This is the third part of a series 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 later.
1. The Jackson 5 – Abusive dad and the explanation of why they had to change their name to The Jacksons.
The Jackson 5 introduced the world to the talents of Michael Jackson. Their story had humble beginnings: a working class family in Gary, Indiana. When the father, Joe, saw Tito playing with his guitar after one of the strings broke, he saw potential and bought him a guitar. The other brothers learned to play other instruments and started a singing group. They got their start playing talent shows in the area and after some wins, Joe got them to perform at respected Chitlin’ Circuit venues like the Regal in Chicago and the Apollo in Harlem. They got a deal with Steeltown Records before signing to Motown and released a couple of songs with them, but they weren’t stars yet.
How they got the Motown connection was opening for Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers. Bobby Taylor helped the group with their Motown audition, but at first Berry Gordy rejected them because he already had Stevie Wonder, but he changed his mind and The Jackson 5 moved to Hollywood, opened for The Supremes, appeared in Diana Ross’ TV show, and had their first four singles reach the top of the charts: “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, and “I’ll Be There”.
They had a prolific first year with Motown, releasing and incredible four albums. They were Motown cash cows with not only lots of music sales, but also memorabilia, a cartoon, and TV specials. In the early 70s, Motown saw a star in Michael and Jermaine Jackson and had them release solo music. The Jackson 5’s success wasn’t for very long and their career slowed down with the growing popularity of disco and funk.
Joe Jackson felt that Motown was putting The Jackson 5 on the back burner and wanted to split from the record label. While signed to Motown, they were only getting 2.8% royalties. Think about it! Berry Gordy was making a bulk of the money even though he didn’t perform it. Another example about how the boss makes disproportionately way more money than the worker. By 1975, they were done with Motown and signed with Epic Records instead, which gave them a way better royalty rate of 20%. However, Jermaine stayed signed to Motown and Randy replaced him.
However, Motown’s contract with them didn’t end until 1976 and they sued The Jackson 5. In the end, they let them record for Epic, but they owned the name, The Jackson 5, so they had to change their name to The Jacksons. Not the biggest loss really. They got creative control over their sound and got some hits with “Enjoy Yourself”, “Blame It On The Boogie”, and “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of abuse
Of course, we can’t write about Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 without talking about their abusive father. Joe Jackson dropped out of secondary school and got a job at Inland Steel Company. His dream was to become a boxer, but he ended up getting married and starting a family. Because kids are expensive, he had to get another job at a foundry. His wife, Katherine, worked at Sears. In the early 50s, Joe was in a blues band, but they didn’t go anywhere. There are many parallels between him and Murry Wilson: worked blue collar jobs, managed a successful family band, tried their hand at music themselves without much success, and they abused their children mentally and physically.
A decade later, his sons Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine had a singing group, and later on Michael and Marlon joined. Joe was involved and made them practise for hours. He was a distant parent. He would physically punish his children, beating them with a belt buckle or a cord from something electronic. They didn’t get to have a normal childhood, since Joe wouldn’t let them play outside with kids in their neighbourhood. Michael was often the target: bullied for his nose, whipped, and called names. He felt isolated and would often cry.
2. Aerosmith – Successful comeback, but with a pushy manager
Before working for Aerosmith, Tim Collins worked for The Joe Perry Project. In the mid-80s he convinced Aerosmith to get back together with the goal of making them the biggest band by the end of the decade. There were some problems though at the start. They were rejected by a bunch of record labels, but eventually got a deal with Geffen Records. Their album, Done With Mirrors, was not a huge success and Collins blamed it on drugs. However, Collins did a good thing by getting Aerosmith and Run DMC to collaborate on a remake of “Walk This Way”, one of their best known songs, but it was crucial for the band to continue releasing good music. So he forced the band into rehab. Their next two albums, Permanent Vacation and Pump did very well, in fact, those albums were their greatest successes.
