Gourds Encounter Phishy Situation With Napster

Alt-country group's cover of rap song mislabeled on controversial trading software.

NASHVILLE — It's strange enough that alt-country outfit the

Gourds covered a

COLOR="#003163">Snoop Dogg tune. But now they're at the

center of what appears to be the first case of widespread mistaken

identity on the popular online shareware program Napster, with their

version of "Gin & Juice" mislabeled as a performance by jam band

Phish.

The Austin, Texas, group recorded "Gin & Juice" for Go Gitcher

Shinebox, an album that was released on the now-bankrupt Austin

label Watermelon Records. The disc was available on the Web and remains

on CDNow.

"My little sister played this song for me years ago," explained Gourds

member Kevin Russell. "I loved it

all along, but it took me a while to find a way to play it in my own

way. Rap is the last true folk music of the 20th century, a hundred-year span of American music that has reshaped the entire Western culture. So, 'Gin & Juice' fits right in with my love of American folk music from Leadbelly to Snoop Dogg."

It is unclear how the mislabeling occurred on the MP3-trading software

network. One Web story has it that Snoop Dogg was supposedly joined by

Dr. Dre and a hip-hop artist named

Phish on his version of the cut,

perhaps leading to the false Phish identification.

But Russell offers another possibility. "Some dimwit must have just

gotten some Phish [bootleg music], and maybe [our song] was tacked on to the end and not labeled correctly. I would love to know who that person was and why they did this."

Although management sources for Phish said they had not heard of the

song or its situation on Napster, the two groups do share an overlapping fanbase and style. Renowned dobroist Jerry Douglas and banjo player Bela Fleck play on Phish's latest studio album, Farmhouse.

A System Kink

"Gin & Juice" soon will be available under the Gourds' name as well, but

the labeling issue on Napster and its future implications continue to

resonate. "I have not heard of any other mistakes, but just the fact

that it can happen suggests a lack of integrity that could eventually

undermine this system as a tool for unknown or regional bands," Russell

said.

Napster is a free software program that links its users online, allowing them to search for and download free near-CD-quality MP3 music files directly from one another.

When a user fires up the Napster software while connected to the

Internet, computers at the company's headquarters in San Mateo, Calif.,

automatically look at the MP3s on that person's hard drive. By default,

Napster then makes those MP3s available to other users.

Because it relies on users to provide the files and their titles and

information, error is almost built into the system.

Artists are fast choosing sides on the debate surrounding Napster.

Metallica, Dr. Dre and the Recording Industry Association of America have filed lawsuits against Napster Inc., charging that the company's program enables copyright

infringement. Meanwhile, Limp Bizkit is partnering with Napster to sponsor their free tour with

COLOR="#003163">Cypress Hill.

Smaller Artists View Software Differently

But royalties are not an issue to Russell. "I don't really care if

Metallica or any major-label artist gets paid more money than they

already have been paid. In the end, most bands worth their salt are

making a living playing clubs and driving in Ford vans all over this

great land. Selling records is good, but it will never be our bread and

butter."

Russell's comment begs the question of whether lost royalties are

balanced by heightened exposure for regional or unknown artists.

Alt-country singer/songwriter Todd

Snider, who just released Happy to Be Here on

Nashville's Oh Boy label, claimed he would be flattered if "anyone

wanted to take 10 minutes out of their day to steal one of my songs."

"Gin & Juice" will be available on the Gourds' upcoming Sugar Hill

release, Bolsa De Agua, due Sept. 26. "We have a new arsenal of

songs, some originals and some cool new covers," Russell said.

Additionally, Sugar Hill will re-release the entire Gourds catalog so

fans will be able to hear the vaulted Watermelon effort. The band also

plans to tour Europe and the United States for the next year.