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New Orleans, La. -
For years, New Orleans has been called the largest talent
pool of musicians, possibly in the world.
Now some recording stars of the 50's, 60's and 70's who lost lucrative
royalties are warning new generations of musicians to take care of business.
"I would say Johnny Adams was probably one of the most influential
and most loved rhythm and blues icons in New Orleans, as well as overseas,"
said Judy Adams.
She and the late Johnny Adams married in 1990. He grew up in the Ninth Ward, the eldest of 10
children. Judy says the brilliant vocalist dropped out of school around the fifth
"He was illiterate, pretty much," she told us. "I'm not saying ignorant. But he was eager to
Johnny Adams signed a contract with the local Ric Records in
the late 50's. In 1962, the song "Losing Battle" became a national success.
"By him being illiterate, he wasn't able to read and
comprehend the legal contracts," said his widow. "There were contracts with
record labels, having him to sign that he gives up all rights to present and
future royalties. That's outrageous!"
"A lot of us didn't get any royalties," said blues
favorite Irma Thomas. "I guess it was a good 10 years before I started
asking for the business aspect and dealing percentage-wise."
Thomas was just 18, singing and waiting tables, when she
signed with Ron Records.
"The record deal was ‘sign here and we'll record you,'"
Thomas said. "I didn't understand what my percentage was going to be but I
found out they gave me an advance of a couple hundred bucks. That was almost a
Her first hit was, "(You Can Have My Husband But Please)
Don't Mess With My Man".
"The shame of it all is that records were
selling," said entertainment attorney Ashlye Keaton. "I've seen contracts where the artist
literally gets two percent of revenues. I haven't seen one like that in some
time... but it was common in the 60's. That's if they ever got paid that two
Keaton warned, "If you don't have all the documentation and
you don't know what the documentation stands for, you are not going to be able
to monetize your music the way you should if you understood your rights."
Musician David Baptiste had to protect his song "Funky Soul"
in a protracted court battle in the 90's. It was a hit made famous by his
family band David Batiste and the Gladiators.
"Fall in love with the business as well as the
instrument," he said. "When you
control a piece it's yours."
His name is on an Uptown school where he helps guide future
Johnny Adams died of cancer in 1998. His wife says after he
died, the income just stopped. "No
more touring, no performing, and that's when we realized the record companies
were not paying. He's gone," Judy Adams said.
Adams says she and her college-age daughter have struggled
to stay afloat, left with not much more than memories from a blues legend.
"I am going to continue to fight for justice, for
Johnny and his royalties," she said.
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