However, a biography authorised by the band claims that Tim Collins was “a sobriety Nazi” who was manipulative and controlling. He ensured that the tours were sober tours: no drinking or drugs, escorting them to 12-step meetings, and hiring an Arizona state trooper as road manager. After being fired, he spread rumours that the band are no longer talking to each other. Joe Perry said that the way Tim Collins ran things was divide and conquer.
3. Bob Dylan – Manager took 10% more money than standard because every time you talk to him “you’re 10 per cent smarter than before”
Albert Grossman managed Bob Dylan from 1962 to 1970. Albert Grossman would invite Bob Dylan to his house in Woodstock and Bob Dylan liked it so much that he bought a house there. Some say that “Dear Landlord” was about Albert Grossman. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Bob Dylan realised that one of the terms in the contract that he hastily signed said that his manager got half of his song publishing rights. He then cut ties.
Grossman’s management style was aggressive and overcharging. He would charge his clients 25%, which is 10% more than the standard rate, justifying his overcharging by claiming that his clients get 10% smarter every time they speak to him, saying that he’s smarter than the other “dummy” managers. One of his tactics he would use in negotiation was awkward silence – suddenly going quiet, saying nothing, have the client keep talking until they go crazy and in the end the negotiations favoured him.
His other clients include: Janis Joplin; Peter, Paul, and Mary; The Band; Todd Rundgren; Richie Havens; and Gordon Lightfoot.
4. David Bowie – manager was a leech ex-friend
David Bowie was good friends with his manager Tony Defries at first. Defries saw star power in the Bowie name, he believed David Bowie would be the next superstar and he was right and his business and marketing decisions helped him succeed.
A few things strained their relationship: distance – with David Bowie living in London and Tony Defries living in New York, David Bowie’s cocaine addiction and Tony Defries’ zero tolerance policy, and David Bowie feeling shortchanged because Tony Defries got half of Bowie’s royalties. During this time, it was typical for these shady deals to be made and most artists didn’t own their recordings and copyright. With partnerships like these, supposedly musicians have more leverage in negotiations with record companies and hopefully would get better royalty rates.
David Bowie fired Tony Defries in 1975 and wanted to buy his shares out. In 1997, David Pullman came up with the idea of having Bowie Bonds for investors. Each bond issued had a face value of $1,000. Celebrity bonds were a pioneering idea and David Bowie’s bonds were one of the first to use intellectual property as underlying collateral. It was such a success that Pullman created similar bonds for James Brown, Ashford & Simpson, The Isley Brothers, and Holland-Dozier-Holland. Bowie didn’t just sell the world, he sold bonds too.
5. Neil Innes – From getting no credit to being screwed over by Pledge Music
Neil Innes was a member of Beatles parody rock band The Rutles and The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and collaborated with Monty Python. Pretty cool, right? However, he dealt with a lot of headaches and lawsuits throughout his career. He lost copyrights to songs he wrote for The Rutles when John Lennon and Paul McCartney sued him for plagiarism, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band had their name stolen by a promoter who trademarked it, and he got into a legal battle with members of Monty Python to get royalties for songs in the Spamalot musical.
In an interview with Dangerous Minds, Neil Innes said:
“The Music Business is like a school where Big Boys come and take your candy away. No other business in the world gets away with Stealing like the Music Business – apart from Banking. There ought to be a law against taking stuff that does not belong to you. It should be written in stone.
“What gets me is the Denial! Did you know there are 14 songs hidden away in the vaults of International Copyright that are credited to “Innes, Lennon and McCartney”? It’s all there – in black and white! However – under no circumstances am I to be credited for writing any “part” of these compositions. What’s more, I am forbidden to tell anyone this! Yes! It’s all there – in the so-called Settlement Agreement. So – if anyone wants to cover one of the first Rutle songs – like Galaxy 500 did with “Cheese and Onions” – remember – it has to be just “Lennon/McCartney” on the cover or the label.”
