Bank Account Blues: Young musicians warned to take care of business

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 grade.

"He was illiterate, pretty much," she told us.  "I'm not saying ignorant. But he was eager to learn."

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 month's salary."

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 percent.

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 artists.

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.