Local Rhythms – More Reasons to Hate the Music Biz


pageopensnyse.jpgVail, Colorado – I know, that’s a strange dateline for a local music column. However, recent news from the Rocky Mountain State is hitting close to home.

In yet another example of a music business utterly bereft of new ideas, the members of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen are suing the owner of Vail’s 8150 nightclub for hiring bands that play cover versions of their material. They’re looking for more than $30,000 per song in damages.

Publishing organizations like ASCAP and BMI earn their money enforcing copyrights. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this is ridiculous. Worse than that, it’s counterproductive – at least where the musicians are concerned.

There’s a story of Paul McCartney seeing Jimi Hendrix play a teeth-rattling version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in a London club, two days after that album was released.

I doubt Sir Paul was thinking about a performance fee that night.

Yet here are Jimmy Page and Robert Plant doing just that. These are the same guys who tried to rip off Howlin’ Wolf on their second album, by renaming his “Killing Floor” as “The Lemon Song” and trying to pass it off as an original. They were sued, and lost.

Van Halen is just a bad Xerox of Led Zeppelin, a band who spent the years before their big break playing – you guessed it – cover songs in L.A. nightclubs. I’m sure they were diligent about paying Roy Orbison every time they played “Oh Pretty Woman.”

Can’t they make nice long enough to complete a cash-grabbing tour like the Police? It makes absolutely no sense to risk losing their biggest fans (you know, the ones so dedicated they learn all of your songs, note for note).

But the reasons for this are sadly obvious. Neither band has made an even semi-interesting piece of new music in over 25 years. Like everyone else in the industry, they’re reduced to repackaging old work to milk past glory. It’s no longer music; it’s an annuity plan.

They should follow Eric Clapton’s cue; grateful for the success that “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” brought him, he made a record with J.J. Cale last year – a class act.

[A follow-up AlgoRhythms post to the 8150 lawsuit]

Who’s making music this weekend?

Thursday: The Wailin’ Jennys, St. Anselm College – A more rustic Dixie Chicks, this band has won several awards in their native Canada. Sweet three-part harmonies lift their bright, natural sound, which begs a question. Why does so much great Americana music come from north of the border? The Lovell Sisters, winners of a recent “Prairie Home Companion” talent search, open the show.

Friday: Have Blues Will Travel, Salt Hill 2 – Last week I talked about plans for Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day eve. Now comes word of music every Friday and Saturday in Newport’s newest restaurant. Tonight, it’s a well-regarded duo playing traditional, harp-sweetened blues. Tomorrow brings R&B, with Mike Benoit and Jimmy Ruffing. In the coming weeks the Eagle Block eatery welcomes stripped down pop (Rich Thomas & Wally Wysk 3/10) , bluegrass (Spare Change 3/24) and, obviously, Irish sounds. Great news!

Saturday: Chris Whitley Memorial Celebration, Boccelli’s – The hard-living Whitley left us in 2005, but his music continues to inspire. Jeff Lang, who recorded with Chris on “Dislocation Blues,” due for release this month on Rounder, headlines the show. Dan Whitley played an incendiary set at last year’s Roots on the River festival; once again he’s back for this, the second annual tribute to his late brother. Josh Maiocco hosts, Melissa Sheehan also performs.

Sunday: Fogey Mountain Boys, Canoe Club – Authentic bluegrass from a group of locals who love to play it. Since we’re on the subject of royalty fees, I wonder if Woody Guthrie lurked around campfires waiting for someone to play “This Land Is Your Land”? It’s doubtful, and these days all his stuff’s in the public domain. Since it’s Sunday, the Boys play for 3 hours. Sit close if you want to really enjoy the music.

Monday: Gaelic Storm, Iron Horse – This wonderful Irish quintet starts March in style with a long run through the region. They were in New London Tuesday, and play the Capitol in Concord tonight and Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall tomorrow. They have a neo-traditional sound that fits everywhere from the Dublin (Ohio) Irish Festival to the House of Blues (where they recorded a recent live DVD).

Tuesday: Open Mike with Josh Maiocco, PK’s Public House – Josh took the reins from Ezra Veitch last year for this Bellows Falls tradition, and he’s holding things down nicely. Anyone who wants to play can step up to the microphone and join in, but you should be aware that your friends and neighbors may be listening at home on WOOL-FM, which broadcasts everything live.



8 thoughts on “Local Rhythms – More Reasons to Hate the Music Biz

  1. Let me see if I understand your thinking – Led Zeppelin were sued and rightfully lost because they used lyrics from a blues song written by someone else (although anyone who can’t distinguish between Howlin’ Wolf and Led Zeppelin should probably have their hearing examined). However, all others that came behind them should be able to play any Zeppelin song, note for note and word for word, without so much as a howdy-do? That’s an odd argument.