His problems didn’t end there. PledgeMusic, a crowdfunding site which has since closed down because of financial problems, ripped him off. The website was similar to Kickstarter, crowdfunding for musicians. Crowdfunding has worked and it’s good for building hype and connecting with fans with exclusive perks, so it’s promising for musicians who don’t have the backing of big labels and attractive for fans who want to support their favourites. The problem with crowdfunding is when the funds are mismanaged and never make it to the musician. The musician can’t complete their project and the fans are
Musicians like Danny Vaughn, The Dandy Warhols, Jesus Jones, L7, and Rosalie Cunningham have complained about Pledge Music mismanaging money and not paying them, but happily taking hard earned money from fans. Fans have complained that they haven’t received refunds.
Back to Neil’s situation. Neil was crowdfunding for a new album. In October 2019, his wife, Yvonne, shared an update thanking those who have donated. Because Pledge Music owed them a lot of money and they owed fans a CD, Yvonne set up a GoFundMe for Neil’s CD, but the problem with that was that GoFundMe isn’t Kickstarter, so she needed to track down donors and send them the promised CDs and merch, which is challenging.
His fans donated an average of £30 to his Pledge Music page. That’s enough to buy a week’s worth of groceries. A over 3 hours of minimum wage work. £26,000 was raised, but only £3,000 was paid out to Neil Innes, meaning that Pledge Music essentially made off with £23,000. Where that money is, we don’t know.
Neil Innes passed away at the age of 75 on 29 December 2019.
6. Big Mama Thornton – Screwed over as a singer and as a songwriter and died in a boarding house.
Big Mama Thornton was the first to record the classic Leiber-Stoller penned song “Hound Dog”, pre-dating Elvis’s recording by four years! Her version was quite different from Elvis’s because it had more of a female empowerment approach to it.
Her version of the song sold between 500,000 and 750,000 copies or maybe as many as a million. Regardless, it went to #1. It likely would have sold more if the song weren’t oversaturated in a market full of covers and answer songs. Elvis’ version was even more successful selling over 10 million copies and therefore made songwriters Leiber and Stoller bank. They only got a cheque for $1,200 for Big Mama Thornton’s version, but it bounced, so they were screwed over too in that moment. Big Mama Thornton though only got $500 for her version of the song and nothing else. She told Rolling Stone in 1984:
“Didn’t get no money from them at all. Everybody livin’ in a house but me. I’m just livin’.”
Big Mama Thornton was also a songwriter and wrote “Ball and Chain”, which Janis Joplin covered in the 60s. There were also issues with receiving royalties because she recorded her own version through Bay Tone Records, but they didn’t issue it and the label held onto the copyright, meaning that she couldn’t get royalties for any cover versions.
Big Mama Thornton died at the age of 57 in a boarding house in LA. The cause of death was heart and liver problems because of her alcoholism. She went from 450 pounds to 95 pounds in a short period of time.
7. Lester Chambers – Hung out with John Lennon, but didn’t receive any royalty cheques for 27 years. At one point, he lived on only $1200/month.
A photo Lester Chambers posted, telling his story.
This is one of the most tragic types of stories of classic rock, when a once successful musician is living below the poverty line. You can find out more about Sweet Relief Musicians Fund on their Facebook and Instagram. Many musicians struggle to make ends meet. Can’t afford food, medicine, medical and mental health treatments.
Lester Chambers is the lead singer of The Chambers Brothers, best known for the psychedelic soul hit “Time Has Come Today”. He got a gold disc for the album; performed at various festivals including Atlanta International Pop Festival, Miami Pop, Newport Pop, and Atlantic Pop; appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show; hung out with John Lennon; and generally had a blast in the flower power era of the late 60s.
Like a lot of one hit wonders, the money and stardom didn’t last forever. He eventually ended up sleeping in a rehearsal room because he couldn’t afford a place of his own. Turns out between the years 1967 and 1994 he didn’t receive a penny in royalties so he had to do odd jobs to get by. Thanks to donations from Yoko Ono, some friends, and the charity Sweet Relief, he got a proper place to live in and some money for medical expenses.
