Peter Case

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Regarding The Plimsouls, Chuck Berry and Alan Freed

I needed some dough bad, so I told our manager Danny Hollyway I was ready to do a publishing deal. He set a meeting up with the wigs over at A&M Publishing. I wasn’t too keen on going, but Danny told me I better if I wanted to do the business, so I said okay.

It was a morning meeting, and I wasn’t in the greatest shape. I was psychedelically hungover. I had an urge to cancel the meeting, but instead, I tried to pull myself together. I got up and put my shades on, and went outside to wait for Danny to show up. We always rode to these things in his car, and I was in no condition to drive.

In the meeting I shook hands with a couple guys. One, a serious man in an elegant suit, youngish looking, but with well-cut grey hair, seemed to be in charge. As we were introduced, I felt nervous and started to have an almost out-of-body anxiety experience, a real existential crisis that I was trying to keep a lid on. The old short term memory was out of order or something, so the names were gone from my mind the moment were introduced, as if they’d been written on the air in disappearing ink. I could hardly sit still to follow the conversation. This was how it was at most of the band’s business meetings during this time: I had difficulty getting my head around it.

I don’t know why but somehow the conversation got on to Chuck Berry. This got my attention and I jumped in: “Chuck Berry got ripped off man. What the fuck was ALAN FREED doin’ with his name on “Maybelline”? That’s bullshit, man! Payola! Rockola! Freed ripped Berry’s royalties in exchange for radio play. That’s a federal offence, but does anybody give a shit?!” I just raved on and on: I loved Chuck Berry, saw him as a great lyrical genius, and this thing galled me. “Freed ain’t no songwriter. I don’t buy that whole thing about him. ‘Father Of Rock n Roll.’ He didn’t invent that term. He was a dj that put his name on people’s tunes; he shoulda been ashamed. Alan Freed was a parasite!” I finally ran out of gas and went silent. I was a little out of breath, riled up. The other men all sat there motionless. I could hear traffic out on the street. The man with the brush-cut grey hair looked up at me and spoke. “Alan Freed was my father.”

Maybe I wasn’t hearing right. I looked down at the name plate on his desk. It said “Lance Freed.”

I can’t remember what was said next, it’s like someone turned the volume off, and we were all just looking at each other. But me and Hollyway got out of there quick, and to this day I’ve never made a publishing deal. It just never works out, so I’ve kept my publishing. Not that I couldn’t have used the dough!

One Night in America (1981)

16 comments

    1. If you don’t have all the facts maybe you shouldn’t make judgements. Alan Freed had great integrity. He was never paid royalties by the publisher.
      Chuck Berry was his friend. BTW,
      Maybelline is the makeup company..it’s “Maybellene”.

      1. Thanks for the correction. There are a few other typos in there as well.

        But why was his name added to the composer credits? That’s what got me going as a kid. A DJ with a composer credit.

  1. I don’t claim to know all the truth about this, just that, as a DJ, he had his name on a song that he didn’t compose.

    I know Alan Freed was part of the rock n roll beach head, and he deserves the kudos he gets. He was a bold representative of the music at a time when it was dangerous. But like a lot of things it appears to be a mixed bag.

    I had/ have nothing against Lance who sounds like a pretty great guy. I just went off like a kid about how I thought my hero Chuck Berry had been ripped. The story is misunderstood if its seen as an attack on Freed, it’s just a picture of a rock and roll kid in a business meeting.

    I’ve heard that he and Chuck were friends. I ended up spreading some of my money around when we had our own label with the Plimsouls. Then it was called independent promotion. And I don’t bear a grudge if it helped us reach people. But whoo-ee what a business. And everything’s worse now for songwriters.

    BTW, where do you go to get “all the facts” on this story? I’ve looked around the internet…

    1. In Peter’s defense, I’d heard the same story. I think it was in a movie, too, though I don’t remember its name (or perhaps there was a similar scene in American Hot Wax, which seems to be about Freed).

      I really liked the first Plimsouls record (the one with A Million Miles Away on it), Peter It was a revelation at the time.

  2. Judgement?

    I thought it was “judgment”. But no need to rush.