    At any rate, you demonstrate a certain immaturity and a lack of understanding of the music business by making it seem that the members of the groups in question are suing the performers who played at 8150. They are not – the CLUB is being sued, because it is required to pay a fee to let bands perform songs written by Zeppelin, Van Halen, Howlin’ Wolf, or anyone else who has rights to their own music. I’m no lawyer, but I’m sure if these groups didn’t occasionally go out inand hold businessmen who know better responsible for not paying to use copyrighted material, they would lose the rights to their work. Such prudent self-defense seems to be fine by you if it’s Howlin’ Wolf, but pisses you off if it’s Robert Plant. Or do you believe that the owner of 8150, who advertises his club as “Vail’s largest live music venue” is simply too stupid to have ever heard of ASCAP or BMI? If he played this stuff over loud speakers for profit, he’d have to pay Zeppelin and Van Halen just the same. He’s not just playing it on his iPod for personal enjoyment, you see.

    Hey, nice pic of a Jimmy Page, behaving like a grown up. You might aspire to join him some day.

  2. Nice rant, but I’m still intrigued at how these lawsuits only began to crop up when dinosaur classic rock bands ran out of original ideas.

    Jimmy Page opening the New York Stock Exchange was, I’m sure, every groupie’s wet dream while they listened to D’Yer Maker.

    I know the law’s the law, and “artists” like Page & Plant are legally entitled to recompense for their “work.” But in my naive rock and roll dreams, music isn’t a commodity, rock stars don’t whore themselves to Ameriquest, and bands that do it out of love get a pass on paying their rich heroes for any more than records or sheet music.

  3. Interesting to see both sides of the coin…I’m with Michael in one sense as I’m a bit of a rock and roll idealist thats in it for the art and self-expression. After-all, that’s what fuelled my interest and love for this common habbit of ours. And yes, these seemingly ruthless actions are percieved to undermine the spirit of what brought us (well, me and maybe Michael) to where we are now.

    But then, I also work for a London council and if rules are not enforced it does undermine the whole point in having them….if you let one thing slide, why shouldnt you let another slide…?and another….and another…or maybe all incidents of that kind..? It then seems clear to me that we would not have a chance to earn a living (…or try to earn a living…) doing what really makes us happy if the game isnt played. I would therefore put the blame on those businessmen who should know better (as Cathy describes). They are the people undermining what we love and bringing up that awkward topic of money in my opinion…

  4. I think you are absolutely insane to think that the members of Led Zeppelin or Van Halen have absolutely anything to do with this. You have fallen prey to a local newspaper using big names to attract attention to a club that is being fined over not getting the proper ASCAP license that is required for any venue that is going to play music, either live or recorded. I’m surprised that the author of the article did not mention every other band that ever recorded a song and has their rights governed by ASCAP. So mentioning the obvious perenial choices was the best bet. Certainly got your attention. Now get your facts straight before you make a further fool of yourself.

  5. From the Vail Daily:

    “Van Halen Music Company, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Patricia Bonham are all named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that Vail business owner Steven Kovacik allowed public performances of their songs at 8150, the lawsuit says. ”

    Sounds like the reporter read the document, Stiv – as should you.

  6. I can’t speak for ASCAP, but I do speak for BMI. When these copyright infringement suits are filed, the songwriters sometimes don’t even know about it. When a songwriter initially signs with BMI, it is agreed in contract that BMI will protect their right to receive compensation in the form of performance royalties. Naming the copyright owners in the formal complaint is just a legal necessity. Under copyright law, when you write a song, you have the exclusive right to perform that song publicly, including live and recorded performances. Those wanting to play your song must obtain permission in advance from the songwriter or his/her agent. This is nothing new; the law has been in place in one form or another for about a century in America, and even longer in Europe (BMI was founded in 1939, but the law already was in place). When BMI sues a club, that club owner has received dozens of phone calls and letters over a span of several months. The club owner has been given ample opportunity to license the music, but refused. BMI and ASCAP operate on a not-for-profit basis, so it’s inappropriate to rant about their non-existent corporate profits. BMI operates on just 13% of the total revenue it collects, and the rest is paid out to copyright owners. The purpose of these lawsuits is to compensate songwriters as they’re rightfully entitled by law. Please don’t blame the bands; you should focus your anger on the people who steal their right of songwriters to earn a living at their craft.

  7. Thanks Jerry,

    Now how about we attack the author of the article that baited Matthew so well ? I mean, we all know that Plant, Jones, Page, Pat Bonham , Eddie, David Lee are actively pursuing this one already!

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