Of course, people ask ‘Why weren’t you more careful?’ Here’s what Lester Chambers had to say about that in an interview with Vice:
“When you’re a young group, you listen to people say: “We’re going to make it better.” And that never works, because if they were going to make it better they woulda made it better. Young musicians are still caught in the same situation ‘cos they wanna be heard. God knows, The Chambers Brothers were not the only ones. And some of them have come forward and some of them haven’t. When you’re told: “Go get a lawyer,” and they know upfront that you really can’t afford a big business lawyer to do this for you, you’re caught between first and second base.”
Common people are really at a disadvantage from the get go. Big corporations can afford a dream team of lawyers. How can you go up against them just representing yourself? Even if you’re really smart, you don’t know all the legal loopholes and jargon. So that’s why “just sue them” doesn’t work. You need money up front to pay the lawyer.
Lester Chambers is not alone. In the interview he said he knew a lot of musicians who were in the same position as him. He also said that he saw what managers would get for screwing over their clients: mansions, luxury cars, fancy dinners. Another quote:
“I know this one artist, he’s been singing, singing, and singing every year. He has more successful Christmas albums than anyone else I know. He’s still paying off his house. He started when he was 18, and this home was one of the first things he bought, but he’s still paying for it 50 years later. How is that right?”
8. The Runaways – Their manager was allegedly a predator, according to members Micki Steele and Jackie Fox
Trigger Warning: Discussion of rape and sexual harassment.
The Runaways were an all girl rock band that launched the careers of Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, and Micki Steele. They were all teenagers when they joined the band. They were all discovered by either Kim Fowley or Rodney Bingenheimer at clubs on the Sunset Strip. Then the band were put together.
They ended up getting a lot of success opening for bands like Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Talking Heads, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and The Ramones. Each band member had an idol: Cherie Currie looked up to David Bowie, Joan Jett looked up to Suzi Quatro, Lita Ford was inspired by Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore, Sandy West liked Roger Taylor, and Jackie Fox looked up to Gene Simmons.
The group were especially popular in Japan, where adoring fans would greet them at the airport. It felt like Beatlemania. However, this trip to Japan was far from smooth because their manager, Kim Fowley’s alleged predatory behaviour.
Sometime in the mid 70s, Kim Fowley put out this creepy personal ad saying that he’s looking for a teenage girl with blonde hair and blue eyes or a busty brunette to be his girlfriend. He was on the hunt for vulnerable teenage girls. That ad got no responses, which isn’t surprising. But here are some questions: Who approved this ad to be published? Why wasn’t this guy reported to the police?
Not only that, but a guitarist who worked with him named Steve Tetsch said that they would drive by high schools to find girls to hit on. Kim Fowley was basically the R. Kelly of the 70s. He marketed The Runaways as hard rock jailbait.
There were two alleged incidents with members of The Runaways, but there are other women who have come forward with their stories of Kim Fowley. Kari Krome, a teenage songwriter, even warned Joan Jett and Sandy West about Kim Fowley, saying he assaulted her. They didn’t believe her though.
Jackie Fox claimed that after a show, she went to a party at a motel and a man who she believed to be a roadie forced her to take Quaaludes and once she fell onto a bed to rest, Kim Fowley raped her. She couldn’t move or speak because of the drugs. People at the party were watching and didn’t do anything about it. The last thing Jackie Fox remembered that night was Cherie Currie and Joan Jett staring at her.
Everyone was quiet about what happened and Jackie knew the police would treat her poorly. Cherie Currie even claims that Kim Fowley would pit the band members against each other so he could control them more easily. Victory Tischler-Blue, who replaced Jackie Fox, claimed that the band members would make light of what happened to Jackie.
Even after that trauma, she continued as a member of the band, but left the band during their first tour of Japan. Her beloved $1,600 1965 Gibson Thunderbird broke because of a weak stand and she was done with the band. She called her mum and said she wanted to go home. It’s no wonder she wanted nothing to do with The Runaways biopic and never played in a band again.
The other band member who came forward about Kim Fowley’s abuse was Micki Steele. She claims that she was fired from the band after turning down Kim Fowley’s sexual advances. There was a clear power imbalance. He was much older and was the band’s manager. This is sexual harassment.
