A friend of mine recently sent me an interesting item about a legal brouhaha that's simmering between the members of the J Geils Band and the man who once loaned his name to the group, John Geils himself. It seems that the band has become estranged from Mr. Geils in recent years, and -- still seeking a way to extend their livelihood -- have opted to go out on tour under their old banner.
Naturally, Mr. Geils is taking them to court, contending that it's his name after all, and no one should have the right to use it other than him. It presents an interesting dilemma. Can one legally retain the rights to his or her own name even though it was originally patented as a separate brand. And who has the right to profit from it when that original union no longer exists?
I took an interest in the case because in my former incarnation as a record company rep, I hung out with the J Geils Band when they were on our sister label, EMI. They even managed a couple of hits at that late juncture in their career, giving them a final hurrah courtesy of the songs "Centerfold" and "Love Stinks." But more than that, I was intrigued because this sort of thing happens all too often when musicians try to cash in on former glories. The Platters, an old '50s doo-wop group famously hit the road in several different incarnations simultaneously, each of them claiming rights to the Platters name.
In the early '90s, three mainstays of the Byrds -- Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman -- had to bury their animosity and reform to stake their claim to the band's handle after Michael Clarke, their drummer - their drummer -- gathered an entirely new group of musicians and went out on the road claiming to be the Byrds. Even now, it's possible to go to a concert by the Temptations, even though only one original member of the fabled Motown quintet is still active and leading a group that was mostly recruited in the last decade or so.
In my own experience, the most absurd example of how a brand can be exploited to an extreme occurred when my wife and I went to see a concert by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Of course, this is when the stage show Jersey Boys was all the rage and Frankie saw ample opportunity to cash in. However it wasn't enough that he should headline under his own name. He had assembled a new version of the Four Seasons and made no distinction between the new group, who were clearly all in their mid-twenties. The original outfit, which had accompanied him in his original rise to stardom, were naturally now well advanced in senior citizen status. C'mon Frankie, I said to myself and anyone willing to listen. Who are you trying to fool?
Of course the list of bands that have absconded with their original handle in the years long past their prime is too numerous to mention, but also all too obvious. We saw Herman's Hermits a few years back and there was Peter Noone, AKA Herman, looking as delightfully chipper as ever while he retooled those delightful '60s hits -- "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter," I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am," "I'm Into Something Good," and the like. But there behind him was a group of Hermits that likely weren't even born when those hits first streamed from our transistor radios.
Just recently, I encountered the same sort of disparity when I interviewed the new lead singer of Foreigner, one of several members of the band who came onboard late in the group's career at the behest of its founder, guitarist Mick Jones, and subsequently proceeded to usurp the entire original lineup. I also remember several years ago when I did PR for KC and the Sunshine Band (which also boasted no original members save KC himself), and their business manager, the late Mel Haber, told me that he was reforming Menudo. With none of the original members of course. Apparently, no one put a call in to Ricky Martin.
Then again, we're talking about Menudo. Like really, would anyone care?
Probably not, but the number of bands basing their branding on only one or two original members really counters the whole notion of truth in advertising. Creedence Clearwater Revival ignores the fact that John Fogerty's no long at the helm and tweaks their name to read Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Journey and Yes find new singers via YouTube and carry on like nothing's changed. HippieFest tours hit the road with singers sans bands, per the Grassroots and the Turtles. Even we Floridians boast some bogus combos. Drummer Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad and a resident of Boca Raton, recruits bassist Mel Schacher and tours as Grand Funk without frontman Mark Farner.
So here's my advice: beware of imitation and remember this axiom: It's called rock not schlock.