Sky Saxon Royalty Dispute Goes to Court

 

Free Sky Saxon! Late garage rock
godfather never received any royalties; his Estate appeals on the basis of “unconscionable”
contracts that he signed during his lifetime. Watch a classic Seeds video,
below.

 

By Fred
Mills

 

It’s an
old story: a respected, revered, beloved or otherwise influential musician pens
a hit song (or several), but ultimately gets screwed out of his royalties,
either due to youthful carelessness (particularly back in the ‘50s and ‘60s,
when artists were notoriously un-savvy about the way the music biz works) or by
falling prey to an unscrupulous manager or record label head. In recent years,
there have been the occasional efforts by individuals or organizations to help
musicians or their surviving family members finally receive a just and
equitable payment, and once in awhile there has even been the notable person
willing to step forward and do the right thing by the artists even if specific
legal technicalities didn’t require him to do so.

 

Apparently
that ain’t the case for the late Sky Saxon, frontman and chief songwriter for ‘60s
garage legends The Seeds. Saxon – born Richard Marsh – passed away in 2009
(read our obituary here), but long before then he’d passed into the realm of
the iconic, a genuine godfather of the Nuggets generation thanks to such Seeds hits in the mid ‘60s as “Pushin’ Too Hard,”
“Can’t Seem to Make You Mine,” and “Mr. Farmer,” tunes often covered by young
artists coming up through the ranks, as well as his subsequent journeys in rock
‘n’ roll, from his involvement with the Source Family in the ‘70s to his
latterday appearances at garage rock festivals such as Cavestomp.

 

Now we
learn that Saxon received no royalties from record sales or music publishing
for most of his career, a matter that his label and publishing company attributes
to his selling his artist’s and producer’s royalties for $350 and his music publishing
royalties for $250 back in 1973. Apparently both Saxon, while he was living,
and his widow attempted to recover royalties but were repeatedly turned down,
so the matter has now landed in L.A. Superior Court and a hearing is scheduled
for March 8. Here are the details, provided by the Saxon camp:

 

***

 

Saxon
signed a record deal in 1965 with GNP Crescendo Record Co., Inc., a Los
Angeles-based company that specialized in jazz recordings, run by Gene Norman,
a former concert promoter and disc jockey. At that time, he also signed a music
publishing deal with Neil Music, Inc., which is a sister company of GNP.  But
for 37 years, since 1973, GNP and Neil Music have stubbornly refused to pay
Saxon, or his heirs, any royalties whatsoever. These companies maintain that
Saxon signed away all of his royalties, forever, based upon three minor
transactions:  A $500 payment for “Pushin’ Too Hard” in late 1972, a loan
for $250 in mid-1973 (that Saxon did not pay back), for all of Saxon’s other
songs, and a loan for $350 from late 1973 (that Saxon also did not pay back),
for all of Saxon’s record and producer’s royalties.

 

The
Estate of Sky Saxon (represented by Evan Cohen, and S. Martin Keleti and Sommer
Issaq of Cohen and Cohen) has brought a lawsuit against GNP and Neil Music for
rescission of Saxon’s record and publishing deals, and for royalties for the
past four years.  In response, the companies (which are now run by Neil
Norman, son of Gene Norman) have taken the position that the three petty deals
from 1972 and 1973 are “buy-outs” of any and all royalties forever
The Estate has asked the court to set aside these three transactions, on the
grounds that they are so oppressive and unfair that they should be void, as a
matter of public policy, that is, “unconscionable.” “Unconscionable” contracts
are deals that are so oppressive and one-sided that they literally “shock the
conscience” of the court and of civilized society, or which have no place in
the legitimate business world.  In that the alleged “buy-outs” fit that
description exactly, the Estate has asked the court to set them aside. 
The Estate has also asked that on account of the 37-year failure of GNP and
Neil Music to pay any royalties, that the original 1960s deals be rescinded,
and the Estate be given back all of the musical properties.

 

In recent
years, GNP and Neil Music have exploited Saxon’s songs and recordings to a
substantial extent. “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” has recently been used in a
commercial for Axe Body Spray. “Pushin’ Too Hard” has been used for numerous
film and television projects, as have other songs by The Seeds.  The songs
have been covered over the years by numerous artists, including The Ramones,
Johnny Thunders, Billy Corgan, Garbage, Alex Chilton, Murder City Devils, and
Yo La Tengo.

 

The
motion to determine the issue of unconscionability will be heard on March 8,
2011.

 

 

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