9. Billy Joel – Sued manager and lawyer for $90 million
Billy Joel is one of the best selling musicians of all time, but even he got scammed by his manager. In the 80s, he found that his manager and former brother in law, Frank Weber, stole $30 million of his earnings and took him to court, suing him for that plus $60 million in damages. Then, Weber filed for bankruptcy to get out of paying him all that and they settled out of court.
The lawsuits didn’t end there, he sued his lawyer, Allen Grubman, for $90 million, claiming that he committed fraud and breach of contract. He defrauded him by making secret deals with Frank Weber and if the law firm let him know what was going on, maybe he wouldn’t have lost tens of millions of dollars. Once again, he settled out of court.
He wrote “The Great Wall of China” about Weber.
10. Florence Ballard – Died just as she was trying to make a comeback
Trigger warning: Discussion of rape
All three original Supremes lived in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects. Florence Ballard met Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, wanting to sing in their group The Primes. The Primes’ manager instead decided to create a sister group called The Primettes, which later became The Supremes.
Before The Supremes were famous, Florence Ballard was raped at knife point after leaving a sock hop and accepting a ride from home from a man she thought was a basketball player at her school. After the traumatic incident, she hid from her friends and bandmates and her personality markedly changed. Mary Wilson believes that the reason Florence Ballard starting abusing alcohol was to deal with the trauma.
Smokey Robinson helped them get an audition at Motown and at first they were told they were too young, but they were persistent and kept practising and convinced Berry Gordy to do hand claps in the background of songs. After a couple of years, they started releasing albums and songs, but they found big success in 1964.
Florence Ballard was one of the founding members of The Supremes, one of the most successful Motown groups. She was there during the group’s most successful years singing backup vocals on hits like “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In The Name of Love”, “Back in My Arms Again”, “I Hear A Symphony”, “You Can’t Hurry Love”, and “You Keep Me Hanging On”. The Supremes were incredibly popular around the world and toured everywhere.
She stayed with the group until 1967. She was unhappy with the dynamic of the group because Berry Gordy was paying attention to Diana Ross and ignoring her. Diana Ross was seen as the one with the most commercial pop friendly voice. Florence Ballard became depressed and turned to alcohol. She started fighting with Diana Ross and Mary Wilson and missed performances and recording sessions. Her last performance with The Supremes was at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. She had a bit too much to drink before the performance and acted out. She was done with how Berry Gordy treated her. She was fat shamed because she wasn’t as skinny as Diana Ross, who was actually anorexic.
She got married in 1968 and started negotiating with Motown to be released from the label and be paid royalties. Her attorney was given a one time payment of $139,804.94 for royalties and earnings. As part of the settlement, she couldn’t use the fact that she used to be in the Supremes for marketing her solo music. Her solo career was a flop.
In 1971, she took Motown to court for additional royalty payments, but she lost. Her home was foreclosed and she had to move in with her sister. She was offered to sing again with The Supremes. She was on welfare for a time and just as things were starting to turn around and she was starting to recover, she died from cardiac arrest caused by a coronary thrombosis.
She wanted to write an autobiography exposing what happened at Motown and to release comeback music. She was known for her powerful voice, so powerful she had to stand far from the microphone. She put together The Supremes and chose the group’s name. This video tells her story. In this interview in 1975, she spoke about how she was treated by Berry Gordy.
11. Marvin Gaye – Forced to shelve What’s Going On follow up, You’re The Man because of politics.
Marvin Gaye was one of the most successful and best known Motown musicians. In 1971, he signed a million dollar contract with the label, which was the most lucrative deal a black musician signed. However, he had his differences with Berry Gordy.
Marvin Gaye’s best known album is What’s Going On. It was a political album that had songs that talked about race relations, poverty, the Vietnam War, the environment, and drug abuse.
Motown’s slogan at the time was “The Sound of Young America”. Motown was something young white and black Americans can unite over. Great music. The label, however, was run like a factory: an assembly line making hit after hit after hit week after week. Berry Gordy’s approach was golden ears, iron fist. If it didn’t fit the mould, it wasn’t released, full stop.