    There is no such thing as “all the facts”.

    “Facts are precisely what there is not, only interpretations”. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Press, 1968).

    That’s the fact, Jack!

    1. Happy to have a private conversation with you, Peter, and give you all the information you want about what happened.
      Sometimes I get tired of people beating up on my Father. Feel the need to defend him since he can’t defend himself.

  3. I appreciate the offer. What is your name? Maybe you can write to me on the back channel here.

    But there are a myriad of sources including Chuck Berry’s book, which I have open here right now, that declare Freed was paid royalties after having his name “gifted ” onto the writing credits.

    “I just recovered the full rights to Maybellene in 1986, some thirty years later. That loss was two thirds of the total , or twice as much as the royalties I received from “Maybellene” for years.”

    [More about this can be found on page 119 of Chuck Berry’s autobiography.]

    Maybellene
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia…

    …In the 1950s, some record companies assigned publishing credits to disc jockeys and others who helped to promote a record, a form of payola by means of composer royalties. For this reason, the disc jockey Alan Freed received credit as a co-writer of “Maybellene”. Russ Fratto, who had loaned money to Chess, also received credit.[8] (Some Chess insiders have said that Chess owed money to Fratto, a printer and stationer, for producing record labels.) The Freed and Fratto credits, which do not appear on the original Chess single (see the photograph above), were withdrawn in 1986.[9] However, as of 2014, these credits still appear on some reissues of Berry’s recordings.

    the npr 100

    The Story Of Chuck Berry’s ‘Maybellene’

    And there were other unpleasant surprises. When Berry finally got his hands on a copy of the record, he saw he was listed as only one of three songwriters. Alan Freed, the disc jockey who had so aggressively promoted the song, was another. The third was Russ Fratto, a man he’d never heard of. Trading credit for airplay, known as payola, was a common practice at the time, especially when the song was by a black artist. And Berry didn’t ask any questions. After all, his first royalty check for “Maybellene” had been more than twice what he’d paid for his house. It was only later that he learned sharing songwriting credits also meant sharing the song’s earnings. While there’s no doubt Freed’s promotion of “Maybellene” was crucial to its success nationwide, Berry fought for years to recover the full rights to the song.
    “I didn’t even know that you could use lawyers to correct these things, you know, then, you know,” Mr. Berry says. “So it goes on and on and on, but that happens to rookies, if you want to call a new musician a rookie.”
    In 1986, more than 30 years after he wrote “Maybellene,” Chuck Berry was finally credited as the song’s sole composer. By that time, it was little more than a legal technicality, but in the end, it may be the most fitting tribute. After all, “Maybellene” could have been written by no one but Chuck Berry. If that’s not already obvious from the music and the lyrics, just listen to the guitar solo.

    Rolling Stone
    Maybellene
    by Gaylord Fields

    …DJ Alan Freed, co-credited as a songwriter, had nothing to do with writing “Maybellene,” although he got royalties for years in return for radio airplay.

    [author John A. Jackson, calling from his home in Amity Harbor, N.Y. Jackson’s recent book, “Big Beat Heat – Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Schirmer Books, $24.95)]

    “Freed was given writing credit on records for both “Maybellene” and the Moonglows’ “Sincerely,” (No. 20 in 1955). Jackson believes that Chess Records put Freed’s name on the songs to get airplay, a common alternative to cash payments in those days.’

    chimesfreedom
    Pophistory: music, movies, history, and life.

    …In the meantime, Leonard Chess in a marketing move that was not unusual at the time, gave radio DJ Alan Freed co-songwriting credit and one-third of royalties in exchange for promoting the song. In retrospect, the deal seems unfair at the least, but assistance from the legendary DJ did not hurt.

  4. it’s a great story Peter… and the only problem with most great stories are that there are other people in them 🙂

    too bad it’s on a “Blog”…would love to hear it in a van sometime full of gear rolling down the highway, where all the best rock & roll stories are told and should live:)

  5. Ok Lil Mike you move the equipment and I’ll tell the stories.

    But books are places for stories too. And any Kind of writing, as well. So others can hear besides the road crew…

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