Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Drifters Incorporated/Anatomy Of The Brand

The Drifters first appeared in New York in 1953. Shortly thereafter, in 1954, the group came under the management of George McKinley Treadwell, a jazz trumpeter.Treadwell as it is recorded played in the house band at Monroe's in Harlem in 1941–1942, then worked with Benny Carter later in 1942 in Florida. he had previously managed other musicians, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn. Mr. Treadwell managed the group through The Drifters, Inc., a New York corporation that he formed in 1954. Treadwell though holding most of the stock of this corporation operated the business along with other partners Irv Nahan and Lewis C. Lebish not known to most of the public and who were for the most part the backbone to the company. Nahan handled most of the entertainment side of the brand while Lebish acted as accountant and bookkeeper. Overall they held complete artistic control over every aspect of The Drifters as an entity. Assisted by his wife Fayrene Treadwell  they hired and fired Drifters singers; they paid the singers a weekly salary; they selected the music and arrangements; and they made all musical and business decisions relating to both live performances and recording contracts. Yet during the very early years of the Drifters as reported through interviews with the late Bill Pinkney it was Atlantic Record head Ahmet Ertegun and particularly vice president Jerry Wexler who were the biggest inspiration for the group both who played a big part in forming The Drifters. Interesting with all the legal issues that have surfaced over the years relating to the Drifters Trademark with one of the most recent being that of the Treadwell versus Marshak Federal case. Where did the name "Drifters" come from? Well, the Atlantic group was neither the first nor the last to use it. Other unrelated, but legitimate groups (that is, groups not pretending to be Atlantic's Drifters or derivatives of them) had appeared on London label (1949-50), Coral label (1950), Excelsior label (1951), Class label (1953), and Crown label (1954). Noted in Marv Goldberg notebook "The Drifters" the early years. Many were country and western bands both here in the United States and abroad in Europe and had used the name the Drifters such as the Carolina Drifters, the Evergreen Drifters, the Texas Drifters, the Ozark Drifters, Johnny Whitlock and the Drifters, the Dixieland Drifters, and the Dixie Drifters. Abroad in England there was Cliff Richards and The Drifters and a white group from Michigan Jimmy Williams.and The Drifters. For the most part it seems The Drifters name was quite common as far as use in the entertainment industry though there are other factors which can determine it's use under trademark classification.The facts on how the Atlantic group of Drifters acquired it's name have been somewhat sketchy but it's said that Clyde McPhatter had been toying around with that name for sometime. It was sometime in 1954 George Treadwell acquired ownership of The Drifters name reportedly from Clyde McPhatter who at a later date regretted what he had done as it started a chain of events that have lasted to this day in dooming the singers who have performed as Drifters to gross exploitation. Most who have died broke in it's 60 year history. During the early years, Drifter brand contracts were clever in construction as they left very little wiggle room once signed. In the employment agreements for the most part there was a guarantee to the artist for at least thirty (30) weeks of employment during any year that the artist performed for the company. Further there was in some cases more or less a net sum of $4500.00 guaranteed during the first year and after that the employer would be relieved and discharged of any liability or any financial obligation thereafter. This virtually made any royalty that the artist would have been entitled to null and void. On the back end of most contracts it was Drifters Incorporated who signed directly with Atlantic Records. The brand itself was the artist not the individual singers who sang on the songs. Treadwell and his business partners were very shrewd in engineering there deals. In one report being able to get advances that were not returnable or recouped by or seen as advances against past or future royalties. This type of deal was made in securing the services of the Late Drifter singing legend Johnny Moore in 1961 for Atlantic Records according legal court transcripts during the period. The Dollar worth was twenty two thousand five hundred ($22,500.00) dollars. It is doubtful if Mr. Moore ever saw any of this advancement. On a whole members in any of the given early years made know more than a 150.00 dollars per week and after the 60s the weekly scale ranged from three hundred ($300.00) to one thousand dollars ($1000.00). I t was not until the 90s that some of the practices of the brand were unraveled when Charlie Thomas won his royalty case against Mrs Treadwell who now managed Drifters Inc. During the 70"s there has been much controversy on who's who on the many of the recordings of the period as it was a practice of the brand to replace members of the group with session singer to get around royalty issues. Voices would be overdub by session singers and or tracks mixed down to hide the original voices. In many cases the session logs were conveniently lost so as there were know record on who was on those sessions. Much of these practices took place in result of a controversy over the Drifters "Now Album" where former members who at the time were US AFTRA union members were not paid according to union scale. US entertainment Federation do not recognize third party entities such as the case with Drifters Inc. who was the defacto artist. In a letter dated September 24th 1974 to AFTRA relating to the recordings "Blessing In Disguise" "Love Games" and "Down On The Beach Tonight" Martin E Rindsberg then attorney for Drifters Inc. attempts to convince the federation that the recording session in the United States for these songs were no longer than 3 hrs over a two days that the Bell group were in the studio, when in fact total recording time exceeded over 15 hrs in duration. Drifters Inc attempted to pay the artist know more than a hundred ($100.00) dollars per person though the scale was four hundred and sixty five (465.00) dollars. This was totally unacceptable to the Federation and a demand was given to Bell Records at the time to deliver the funds as the Producers at the time under Cookaway Productions were not signatories of the US Federation but the recording company would be responsible for full talent and pension and welfare payment to the artist. in this case the log sheets from May Fair Studios in New York were in full possession by the artist and the Federation.


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