Proposal would yank imposters off Michigan stages
Capital News Service
LANSING – A bill to prevent bands from impersonating their predecessors’ names is getting attention nationally, and some Michigan legislators hope the governor will be able to sign it into law this month.
Sen. Martha Scott, D-Highland Park, introduced the bill after she was approached by Mary Wilson of the Supremes and Jon “Bowser” Bauman of Sha Na Na, who made their musical claims to fame in the 1960s and 1970s.
The bill, unanimously passed by the Senate and awaiting the House action, would impose a $25,000 fine on bands and concert halls, bars or other venues that advertise a show by an original recording artist or group when the act does not include any of the original members.
To avoid the fine, bands would need either to have at least one member of the original recording group in the lineup or authorization from the original artists.
Dawn Pline, chief of staff for Scott, said Wilson found out in September about a group posing as the Supremes that was booked as part of the Christmas Rock & Roll Spectacular IV at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn on Dec. 1.
Without the measure signed into law, Wilson was unable to stop the impersonators from performing, Pline said.
Scott said, “We’re going after the imposters. There may be four billings the same night across the country for the same act. It happens a lot. In Las Vegas, they have all these people billed, and people think these are the originals.
“Those people worked hard and they were great musicians, and now these imposters come along and take credit,” she added.
Also, under the proposed law, the attorney general’s office could step in and stop the show if an imposter artist or group is slated to perform.
Pline said, “The attorney general can do away with this, but you don’t know until you already bought your ticket. A consumer goes to a concert and realizes there’s no Supremes member there, but they already bought their ticket.”
Bauman, who now chairs the truth and music committee for the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, said heavy fines and cautious eyes should reduce the number of imposter bands.
“The first line of defense is going to be the venues that don’t want to get a call from the attorney general’s office for violation of the act,” he said. “Shows booked by agents and venues don’t even know what they’re getting. They’ll have to be more precise because they don’t want that phone call from the attorney general’s office. That alone will stop a lot of it.”
Wilson and Bauman approached legislators around the country to get the so-called Truth of Music Act moving. In 2005, Pennsylvania was the first state to pass such a bill, prompting its attorney general’s office warn all concert venues. That led to cancellations or switching of billings to tribute shows.
A tribute, or salute, show occurs when a band receives authorization from the original recording artists or band to perform a set comprised of the original artists’ songs.
Connecticut and Illinois have since passed the same law, and South Carolina and North Dakota have similar laws. New York, Massachusetts, Delaware and New Jersey are at the same stage as Michigan, awaiting House approval. Florida, California, Virginia and Maine have just introduced similar bills, according to Pline and Bauman.
“Net effects for original artists will be a fair playing field, not having their pricing undercut, jobs taken away and legacy cut,” Bauman said. “Consumers will see what they paid to see, rather than what they think they’re paying to see. We’re not against tributes either. At least the consumer knows what they’re getting.”
Artists wishing to play full sets of unoriginal music must get authorization from the original artist and advertise themselves as a tribute or salute band. The occasional cover song mixed in with an original set list is still permitted.
Alex Gonzalez, lead guitar and vocals for the Surrogate Band, America’s Pink Floyd tribute, based in Lansing, said, “I recall someone in the tribute world once stating that they were threatened legally by KISS, being a KISS tribute, until KISS themselves realized that the tribute bands actually educate and encourage people to seek out rare material, hence increasing record sales.”
Gonzalez noted that many bands endorse tribute bands mirroring their previous groups.
“David Gilmour of Pink Floyd had the Australian Pink Floyd perform at one of his birthday parties. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin has been seen several times with Zeppelin tribute bands and Metallica apparently endorses Battery Metallica Tribute Band,” he said.
Bauman said that the main problem with impersonators lies with doo wop and rhythm-and-blues bands from the 1950s because their images and sounds are so undistinguishable.
“The Platters sold more records than any other singing group until the Beatles, but it’s hard to pretend that you’re actually the Beatles,” he said. “U2 is the biggest selling group currently. It’ll be hard to pretend 50 years from now.”
Michael Duddles of Chicago, guitarist for In the Light, America’s Led Zeppelin tribute, said, “Cover songs are the majority of the repertoire for most blues bands; and many rock bands, which are not even cover bands.”
Bauman warns against “real one” impersonators that some imposters have used.
“There’s someone who looks older and people think, ‘oh that’s them,’” he said. “With the ‘real one,’ there’s three 40-year-old guys and one 68-year-old guy that people assume is the original. He’s not the real one at all. He’s just an old guy!”
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