The BoDeans and former manager Mark McCraw and current band members are locked in a battle over band ownership and rights to the group's first two albums "Love. Hope. Sex and Dreams" and "Outside Looking In."
In a case that has been brewing for years and was filed in early summer 2003 (and heard before a Judge on September 20), defendant McGraw and third party defendant Lla-Mann Music LLP are facing plaintiffs Kurt Neumann, Samuel Llanas and Robert Griffin -- the band's members -- and Keshaw, Inc., the business entity for the BoDeans.
Llanas and Neumann are the founding members of the BoDeans. They began playing music together in the late 1970s and formed the band in 1983. Griffin joined in 1985. The band, and in Llanas' affidavit language, "then friend" McCraw formed a partnership called Lla-Mann Music to operate as the publishing company for the group. Llanas and Neumann agreed to give McCraw one third of the publishing profits of the company while he acted as manager for the band, and 50 percent of all royalities were paid to the writers (Llanas and Neumann). According to Llanas' affidavit, "it was never (his) intent ... that as partner in Lla-Mann, McCraw would have any ownership interest in the copyrights of the songs ..."
Neither original BoDeans member states that they assigned copyright interests in their songs to McCraw, and in 2003, McCraw was terminated as an officer of the BoDeans corporate entity, Keshaw.
The heart of the pending suit seems to stem from 1995 when the band's song "Closer to Free" became the theme song for the television series, "Party of Five" and was one of the Top 20 songs of the year. It was seen by many as the band's big break.
Neumann's affidavit states, "Just as we were attempting to follow up on our recent breakthrough ... McCraw went on strike and refused to perform any work for the BoDeans or our new album (which became 1996's "Blend") until the band signed a new, one-sided management contract. Control issues came into play, and you could see it in the band members as they performed in the late 1990s, the band was in a state of flux and confusion.
Neumann continues, "After the 'Blend' album, Slash/Reprise (their record label) did not renew our option on the recording contract." And, the BoDeans were without a record deal. At this point, "McCraw began representing other bands, including Milwaukee's Stall and Monovox."
The band alleges financial mismanagement and even claims, "Mark had used Keshaw corporate funds, without the band's knowlege or approval, to pay expenses for other bands ..."
A 1996 letter obtained by OnMilwaukee.com served as an amendment to McCraw's employment agreement. It describes McCraw as "producer," and says that he will "be paid 15 percent of the gross 'writer' income in situations where Lla-Mann Music, Sam Llanas and/or Kurt Neumann enter into a co-publishing agreement with another publisher." The letter also directs that McCraw "will quit working for you within two years of this agreement" and cites post-term pay-outs and percentages. The copy obtained by OnMilwaukee.com was signed by McGraw, but not by band members. Band members did sign the letter "under economic distress," according to the band's lawyer.
According to the message board on the band's official Web site, the band "appeared before Judge Christopher Foley in Milwaukee County seeking summary judgment on four items in the case."
The band claims that McCraw is not entitled to his one-third ownership of the group and rights to all songs from the band's first two albums in 1985 and 1987.
McCraw was also seeking summary judgment on several items at the Sept. 20 hearing.
The judge dismissed a couple of McCraw's claims against the band and did rule on some of the other issues. A pre-trial hearing scheduled for Oct. 7 has been postponed. A scheduled trial could come in January or February.
According to a statement from Jeffrey J. Liotta, McCraw's attorney, "Mr. McCraw agrees with the Circuit Court decision that Lla-Mann Music, a partnership consisting of Kurt Neumann, Sam Llanas and Mark McCraw, is the owner of copyrights of all of the songs contained in the first two albums released by the BoDeans. Mr. McCraw is disappointed with the Courts ruling that Lla-Mann is not the owner of all of the remaining BoDeans songs copyrights, based on the information in the Court record and for the reasons recited in Mr. McCraws brief.
"Mr. McCraw has asserted various claims seeking post-termination compensation that was required to be paid to him under his July 1, 1996 agreement with the BoDeans. Mr. McCraw has asserted that the BoDeans are in breach of their agreement with him to pay certain severance benefits provided in that contract. These claims will be subject to a trial in the future, based on the Courts ruling on summary judgment."
BoDeans' attorney Michael J. Aprahamian told OnMilwaukee.com that the band is "very encouraged by the ruling on Monday. They don't want to be in litigation, but they have to stand up for themselves and the band."
Llanas and Neumann have fronted the BoDeans for more than 20 years, and played at the OnMilwaukee.com Five-Year Anniversary show called NYE in MKE on Dec. 31, 2003. Their latest Zoe/Rounder Records release is "Resolution" and the band is still touring to support it.
Reached at his home Tuesday, McCraw said he "hasn't done anything much with music lately," but did help singer, guitarist and songwriter John Sieger in the studio this summer.
Stay tuned to OnMilwaukee.com for more on the case once it goes to trial.
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.