- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

A Virginia lawmaker wants to pull the plug on musicians who bill themselves as legendary bands like the Drifters when no original band member is part of the group.

“A lot of these old performing artists from the 50’s and 60’s are not that rich and people are making money off their image and their songs by using their name and these guys are getting nothing for it,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican. “That gets under my skin.”

Mr. Albo, leader of a band called Planet Albo, said the measure makes it illegal for impostors to do a live show under the name of a band if they do not own the band’s registered trademark or do not have at least one person from the band’s original lineup appear on stage.

The bill would allow the attorney general’s office to stop the performance and fine violators from $5,000 to $15,000. Under the plan, it would still be legal to bill performers as a tribute band.

The proposal recently passed the House of Delegates and awaits action by a Senate committee.

“It’s a form of identify theft to the artists,” said Bob Crosby, president and chief executive officer of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation, a nonprofit based in Pennsylvania. “It is stealing their identity, their legacy and their incomes. Most importantly it is misleading the public for them to think they are seeing the artist who made the hits when they are not.”

The most frequently knocked-off groups on the oldies circuit are the Drifters, the Platters and the Coasters, Mr. Crosby said.

Fans can pay $39 plus tax and service charges to see the Platters, Cornell Gunter’s Drifters and Beary Hobb’s Coasters perform at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

“Sit back for an unforgettable evening of classic R & B by three of the greatest internationally renowned vocal groups of all time — all on one stage,” the hotel’s Web site reads.

Mr. Crosby said the Las Vegas show blatantly misleads the public, which may be familiar with the group names and songs, but not band members’ faces.

“The fact remains there is no original recording member in any of those groups,” he said. “Cornell Gunter and Elsbeary Hobbs have both been dead a decade.”

Mr. Albo’s proposal is part of a national movement spearheaded by former band member of Sha Na Na Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, who is chairman of the Vocal Group’s Truth in Music Committee.

“One rule of thumb — if the package or pricing is too good to be true, beware!!!” Mr. Bauman says on the group’s Web site www.vocalgroup.org. “Packages offering three Hall of Fame names with 75 hit records between them for a price that’s hard to fathom (even after the agent has probably marked it up substantially for himself) are probably asking for trouble in this new legal universe. Any iconic names going out for a pittance are a huge red flag.”

Band members in the 1950s and 1960s were often unfamiliar with their legal rights. As a result, the older generation struggled to cash in on their success, and surviving members have lost potential gigs to bogus bands.

“It’s the old-timers who are hardest hit, as they have less visual identification to rely on, making it easier for imposters to flourish,” Mr. Bauman says on the site.

Feeling cheated by look-alikes touring under their names, veteran doo-wop singers, including Mary Wilson, formerly of the Supremes, lobbied Congress in 1999 to pass a federal “Truth in Rock Act” that would have changed federal trademark law to protect them from impostors. The measure failed.

So far, seven state have passed so-called Truth in Music Advertising laws and other states, including Maine, and Nevada, are expected to follow suit.

Mr. Crosby said the new state laws are a big step toward having Congress pass a federal law.

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