To appeal to the broadest possible audience, Berry Gordy was careful not to have political lyrics. Instead, safe love songs were the way to go. But in 1970, Motown took a chance with “War” and “Ball of Confusion”, both of which were successes.
The political, What’s Going On, has a legacy of being one of the best albums ever made, best Motown album, and was the fastest selling Motown album, but like a lot of songs and albums that are considered masterpieces, there were critics who didn’t like it. In fact, the album was almost not released.
Berry Gordy thought the title track was the worst thing he’d ever heard and didn’t live up to the record label’s slogan. He thought it would tank Marvin Gaye’s career. Motown’s Quality Control department agreed with Gordy, but there was a dissenting voice among the Motown Execs, that man was Harry Balk. He sent 100,000 copies of the single to record stores without Berry Gordy’s knowledge and they sold like hot cakes. So it goes to show you that the big guys at the top don’t always know what they’re talking about. They’re not infallible.
Because of the success of “What’s Going On”, Berry Gordy let Marvin Gaye have creative freedom and told him to finish the album in 30 days. Marvin Gaye finished it in 10. The album flows so beautifully like the Abbey Road Medley.
The problem came with the planned follow up. Marvin Gaye wanted to do another political album as a follow up to What’s Going On. This time, it was based on the 1972 presidential election, him being hounded by the government for failure to pay back taxes, and feeling that the government wasn’t looking out for the citizens’ best interests. Marvin Gaye didn’t have much trust in the government and felt that no one would right the wrongs of Nixon and make positive changes.
Marvin Gaye and Berry Gordy didn’t see eye to eye on politics. Marvin Gaye didn’t trust the government, and Berry Gordy didn’t want to rock the boat and wanted to keep up this respectable image. The reason Berry Gordy thought like this makes sense. Being black in America in the 60s was hard. He wanted to make music for whites, blacks, Jews, and gentiles. Motown musicians were expected to look and act respectable for marketability. It was about breaking barriers through assimilation, not being radical and outspoken. Whether you agree with Gordy’s approach or not, it worked. Motown influenced rock musicians. Rock musicians covered Motown songs. Motown musicians covered rock and pop songs.
Like with the previous album, Marvin Gaye released the title track as a single, but this time they had even more fights and as a result, Berry Gordy refused to promote it properly. You can have a great song, but if it’s not marketed properly, it’s not going to achieve the success that it could have if it were marketed well. Still, it reached #7 on the R&B charts and #50 on the pop charts. The album sat on a shelf unreleased until 2019.
What Fred Hampton said about capitalism is true. “You don’t fight capitalism with black capitalism.” It wasn’t just white record label owners screwing over black musicians, black record label owners screwed over black musicians too. Many Motown artists felt like they weren’t given the credit they deserved, underpaid, not invested in or given proper attention, or given bad deals. The way record labels are run is capitalism. The boss pays you as little as they can get away with.
12. The Drifters – Splinter and Imposter Group Drama/Truth in Music Advertising
1950s R&B/doo-wop groups had it pretty bad, especially The Drifters – who released music throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The singers were not paid well and they didn’t own the group name, just George Treadwell did (when he died, his wife, Faye inherited the name). Members would quit out of frustration because of low salaries and burnout. Bill Pinkney was fired after asking Treadwell for a raise.
You thought Yes had a crazy history with 19 members and 26 different lineups in 50 years, well The Drifters had 60 vocalists and 39 different lineups in just the Treadwell line, not counting all the different splinter groups. Now this is where we start to have problems – the splinter groups.
A band name distinguishes you from the rest. Many a band or musician had to change their names because they didn’t want to get confused with another group or person of the same name. David Bowie used to be David Jones, but Davy Jones of the Monkees got famous first. In the end though, it all worked out for Bowie.
Band names are part of marketing and can be trademarked. Trademarks are tricky because they’re not worldwide. You can have a name trademarked in one country or part of the world, and not another: which is why Penneys is called Primark outside of Ireland, TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx in Europe, why Burger King is Hungry Jack’s in Australia, Pizza Express is called Milano in Ireland, and why the US and Australia have shops called Target that look similar but aren’t affiliated.
