Could be of some interest: Bobby Byrd
- James Brown's longtime collaborator fights for his piece of the pie
By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY
GRAYSON, Ga., Oct. 29 Before Bobby Byrd starts to talk, he
get one thing straight he doesn't hate James Brown.
Yes, he has sued Brown the man Byrd helped spring from
reform school, the man Byrd still calls his brother claiming
Godfather of Soul and Universal Music Group owe him millions of
dollars in royalties. Byrd wants proper credit for classic hits
like ''Please, Please, Please'' and ''Sex Machine,'' where his deep,
gruff voice demands ''Get on up!'' behind each Brown screech.
But no, Byrd says, he could never hate Brown.
He still remembers the teenager he met playing baseball, a
reform school kid looking for a fresh start in life. Byrd remembers
his mother making Brown a member of their family. He remembers Brown
joining his group and their big dreams about changing the world
least their world.
''I often sit around and think about the things we talked
about,'' a smiling Byrd told The Associated Press at his home about
75 miles from where the two made their start as the Famous Flames.
The smile fades.
''After the records started to become big, a change came.''
The Famous Flames became James Brown and the Famous Flames,
then later, just James Brown. Yet Byrd and his wife, signer-
songwriter Vicki Anderson Byrd, say they helped create the songs that
made Brown's legend.
Now they want their fair share ''because it never would
been if it hadn't been for me,'' Byrd says.
Entering the Byrds' beautiful, spacious home outside Atlanta,
it doesn't appear they have much to complain about. Their house is
nestled in an upscale community, ornately decorated, with many
pictures of the two in their performing heyday.
Mrs. Byrd, a former Brown background singer who says she also
wrote some of his songs, is a handsome, 63-year-old woman stylishly
dressed and manicured. The same could be said of her husband, 69, who
looks a bit like a leaner, taller version of the 70-year-old Brown,
including the pompadour hairdo.
Yet the Byrds feel far from secure. They credit their current
comfort to a sample of Byrd's song ''U Don't Know,'' used by Jay-Z on
2001's multimillion-selling ''The Blueprint.'' They say Jay-Z
generously paid Byrd 65 percent of the royalties for the song,
allowing them to secure a mortgage for their home, which is worth
''For the last year and a half or two years, thank God for Jay-
Z,'' says Mrs. Byrd. ''But what if Jay-Z doesn't do it anymore? It's
not enough money for you to put up a savings, so you can fall back on
That's at the heart of their dispute against Brown and
Universal (representatives for both declined to comment.) The case
involves a myriad of legal issues, dizzying and difficult to
understand even for the Byrds and illustrating why the
industry is so treacherous for those who cannot master its many
Byrd and Brown go back to the early 1950s and their hometown
of Toccoa. ''I don't know why (James) would always say Augusta,''
Brown's mother left him as a child, and he was raised by his
father and aunts. At 15, he ended up in reform school for burglary.
Byrd's baseball team played the reform school's team. Brown told Byrd
that he couldn't get out without a job and a place to live, Byrd
Byrd's family took Brown in and helped him get a job. He later
became the sixth member of Byrd's group, the Famous Flames.
''My mom had five children, and as far as she was concerned,
he was the sixth,'' Byrd says. ''He was my brother. I mean, he was
really, really, really wonderful. We had some times together. Then we
started making records.''
Their first hit was 1956's ''Please, Please, Please,'' made
famous by Brown's desperate wailing. Though it's been recorded
several times throughout the decades, even by Brown, when it first
became a hit, Byrd says, each member had a verse and was credited as
Today, however, only Brown and former Flame Johnny Terry are
listed as songwriters, according to the BMI music publishing company.
Byrd claims that throughout the years, songs Byrd and others wrote
for or with Brown were later credited to other people. Byrd says he
never protested because he was making money touring with Brown and
didn't want to ''rock the boat.''
The Famous Flames disbanded about a year after ''Please Please
Please,'' but Byrd soon returned to Brown's camp as a songwriter,
piano player and show member. He would work on and off for Brown for
almost two decades.
During that time, Byrd says, he co-wrote some of Brown's
biggest hits. While Byrd does get writer's royalties from those
songs, he says he does not get artist royalties from the songs he
performed on, and more importantly, doesn't get a fair share of the
Music royalties are confusing even for those who live off
them. At one point, the Byrds said they didn't own publishing on the
songs, only writer's royalties. But their lawyer, Carl Kaminsky,
insisted to a reporter that they indeed had publishing royalties. The
Byrds disputed this claim until their lawyer explained to them
(during a conference call with a reporter) that they did in fact have
the publishing, but had not been paid what they deserved.
The Byrds started talking to lawyers in 1987, after they heard
Eric B. & Rakim's rap hit ''I Know You Got Soul,'' which sampled
Byrd's voice from a tune credited to Brown and Byrd.
''That's when sampling was just getting started good,'' Byrd
says. ''Ain't nobody paid me nothin'.''
Rap created a new windfall for Brown after his career had
peaked. Music attorney Ian Waldon estimates Brown has made millions
over the past 25 years from sampling.
''For certain artists, they've had a whole new career and made
a whole slew of income from their songs being used by (rap)
artists,'' says Waldon.
The Byrds say when they tried to collect on ''I Know You Got
Soul,'' Universal Music Group, which bought their former record
labels, King and Smash, said the Byrds' royalties had been sent to
So the Byrds went to Brown, who they described as being
supportive at the time. They say he denied receiving the money, and
wrote letters asking that any money be sent directly to the Byrds.
But they never received anything.
The Byrds are careful not to say Brown stole their money. They
don't know what to believe.
The Byrds sued Universal and Brown in 2002 in federal court in
New York City. The suit was dismissed due to statute of limitations,
Kaminsky said. They are appealing.
Kaminsky says the pair is owed several million dollars in
royalty payments. The Byrds rejected a $60,000 settlement offer from
Byrd just hopes that one day, Brown will recognize the role
Byrd played in his career.
''Everybody knows that James Brown's No. 1,'' Byrd
says. ''Bobby Byrd's No. 2.''
© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may
be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
(whoops, sorry lol)