundalike band. They never got much success outside of California. Murry released one solo album, The Many Moods of Murry Wilson. He still had contact with the band and wrote the song “Break Away” with Brian.
In 1969, Murry Wilson sold the Beach Boys’ publishing company, Sea of Tunes for the undervalued price of $700,000. That same year, Brian Wilson told the press that the band’s funds have been pretty much depleted and that they are considering filing for bankruptcy.
Even after being fired as the manager, Murry was still was their publisher. Brian Wilson claims that when Murry Wilson sold the publishing company, he forged his signature, making the sale illegal. Because of this, The Beach Boys lost tens of millions of dollars in royalties. This sale of Sea of Tunes to Irving Almo Music was an elaborate plan by The Beach Boys’ lawyer, Abe Somer and a conflict of interest because he was also Irving Almo’s lawyer. Mike Love said that they signed away the rights to their songs under duress.
If you want to add another layer to make this even more complicated and dramatic, Mike Love had his issues with Brian and Murry Wilson. Fans see Brian as the genius and Mike as the jerk. The press would side with Brian. Obviously, his biggest problem was he was owed credit to 79 Beach Boys songs. That’s a lot of royalties lost. In the end, Mike Love took Brian Wilson to court and won, receiving credit for 35 songs from the 60s and $13 million. He said that it was “almost certainly the largest case of fraud in music history”. While Brian didn’t get the copyrights back, he was awarded $25 million in damages and under/unpaid royalties.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Brian Wilson said he was afraid of his father, who he described as a slave driver. In fact, his upbringing inspired the lyrics of “I’m Bugged at My Ol’ Man”. Like in real life, the father in that song uses extreme punishments for minor incidents.
It’s not surprising, given that upbringing that Brian Wilson ended up with mental health problems, substance abuse problems, and weight problems. He would suffer from panic attacks, mental breakdowns, and auditory hallucinations. His behaviour in interviews was difficult: giving curt answers, leaving abruptly, and lying to test the interviewers. After Murry died in 1973, he was reclusive, hiding in the chauffer’s quarters in his home sleeping, binge eating, drinking, and doing drugs. He also attempted suicide by trying to drive his car off a cliff. When he did go out at night, he was hanging out with the Hollywood Vampires and tripping on acid. He would go out in public with slippers and a bathrobe.
In 1975 and 1976, he was under the “care” of a dodgy psychotherapist named Eugene Landy. The goal was to get him better enough to complete the album, 15 Big Ones. The central marketing points for it was it was the band’s 15th anniversary album and it marked the return of Brian Wilson. Still, his behaviour was erratic and he was still addicted to drugs. In the late 70s, he was briefly living as a vagrant in Balboa Park in San Diego and in the early 80s, he owed tens of thousands of dollars of back taxes.
He was once again kicked out of the band in 1982 and once again Eugene Landy was brought in and $430,000 a year to “treat” Brian with an unconventional 24 hour regimen that created a Svengali-like environment, with every move of his being controlled by this therapist. He was at a low at this point, weighing over 300 pounds and overdosed on drugs and alcohol. The band gave him an ultimatum, hire Landy to treat you or you’ll never be a Beach Boy again and you can kiss He was taken to Hawaii, isolated from his family and friends, put on a strict diet and exercise plan, and had to go to long, extreme counselling sessions.
Not only was Landy Brian’s therapist, he became his executive producer, business manager, and creative advisor for the band. Brian became dependent on him and was manipulated into thinking that Landy was his friend.
Landy ordered Brian to cut ties with the band and to give him 25% of songwriting royalties. Landy also got 30% of proceeds from Brian’s autobiography, Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story. The book portrayed Landy in a positive light and he was accused of being a ghostwriter. In the late 80s, the State of California finally intervened and revoked his professional licence and in 1992, Brian Wilson got a restraining order against Eugene Landy.
And it wasn’t just Brian that suffered. Dennis Wilson was an alcoholic and heroin addict who ended up homeless at the end of his life. In 1977, he left the band, and two weeks later rejoined after their disputes were resolved. In the late 70s, Brian Wilson’s girlfriend at the time, Carolyn Williams, accused Dennis of enticing Brian to buy $15,000 worth of cocaine. Brian’s bodyguard and their cousin Stan Love (Mike’s brother) assaulted Dennis at his home. After The Beach Boys forced Brian to hire Eugene Landy again, they gave Dennis an ultimatum: go to rehab or never perform with the band again. He tried to go to rehab, but left and started drinking again. He drowned three weeks after his 39th birthday.
11. Nicky Hopkins – Hired hand, not in the band. Sorry, no royalties!
Casual listeners might not know the name, but they’ve definitely heard a song he played on whether it’s by The Kinks, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Donovan, Jefferson Airplane, Harry Nilsson, Peter Frampton, Jerry Garcia, or The Beatles’ solo careers. Between 1965 and 1968 he was one of the busiest session musicians. So why did this talented piano player not join a band in the 60s?
Nicky Hopkins was born and raised in a middle class family. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease after suffering a lot with poor health as a kid. He didn’t care much about school, but he loved playing piano and was so good at it that he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. He left school at 16 to join Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages before they merged with Cyril Davies and became his All-Stars. At this point, early in his career, he was touring intermittently and playing concerts, but this came to a halt when he was 19 and ended up in hospital for a bunch of operations, nearly dying.
Since he couldn’t tour, he decided he’d become the most in demand session piano player. 1965-1968 were his peak years as a session musician with a new song with him playing piano on it coming out pretty much every week. He wanted a less hectic schedule and wanted to join a band and try to tour again. There was no shortage of offers because bands wanted him. He turned down Led Zeppelin for The Jeff Beck Group and toured America with them. He left Jeff Beck Group and moved to California, working with bands there and joining Quicksilver Messenger Service. He also toured with The Rolling Stones in the early 70s.
His career sounded pretty good, right? Well… his biggest complaint was that he never received royalties from any recording sessions he was part of because he wasn’t the songwriter or part of the band, just a hired hand. He got some songwriting credit when he worked with Jeff Beck and got an ownership stake thanks to Quicksilver Messenger Service’s manager Ron Polte. Otherwise, no royalties, so at the end of his career he was still doing session work and film scores.
12. Cyndi Lauper – Sued for $80,000 early on in her career and left working retail and food service in order to survive
She is best known for the hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, but the early days for Cyndi Lauper were far from fun. In 1980, Cyndi Lauper was in a struggling band called Blue Angel. They had a small club scene following in New York, but not much else besides one song reaching the top 40 in the Netherlands. They only released a self-titled album in 1980, which was a flop. The band argued with the manager and they fired him. The manager sued the band for $80,000. Cyndi Lauper wasn’t rich yet and didn’t have the money to pay the manager, so she filed for bankruptcy and had to work retail jobs and waitressing at IHOP to get by. She still sang in clubs and people believed she had great potential as a musician because of her vocal range.
Her luck changed though in 1983 when her solo debut, She’s So Unusual, reached the top 10 of the albums charts and was a success with six songs on the album being released as singles.
If you want to find out about more musicians who were ripped off by the industry, you can read part 3 here.
Shoutout to my friends Patrick and Matt for supporting the blog.
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