For a music example, The Manfreds can’t use the name “Manfred Mann” because Manfred Mann himself is not in the group and his name is used for Earth Band, who he still tours with – much credit to him – turning 80 this year and still touring!
Pete Best released an album called Best of The Beatles, however, this was allowed because his last name is Best and he was in The Beatles. Clever! A Savage move indeed (album was released on Savage Records).
Cliff Richard and The Shadows were originally called Cliff Richard and The Drifters, but they had to change their name because of legal action when they released their music in the US.
Back to The Drifters. The problem with being in a group is you’re known as a piece of that puzzle, not necessarily as your own person with a name and if you leave the group, how do you market yourself? Nobody knows your name. Using the band’s name, right? But what if you can’t use the name? You’re screwed. And with a band like The Drifters that had so many members, everyone felt like they were a real Drifter, so here come the splinter groups: The Original Drifters/Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters, Drifters featuring Dock Green, Charlie Thomas’s Drifters, Drifters UK, Don Thomas and The Drifters Revue, and more.
The existence of these splinter groups with similar names confuses fans. People think they’re seeing one group, but really they’re seeing imposters making a quick buck off a name. And that’s where The Truth in Music Advertising laws came from.
In the 70s, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of Sha Na Na had a TV show named after the band and he would have musicians come on the show. After talking to Carl Gardner of The Coasters and Charlie Thomas of The Drifters, he found out that they were victimised by imposter groups using their band name without a band member being in that group, even with a trademark. Other musicians like Ben E. King of The Drifters and Herb Reed of The Platters said that they were victimised as well, having to deal with so many court cases and lost income.
The guy behind a lot of these fake groups is a man named Larry Marshak, founder and editor of Rock Magazine and Long Island businessman. He found Dock Green, Charlie Thomas, and Elsbeary Hobbs and marketed them as The Drifters, despite them not being in the band. The legal battle between Marshak and Treadwell was long and international, with lawsuits in the US and UK.
Jon Bauman looked into it and found that there wasn’t much protection for musicians. How they do it is they cast one old looking person in the fake group so people are tricked into thinking that’s the “real one”. If they have a lot of money behind them, they can leave the original artists tied up with legal fees and bankrupt them. Many of those victimised have been victimised by the industry their whole lives. The good news is that in most US states, Truth in Music Advertising laws have been passed. If there’s no member of the band in the group, you’ll have to call it a tribute to the band with “tribute” in big letters.
13. Tom Petty – Needed to come up with a plan to get out of a bad record deal
Towards the end of the 70s, Tom Petty had two successful albums under his belt: Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and You’re Gonna Get It!, but not a lot to show for it. He didn’t like how the record label was treating him, so he needed to find a way out. He decided that he was going to record the next album on his own dime and not allow the record label to release it. A bold move! The timing worked out because the record label was being sold. He ended up $500,000 in debt, but in the end, he got a new deal and that album that wasn’t released yet was released in 1979, Damn The Torpedoes. The album ended up going double platinum, but his problems with the label didn’t stop there. MCA Records wanted to sell his album Hard Promises for $10, which was a dollar more than standard, and Tom Petty took a stand against that and told the label they need to lower it to the standard $9. He said that if he didn’t stand up for the fans, the record price could have doubled.
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[…] If you want to read about more musicians ripped off by the industry: You can read parts 2 and 3 here. […]
[…] If you want to find out about more musicians who were ripped off by the industry, you can read part 3 here. […]
[…] Who Got Screwed Over by managers and record labels (part 2) (part 3) (part […]
[…] over musicians. I’ve written a whole series about it which you can read here: (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). The question isn’t which musicians have been given a bad deal, it’s who hasn’t? […]
[…] 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 you’ll like […]
[…] Basically, music, like any of the arts, isn’t a get rich quick scheme and you can easily get screwed over, and in some cases, some rock stars may have to go back to day jobs. The Kinks wrote a whole […]
[…] 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 important work. Writing a book […]