Sunday, July 16, 2006

Plagerism Is The Most Sincere Form of Flattery

Lori Lieberman was a folk artist. She has transformed herself into a wonderful songwriter and recording artist.

She got her first big break and landed a recording deal with Capitol Records. Among the collection of songs was a simple folk song, detailing Lieberman's experience of sitting in the back of a nightclub, transfixed by the musician onstage who seemed to sing right through her. The musician was Don McClean.

Her album, simply titled, "Lori Lieberman", garnered both critical and audience appeal, and as it crept up the charts, it was Roberta Flack who heard Lieberman's version featured on an American Airlines music channel. She immediately contacted her producer, Joel Dorn, and recorded the now classic, Grammy award winning song,"Killing Me Softly".

Working alongside her producers, Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, Lieberman went on to record four more albums ("Becoming", "A Piece Of Time", "Straw Colored Girl", and "The Best Of Lori Lieberman"), touring extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Now if you go to download Roberta Flack’s recording of Killing Me Softly or purchase it at a music store, you will not find Lori Lieberman’s name as the song’s author. You will find the names of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel listed as authors. According to those in the know, Ms. Lieberman titled the song, “Killing Me Softly With His Blues.” If you research this further you will find it said that this song was based on a poem by Lori Lieberman.

The music industry is a huge carnivorous beast that eats it’s young. A new artist/songwriter that signs with a record label generally winds up assigning their songs copyrights to the label. Which is probably what Lieberman had to do to get her songs recorded. It’s not common knowledge, but the artist has to pay for the recording session. Generally this is paid for with a large advance that the record company gives to them. The record label manufacturers and distributes the product and the artist gets paid per diem for each unit sold. Out of that he or she has to pay back the advance money that they used to produce the recording. The way artists make money is through concerts. The Beach Boys are a great example of this. Here were a group of kids from the early 1960's that signed with Capitol Records. The father, Murray Wilson, had been in the music business and stepped in to take control of his sons business matters. Murray Wilson wound up giving up the rights to all of the Beach Boys early works to Capitol Records. It was years before those songs were sold back to the Beach Boys.

Here is another story about song works that were essentially stolen.

The Roulette Label was founded in late 1956 or early 1957 by record producer George Goldner and Joe Kolsky in New York City. Joe Kolsky was also a 50% owner of the George Goldner labels. Goldner was in business with nightclub owner Morris Levy. Morris Levy was installed as president of the new Roulette label. The partnership was short lived as Billboard announced on April 6, 1957, "(George) Goldner has sold his interests in the Roulette outright to the Morris Levy combine.

The initial issues for the Roulette label were the purchased masters of "Party Doll" and "I'm Sticking With You" by a Texas group known as the Rhythm Orchids, which were Buddy Knox (guitar), Jimmy Bowen (bass), Dave Alldred (drums), and Don Lanier (guitar). Originally, in 1956, the two songs were on flip sides of a local single the group put out in Dumas, Texas, with "Party Doll" billed as "Buddy Knox with the Orchids" and "I'm Stickin' With You" as by "Jim Bowen with the Orchids." When both sides of the single got airplay, Roulette purchased the masters and reissued the songs, but split the Triple-D single into two separate releases, "Party Doll"/"My Baby's Gone" by Buddy Knox, and "I'm Sticking With You"/"Ever Lovin' Fingers" by Jimmy Bowen. Both songs were hits ("Ever Lovin' Fingers" also charted) and Roulette was off to a good start. Buddy Knox had several more hits for Roulette. Jimmy Bowen had a couple of minor hits and later became a very successful producer, especially of country music.

Roulette also had substantial early success with Jimmie Rodgers, a folk-pop singer from Seattle. In 1957, Rodgers auditioned a song called "Honeycomb" for producers Hugo and Luigi. They recorded and released it, and it went to Number 1 in July, 1957. It was the only #1 record for Rodgers, but he did have six other top twenty sides for Roulette, including "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "Secretly," and "Oh-Oh, I'm Fallin' In Love Again."

Rodgers continued to record for Roulette until 1962 when he went to the Dot label. During the early 1960s, it is astonishing how many of the Roulette artists exited the label to the supposedly greener pastures of Dot - probably more than a dozen. Most of these artists had one or at most several albums for Roulette before joining Dot, but Jimmie Rodgers was the exception. He was an established chartmaker, and continued his success for Dot with several hits there. The dozen or so other artists who thought Dot would turn around their lack of chart success were mistaken; they didn't chart for Dot, either.

Roulette also recorded one of the last of the rock and roll pioneers, Ronnie Hawkins. Roulette recorded him in 1959, and he managed a minor hit with Chuck Berry's "Forty Days" (for some reason, Hawkins added ten days to Chuck's original "Thirty Days"). Ronnie Hawkins had several more hits on Roulette including "Mary Lou" (a remake of a Young Jesse song of a few years earlier) and the blues standard "Who Do You Love?". Hawkins was from Arkansas and had auditioned for Sun Records, but was rejected. He went to Canada, where he had considerable success as a stage performer and met several outstanding musicians who he employed as his band, the Hawks. The Hawks included drummer Levon Helm and guitarist Robbie Robertson, and also eventually included Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. The Hawks achieved even greater fame in 1965 when Bob Dylan asked them to back him on his first "electric" world tour. Of course, the Hawks later became known as "The Band," and became superstars on Capitol Records.

Roulette had a very strong jazz catalog, recording many of the jazz artists that played at the Morris Levy's Birdland nightclub. Roulette also acquired the catalog of the Roost label in August 1958, which had jazz artists Stan Getz, Johnny Smith, and Sonny Stitt.

Morris Levy ran the Roulette label from it's inception. He was born poor in the East Bronx, New York. He went into the nightclub business and eventually owned several big nightclubs in mid-town Manhattan. Levy was in business with disc jockey Alan Freed, and with Freed promoted the hugely successful Rock and Roll shows at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. Levy's real money came from publishing copyrights that accumulated into a vast fortune over the years. It was hardly a secret that Levy had many "silent partners" in the Mafia underworld. Levy claimed he was being harassed by the government and had numerous run-ins with the law because of his association with the Genovese family, but he avoided serious prosecution for many years. Levy's luck ran out in May 1988 when he was convicted on extortion charges and drew a ten-year sentence, but he remained free on bail after an appeal, and died of cancer in 1990.

The way that Levy made money from copyrights is by putting his name on every one of his company’s recordings as author of the song.

Although the artist was heard through record sales and radio play, their share of sales was split because the head of the recording company, Levy, took the lion’s share.
The advent of the internet is a blessing for songwriters and recording artists. Here is a platform on which they can offer their product, their songs for sale through downloads. Recording the music has also been made much easier with computer software or stand alone digital units that are as simple to operate as a tape recorder. All of the middle man work done by the record company can now be done by the artist. This enables them to be rewarded for their work.

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