Every week he brings you The Phantom Dancer, a live, multi-award-winning non-stop mix of swing and jazz sourced from real 1920s-1960s radio broadcasts.
In Greg’s eight Phantom Dancer sets this week we hear Bop takes of old songs on live 1947-51 radio, Duke Ellington from his 1945 ABC ‘Date with the Duke’ series, 1930s German dance bands playing the hits from the movies, and a set of R’n’B singers live over CBS radio’s Al Freed Rock’n’Roll Dance Party in 1956.
And the R’n’B set brings me to this question…
DO SONG COVERS VIOLATE COPYRIGHT?
Why does the R’n’B set bring me to this question? Because two of the singers we’ll be hearing on today’s Phantom Dancer from live 1956 radio had copyright run-ins with a big band/pop singer who also happened to be on today’s show (in Set 2), Georgia Gibbs.
The first R’n’B singer you’ll hear on today’s Phantom Dancer (and all the singers were backed in these ‘Rock’n’Roll Dance Party’ radio broadcasts by the Count Basie Orchestra) is LaVerne Baker.
LAVERN BAKER – TWEEDLEE DEE RIP OFF
Born Delores LaVern Baker, LaVern Baker had several hit records in the 1950s. Her most successful disc was “Tweedlee Dee” (1955) which you’ll here her sing live today. This latin tempo song was LaVern’s first hit. It got to 4 on the R&B chart and 14 on the national US pop chart. Meanwhile, singer Georgia Gibbs recorded a note-for-note cover of the song that reached number 1. A real kick in the guts that made LaVern ask the question,
“Does this Song Cover violate my copyright?”
She made an unsuccessful attempt to sue Gibbs. She unsuccessfully petitioned the US Government to consider such covers copyright violations.
ETTA JAMES – DANCE WITH ME HENRY GRAB
Born Jamesetta Hawkins, Etta started learning to sing at age five. Her singing teacher used to punch her in the chest while she sang to force her voice to come from her diaphragm. She developed an unusually strong voice.
Los Angeles big band leader, Johnny Otis, saw 14 year old Etta singing with a Doo-wop group and booked her to sing his “answer song” to Hank Ballard’s “Work with Me, Annie”. He even gave her co-credit as lyricist. The song was “Dance with Me, Henry”, which and you’ll hear Etta singing it live on today’s Phantom Dancer. But again, Georgia Gibbs recorded a cover that took a lot of the thunder. It was a version called “The Wallflower” and it reached number one on the Billboard Top 100. This made Etta very angry.
Her intellectual property had been appropriated.
Faye Adams’ father was a gospel singer and at age five she joined her sisters to sing spirituals, regularly performing on local radio shows. She, too, had a big voice, billed as, “Atomic Adams’.
Her first hit, “Shake a Hand”, topped the US Billboard R’n’B chart for ten weeks in 1953 and hit 22 on the US pop chart, selling one million copies and receiving a gold disc.
In 1954, Adams had two more R&B chart toppers. The one she sings on today’s Phantom Dancer, live over CBS in 1956, is “I’ll Be True”. This song was then covered by Bill Haley and later by Jackie DeShannon.
Covering a song is much different to appropriating a song. All cool, because the original composer/lyricist is acknowledged and compensated. I’ll explain about the legalities of song covers below.
IVORY JOE HUNTER
He’s the final R’n’B singer in today’s Phantom Dancer set of 1956 rock’n’roll radio. He’d had hits on the R’n’B charts since the mid 1940s and was billed as The Baron of the Boogie and The Happiest Man Alive. Maybe he was happy because no-one was copying his songs while they were still climbing the charts. On today’s Phantom Dancer he sings his 1950 R’n’B chart-topper, “I Almost Lost My Mind”, live, of course, and with the Count Basie Orchestra.
Now, to the legalities of covering a song, quoted directly from the Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA) website…
A BAND IS PERFORMING MY SONGS. CAN THEY DO THIS WITHOUT MY PERMISSION?
Yes, in most cases they can. The venue in which the band plays must hold an APRA licence; it is not the responsibility of the individual bands. The APRA licence gives the venue a blanket licence to authorise the performance of all copyright music.
DO I NEED A LICENCE?
Yes. You may need to obtain an AMCOS licence if you want to make a recording of a song composed by another writer.
WHAT ABOUT UPLOADING COVER VERSIONS TO DIGITAL SERVICE PROVIDERS?
If you are recording a cover version of a work and wish to make it available on a US-based digital service provider (iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify etc), you are required to take out a licence with the Harry Fox Agency (AMCOS equivalent in the USA). Go to www.harryfox.com/license_music/ and head to their Songfile Mechanical Licensing tool. In cases where the Harry Fox Agency do not represent the work, you may be able to obtain a compulsory licence via RightsFlow – see www.rightsflow.com and head to the Limelight licensing area.
As long as you’ve first obtained a manufacturing licence from AMCOS, you can supply your recording to a digital service provider (DSP) such as iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify etc. APRA AMCOS licenses DSPs directly, and so royalties for downloads will be collected by APRA AMCOS on behalf of the rights holders.
I hope this has been of help to you, with a bit of R’n’B history thrown in. Oh, and for more R’n’B history, check out this YouTube footage of LaVern Baker as your Phantom Dancer Video of the Week. Enjoy!