Tag Archives: Music

Your Legislature at Work

From yesterday’s Dispatch:

Back in the days when Under the Boardwalk, Back Stabbers and Yakety Yak hit the airwaves, the groups who sang them — the Drifters, the O’Jays and the Coasters — were faceless voices spilling out of the radio.

But when the nostalgia craze for ’50s, ’60s and ’70s music developed in recent years, hundreds of musical groups hit the concert, festival and fair circuit. Some of today’s touring groups contain original band members, but many don’t.

Most concertgoers don’t know the difference. But many of the original artists sit idle at home, or have gone broke pursuing lawsuits against knock-off bands that profit from their hard-earned musical reputations.

…The Ohio General Assembly stepped into the spotlight yesterday, as the Senate unanimously passed the “Truth in Music Act.” The legislation, which has been approved in two dozen other states, would require performing musical acts to have at least one original band member in order to use the original band’s name.

In other words, there must be at least one original Drifter on stage, or the group can’t be called the Drifters.

“False, deceptive or misleading” advertising and performances could constitute separate violations, each punishable by a civil penalty of $5,000 up to $15,000.

Seriously? This is going to be a law?

Note that the Dispatch article goes on to quote one of the founding members of the Coasters and Bowzer from Sha Na Na, itself a revival/cover group, both in support of the measure. The article doesn’t, however, mention any actual examples, local or otherwise, of this problem.

I suppose that I’m greeting this thing with more bemusement than anything, since I would tend to agree that seeing a “fake” group is something of a ripoff — but, y’know, that’s what federal trademark law is already there for, isn’t it? It doesn’t really address who “owns” the name — the fact that someone has adopted the name of a band decades after the original went defunct and performs the same music would seem to support the idea that there’s a “brand”, but there wouldn’t be any market confusion, only that the participating parties had changed, right?

Thanks to the internets, here’s a portion of what Wikipedia has to say about the Coasters:

Several groups used the name in the 1970s, touring throughout the country, though Carl Gardner, one of the original Coasters, held the legal rights to it. Gardner continued to tour with the Coasters and has made many attempts to stop bogus groups with no connection to the original group from using the name. In late 2005 Carl’s son Carl Gardner, Jr. took over as lead with the group, when his father retired. The Coasters of 2008: Carl Gardner Jr, Ronnie Bright, Alvin Morse, J.W. Lance, and Thomas Palmer (gtr), with Gardner Sr as coach. [[1]]

As of 2007, all of the other original group members, except Leon Hughes, have either died or retired. Some of the former members suffered tragic ends. Saxophonist and “fifth Coaster” King Curtis was stabbed to death by two junkies outside his apartment building in 1971. Cornelius Gunter was shot to death while sitting in a Las Vegas parking garage in 1990. Nate Wilson, a member of one of Gunter’s offshoot Coasters groups, was shot and his body dismembered in 1980. [2]

Don’t get me wrong. The Coasters were a tremendously important part of rock ‘n roll history and I frankly think the original members should be treated like royalty. But:

1) The Coasters, like many of the “classic” groups I suspect this law is aimed at protecting, were only performing someone else’s material. They didn’t write their own songs — Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller did. At best, the Coasters can lay claim only to their own interpretations of the music itself.

2) If I read this right, Gardner is the only original member of the Coasters left who’s trying to actively make money from the Coasters , only he’s not even in the group, he’s the “coach” — meaning that there are no original members of the group performing. Wouldn’t that be just as problematic under the new law as an “impostor” group? Where’s the line between “these guys were never in the group originally but have the blessing of someone who was ” and “these guys were never in the group originally”? The whims of an aging musician determine whether the state gets to fine someone up to $15,000? I call shenanigans.

3) Take this a step further. The Coasters, like many other musical groups over the last fifty years, have had a constantly rotating membership. Who’s “original” in that scenario? Do they have to appear on the record in order to sing the song? What if they didn’t record it but toured with the group in the 50s, or 60s, or 70s?

I have thought about this way too much, now, but I’m gonna wager I’ve spent more time on it here than anyone in the Ohio Senate, and this only took about twenty minutes. This is really one of the worst cases of “shouldn’t there be a law…?” that I’ve ever seen. The answer is that there probably shouldn’t.