[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Monday, April 12.]
It reads like a novel twin brother vs. twin brother in a battle
for property. There's agony. There's rock 'n' roll. And there's just one
name to go around: Gene Loves Jezebel.
"It's not very easy to copy what we do," an audibly frustrated Jay Aston,
the British goth-rock band's primary songwriter, said Wednesday from a
motel room outside San Francisco. The accused copycat? Aston's brother,
Michael, with whom he formed the band in 1980 and who then formed his
own, competing with Gene Loves Jezebel in 1996 after the two had a falling out.
The competition between the two bands has cost the original Gene Loves
Jezebel an average of $2,000 per night in the United States due to
booking agents' confusion and fan uncertainty, Jay Aston said.
"It's a unique thing we have," he said. "The fact that people are walking
away with a different image of us just kills me."
Aston is not alone in his frustration. Many musicians, including founding
members of Bad Company and 1950s vocals group the Platters, have had
difficulty protecting their trademarks. Proposed federal legislation
that was introduced in the House of Representatives this week may give
them some relief.
The Truth In Rock Act would amend existing trademark law by tripling the
financial penalties for misusing band names and by making it easier for
performers to sue over the inappropriate use of their trademarks. It also
would allow former members of groups to legally bill themselves as just
that without fear of litigation.
"I knew the time was right to do this," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio,
the former mayor of Cleveland who along with Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga.,
wrote the bill. "People are astonished to find out what exactly is going
The name games Kucinich's bill targets are abundant and often chaotic.
Earlier this decade at a festival in Canada, Danny and the Juniors, who
became famous in the late 1950s for their single "At the Hop"
excerpt), apparently opened for themselves, according to original group
member Joe Terry. Terry said he and bandmate Frank Maffei have been
chasing impostors in Boston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles for years.
"It creates a tremendous problem," Terry, 59, said. "It dilutes the
industry for our bands. It confuses the public."
Terry's Danny and the Juniors used to play 250 shows per year. Over the
past decade that number has shrunk to 100.
Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., this week is advertising a triple
bill featuring 1950s vocals groups the Drifters, the Platters and the
Coasters. That may sound lofty, but none of the onstage performers are
originals, according to Joyce Moore, an artist manager who is among the
chief proponents of the bill's passage. Instead, they all are singers
hired to perform those groups' most famous selections.
The manager for those acts, a Brooklyn-based promoter named Lawrence
Marshak, raised the ire of Moore and Terry. Marshak, they said, established
business relationships with former members of the original groups and
the members' widows, and then parlayed that into a less-than-forthright
franchise. Terry said Marshak employs 24 separate sets of phony Coasters,
Drifters and Platters.
"There's only so many jobs out there for groups of this genre," Moore
said. "It's quite frightening. [Impostor bands] have lowered the pay
Marshak did not return numerous phone messages seeking comment.
Moore has a vested interest in the issue. Her husband, Sam Moore, was
half of Sam and Dave, the soul duo that scored a top-five hit with "Soul
Man" in 1967. When Dave Prater, who was killed in a car accident in 1988,
decided in the mid-1970s to tour as Sam and Dave without Moore's
permission, a decade-long legal battle began. The subsequent
legal bills cost the Moores their Southern California home. They now
live in the relatively modest surroundings of Scottsdale, Ariz.
The trademark battles between bandmates extend beyond the acts that
defined early rock 'n' roll. Bad Company, the 1970s arena rock band whose
songs such as "Bad Company" (RealAudio
excerpt) and "Feel Like Makin' Love" (RealAudio
excerpt) are staples of classic rock radio, are enduring a
headache of their own.
On April 16, according to the Orlando Sentinel, Bad Company are
scheduled to play the House of Blues in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The next
month, on May 21, Bad Company are to play Orlando's Hard Rock Cafe. The
same band in the same market 35 days apart?
Actually, former Bad Company lead singer Brian Howe is set to play the
House of Blues, while the original Bad Company, which includes founder
Paul Rodgers, play the Hard Rock.
Fran Miller, an attorney who represents the band, said Howe has not lived
up to a 1994 agreement with bandmembers Simon Kirke and Mick Ralphs to
bill himself only as the group's former singer. Vincent Wolanin, Howe's
manager, said Ralphs and Kirke are jealous of Howe's ability to maintain
his career and that Howe has never willfully billed himself as anything
other than Brian Howe.
Rodgers seemed to blame himself. "I should have never let it go," said
Rodgers, the original owner of the Bad Company trademark. "They've
created their own monster here. And I seem to have inherited the situation."
When Bad Company disbanded in 1982, Rodgers allowed Atlantic Records to
use the trademark, which came into play in 1986 when the band re-formed
with Howe as singer.
The Truth In Rock Act may or may not prove to be the elixir that Bad
Company are looking for, but Kucinich said it is designed with the
interests of fans in mind.
Marshak has been quoted in other publications as saying fans don't care
if performers are genuine or not. Kucinich said his constituents in the
neighborhood around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame disagree with Marshak.
The bill is being considered now by the House's Subcommittee on Intellectual
Property and could be voted on by the entire House by the end of the year.
In some sense, Herb Reed, who founded the Platters in 1953, is already
approaching closure on a 30-year chapter of fights over the Platters'
name with former groupmates and managers. Last week the federal Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that Reed held exclusive
rights to the band trademark. The court, according to Reed, decided that
since Reed never left the group, the name is his to protect.
Reed still performs and is preparing to file a lawsuit seeking an
injunction against Marshak. He expressed hope that one day he would
again play Harrah's Casino and be clear of the 18 impostor-Platters
groups he said exist.
"It infuriates you," he said. "It's like bottling yourself and calling