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January 11, 2006

Put a stop to doo-wop imposters

Pittsburgh Post Gazette (PA):

Musical groups shouldn't call themselves The Platters unless they include some of the original tableware. That's the premise of a group of doo-woppers campaigning nationwide to stop imposter bands from passing themselves off to concert-goers as the real deal. The group is starting its crusade in Pennsylvania, where lawmakers are poised to authorize fines and injunctions to prevent performances by imposter bands that advertise false, deceptive or misleading affiliations with a recording group. "There's a two-fold problem. One is the identity theft of the artist and the second is consumer fraud, misleading the public. Those are serious issues," said Nate Silcox, legislative director for Sen. Robert Robbins, R-Mercer, sponsor of the bill.

The truth-in-music legislation, which already was passed in the state Senate, yesterday received unanimous approval from the state House Committee on Tourism and Recreational Development. It now heads to the House floor. North Dakota and South Carolina have similar laws already, but those don't protect trademark holders enough or provide high enough fines for violators, said Jon Bauman, who is better known as Bowzer, the former leader of the rock 'n' roll group Sha Na Na. Mr. Bauman is a member of the Truth in Music Committee of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, Mercer County.

Pennsylvania's legislation could become a model for the rest of the country, say Mr. Bauman and other musicians behind the legislation. They intend to press for similar legislation in at least 10 other states. "Pennsylvania is a key state to start in. It's always been a real strong oldies state," said Joe Terry, a founding member of Danny and the Juniors, which originated in Philadelphia in 1956. "Pennsylvania cares about nostalgia music and that's a good reason to start this there and kick it off there."

The legislation would prevent groups from using trademarks they don't own -- unless at least one member of the group was a member of the original recording group and is legally entitled to the name. The legislation also allows for tribute bands if concert advertising does not mislead. The legislation would allow Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett to stop performances and to impose fines of $5,000 to $15,000.

Bill Pinkney, the only surviving member of The Drifters, said the fines should be even higher. "People are going around calling themselves The Drifters, The Platters and The Coasters when it's not the truth. It's not fair to the ones who paved the road, the ones who laid the foundation and made it possible for these young up-and-coming groups," Mr. Pinkney said from his home in South Carolina. At 80, he is still performing. He heads to Connecticut this weekend for a doo-wop show Sunday at Mohegan Sun casino.

Another group, billing itself as Beary Hobb's Drifters, is slated to perform the same night across the country at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. They aren't The Drifters, Mr. Pinkney assures. "I don't think that's fair. It's not fair to the artists and it's not fair to the public. The public is being misled," he said. That's one reason Vita Gardner, wife of Coasters original Carl Gardner, is eager to see the Pennsylvania bill pass. "The name 'The Coasters' is a legacy that belongs to the people who created the music," Mrs. Gardner said. "I would like to secure the legacy of my husband. He has given 50 years of hardship and it wasn't easy."

The Coasters were making music before the civil rights movement took hold and when racism was rampant. "They could work in the fancy hotels, but they couldn't sleep in the hotels. They couldn't go in restaurants to eat, so the bus driver would buy crackers and cheese for them to eat on the bus or the managers, who were white, would go get them hamburgers," Mrs. Gardner said. "Why should they have to fight for their trademarks now?" she asked. "Why should people be making money off their talents after all that?"

The sentiment is that when people pay good money to hear "Yakety Yak," Carl Gardner ought to be the one yakking. Instead, imposter Coasters take the stage -- probably 10 times a night in different parts of the country -- said Bob Crosby, president of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. "They stand on stage and say things like, 'When we recorded these songs,' and 'When we won our Grammys.' They completely fool the public into thinking they're the real groups and then the real guys can't get any work because the fakes are so well promoted," Mr. Crosby said. What's worse, said Mr. Bauman, is that imposters are basking in applause meant to recognize aging musicians' longevity, song-writing and legacies.

Posted by acapnews at January 11, 2006 12:12 AM