Riff Raff

Give Me Royalties or Give Me Death Inc. Three of the four former members of the Dead Kennedys, the long-defunct San Francisco political punk band, announced last week that they intend to terminate their relationship with Alternative Tentacles Records (ATR). The three members -- drummer D.H. Peligro, guitarist East Bay Ray, and bassist Klaus Flouride -- claim that ATR has paid them less in royalties than any other artist on the label for the last 10 years. (ATR denies it.) Although label-artist disputes are common enough in the record business, the former Dead Kennedys' charge is relatively unique and ironic. All four members of the band founded ATR in 1979 as a real alternative to working with major labels. They reasoned that a small, personable company -- run by Ray and the fourth member of the group, Jello Biafra -- could treat artists more fairly than a large corporation. In 1986, the year the Dead Kennedys split up, Biafra took full ownership of Alternative Tentacles. Now, after 10 years of carrying the band's catalog -- which still sells at a rate of 50,000 to 100,000 records per year -- the label, and by extension Biafra himself, finds itself charged with unethical behavior. Last week, Ray, Flouride, and Peligro sent ATR and Biafra a cease-and-desist letter that demanded the label quit selling DK records; they immediately followed the missive with a press release vaguely outlining the disagreement. "Recently, it was discovered that for the past 10 years ATR was paying Dead Kennedys (without their knowledge or consent) less per CD than the other artists on the label," the press release said. "Although claims for royalty underpayment have been presented to ATR, no satisfactory response has been received." Biafra fired back on Friday. "This whole action is a sham," his incendiary response said. "Their motive is sheer greed." Biafra conceded to a miscalculation in royalties, but said that he's actively trying to rectify the situation. Biafra's response also claimed that the three former members are trying to drag the label into a public conflict that could get hammered out in the press. East Bay Ray says that Biafra is wrong. Finally, both sides also disagree over whether or not the band can divorce the label. "They're making claims that they are taking the songs," says Alternative Tentacles' Jennifer Fisher. "They haven't taken them, and they can't." Ray disagrees: "She should consult an attorney. She's incorrect; the band owns the songs." As of early this week, the he-said-she-said arguments were too dense to unpack. Riff Raff promises more info as it comes. (J.S.)

Screw Music, This Is San Francisco Rock History, Part 2 In 1972, when Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann's wife, Susila, began selling the band's T-shirts at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, she probably had no idea that her tiny enterprise would spawn an entire industry. After watching eager Deadheads snap up the shirts, late promoter Bill Graham and Dell Furano, who ran the Ballroom, turned Susila's small business concept into Winterland Productions, a licensing and merchandising juggernaut. For almost 30 years, the company pioneered the rock merchandising industry from its San Francisco offices. At least part of that's about to change: At the end of this month, Winterland will pack up shop and move to a new location, four miles south of the Oakland airport in San Leandro. Before Winterland Productions, there was really no such thing as a standard concert T-shirt. But Graham and Furano had a plan. Their company signed contracts with several acts that had played at the Winterland, including Pink Floyd and the Dead, then developed and printed tour T-shirts for each band. The band, in turn, would sell the product at a slightly inflated price at every stop along its tour. Finally, Winterland, the band, and each venue along the tour would split the profits. The idea was revolutionary and quickly copied. Now, of course, arena acts make millions selling shirts for $25 a pop, while smaller bands keep gas in their vans with the proceeds. Even though Winterland has sold the images of legends like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, and the Grateful Dead, the company is most famous for its association with the New Kids on the Block and a marketing move that would help both parties pocket millions. In the late '80s, Winterland signed an account with the then-superstar New Kids. At the time, the New Kids were huge, bigger than stadiums and Pepsi commercials. Winterland realized that by selling New Kids shirts only at concerts they were missing out on a huge population of potential buyers. The company worked out a deal with Sears that would take the New Kids shirts out of arenas and put them into shopping malls across the country. The idea -- at the time the largest merchandising retail line in the history of the industry -- made more than $400 million. Only two years later, Furano left the company and started Sony Signatures, the music, film, and television licensing arm for Sony music artists. Without Furano, Winterland faltered, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 1997. This past January, just emerging from near ruin, the company set out with a new mission: Not only would it try to run licensing and merchandising for artists like the Backstreet Boys, but it would also carry private lines for famous clothiers. Now, Winterland Productions -- which split with Bill Graham back in 1987 -- has an exclusive manufacturing agreement with Mossimo, and June 18, the company bought San Francisco's Turbo Productions, a competing merchandising company that did private merchandising for Levi Strauss, Tommy Hilfiger, and Donna Karan New York. Winterland also invested in Active Wear, which gave the enterprise exclusive rights to do merchandising for the estates of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., as well as Puff Daddy. The company expects to gross $100 million next year. "Winterland hasn't reached its potential yet," says Winterland CEO Donn Tice. "There are more private labels and recording artists we don't serve than we do." When world domination finally comes, Riff Raff expects to pay $50 for the T-shirt. (Brad King)

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