Singers lobby legislature to ban musical impostors
March 1, 2007
Plenty of lobbyists know how to persuade lawmakers with well-chosen words, but not many can harness the power of music to get their bills passed.
But former members of the Supremes, the Platters, and Sha Na Na charmed, cajoled and crooned their way to a unanimous vote on Thursday, convincing Nevada’s Senate Commerce and Labor committee to pass SB53, a bill that would ban performers from faking connections to recording legends from years past.
That practice is growing, said Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, who performed in the rock and roll group Sha Na Na in the ’70s and ’80s. Now Bauman is chairman of “Truth in Music,” a group that wants to make Nevada the 10th state to pass a law against “impostor” musicians.
“For too many years these impostor music groups have been cheating consumers,” said Bauman. “Audience members are constantly saying to me, ‘How can this be?”‘
Bauman named the Platters, the Drifters, and the Coasters as three groups that have been “dragged through the mud” more than most. He added that impostor shows can be ephemeral, often showing up at a venue for just one night.
The proposed law would require performing groups to have at least one member of the recording group that they claim a connection to, or label the production a “tribute” or “salute.” Otherwise, claiming a connection would be considered a deceptive trade practice.
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Bauman said such laws have been effective in other states, and consumer complaints can lead to state attorneys general blocking the shows from taking place.
Former Supremes singer Mary Wilson told the committee there are at least five groups touring around the world claiming false connections to the Supremes. Wilson sued them all but lost, spending “a couple million dollars” in the process, she said.
Wilson, who lives in Las Vegas and still performs regularly, does not hold the rights to the name “Supremes,” which are still held by Motown records. Still, she said other groups claiming to be the Supremes dilute her image.
“It’s identity theft,” said Wilson. “We took years to perfect our artistry and create our histories and our legacies, only to come along and find people can say, ‘Well, I’m the Supremes!”‘
Wilson said some major artists from the 1950s aren’t well known visually because record companies were reluctant at the time to put black artists on the covers of their records. She said that makes them particularly vulnerable to impostor groups.
Sonny Turner, a former member of 1960s pop group the Platters who lives in Las Vegas, concurred, saying the impostor groups are hurting his bottom line.
“We’re still viable performers,” said Turner. “We’re not performing as much as we’d like to.”
Turner then drew on an old Platters hit, adding a new ending.
“Only you,” sang Turner, “can pass this bill for us.”
The lawmakers did, and seemed to have a good time doing so.
“We generally don’t do anything quite this cool,” said Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno. “So we really appreciate your being here.”