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Thursday, December 29, 2011

R&B Legends The Dells Sue Former Record Label

Posted By on Thu, Dec 29, 2011 at 1:05 PM

click to enlarge The Dells served as the inspiration for the 1991 film The Five Heartbeats

Christmas time may have come and gone -- but 'tis the season for disgruntled musicians (and their heirs) to sue record companies for allegedly substituting lumps of coal in lieu of royalty payments.

The legendary R&B Band The Dells have certainly faced their share of adversity over the past half century and change. For instance, there was that 1958 gig when the group crashed en route to Philly; tenor Lucius McGill nearly lost a leg, and lead baritone Marvin Junior's throat was slashed (his voice has sounded a bit different ever since).

In retrospect, yesterday's move was less dramatic. The remaining group members filed suit in San Francisco district court, alleging the Vee-Jay Limited Partnership has stiffed them to the tune of $75,000 or more.

The suit was filed by longtime Dells Chuck Barksdale, Mickey McGill, Junior, and La Verne Allison. Denise Richardson and Ouida Carter are the heirs of Johnny Carter, who died in 2009 -- the first time a Dell left the group, voluntarily or otherwise, since 1960. The Dells' steadiness was a marked contrast to the constantly shuffling lineups of other R&B and soul groups of the era -- even Sam & Dave replaced the original Sam.

The Dells' complaint harks back to 1955, when they signed a written agreement with Vee-Jay Records, the precursor of Vee-Jay Limited Partnership. The group's suit claims Vee-Jay has, in the past four years, released Dells recordings without paying the performers their cut. The plaintiffs "are informed and believe that in excess of $75,000 in royalties accrued to their account and which despite the Unclaimed Property Law Vee-Jay has failed to pay to the State Controller..." reads the court document.

Essentially, the group is claiming that Vee-Jay is holding onto money that should have ended up in the state's vaults, where The Dells could retrieve it -- and it demands "injunctive relief ... to recover their escheated royalties from the Controller."

Should things work out for The Dells, they may have opportunity to exclaim the title of their most famous song: "Oh, What a Night!"

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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