Legal Battle Ensues Over Fate of Broadway-Aimed Stax Records Jukebox Musical

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14 Aug 2014

Evergreen Media Holdings announced plans Aug. 13 to develop a film and subsequent Broadway jukebox musical based on the history of R&B and soul label Stax Records. The news follows a separate announcement in July that Concord Music Group and Grammy Award-winning producer Stuart Benjamin were also at work to bring the story to the stage.

Academy Award-winning "20 Feet From Stardom" director Morgan Neville is attached to produce the Evergreen film/stage projects that will be based on the Robert Gordon book "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion." Evergreen has signed exclusive deals with Gordon and Rondor Music International, which has publishing rights to the majority of the Stax Records catalogue.

A lawsuit filed by Evergreen-Rondor states that Rondor Music International "holds the exclusive publishing rights to the vast majority, e.g., approximately ninety-nine percent (99%), of Stax Records' catalog of iconic songs," while Concord only "holds the exclusive rights to the physical masters of certain Stax Records sound recordings."

Owning the rights to the sound recordings may not be enough to get Concord's project to the stage, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit continues: "Accordingly, Rondor – and not Concord – has the exclusive rights to license the publishing rights to said Compositions to third-parties and to otherwise use or exploit the Compositions for, among other things, legitimate stage productions (e.g., a Broadway musical production). In order for a legitimate stage musical to be produced using the Compositions, it requires, in any and all circumstances, the grant of the publishing rights for the Compositions. Rondor controls said publishing rights and at no time did Rondor grant those publishing rights to Defendants."



However, Concord's ownership of the original masters mean that were Evergreen-Rondor to push forward with a film of "Respect Yourself," the project would be unable to utilize the original recordings owned by Condor. New recordings would have to be made.

In addition, the lawsuit states that Concord and Evergreen-Rondor had been in discussions to move forward with the project jointly; however, Concord pushed forward with a press release announcing the stage musical despite being admonished by Evergreen. The Concord release, which indicated a 2016 Broadway arrival for the musical, was issued prior to any official agreement between both parties.

Concord, reached by the Hollywood Reporter, stated, "The lawsuit is utterly without merit. Other than that, we have no comment."

Evergreen/Rondor's lawsuit states that Concord's premature announcement has "scared away financial investors and made it virtually impossible" for Evergreen to move forward with plans for the film and stage musical.

Despite the lawsuit, Evergreen issued its own release about the upcoming film-stage production. Here's how it's billed: "Set in 1960s Memphis against the turbulent height of the civil rights movement, 'Respect Yourself' details the true story of the origins of Stax Records and how at that pivotal point in history, two most unlikely business partners - a white banker and a black radio disc jockey -- at the risk of their own personal safety, come together through their common love of music to create a new genre of Memphis Soul Music. In the process, and against all odds, they build one of the most important and influential record labels of the modern era, Stax Records."

"While Evergreen is known for commercially successful branded properties and true stories, it is rare to come across such a unique true story such as Respect Yourself. Like other 'prestige projects' including '12 Years a Slave' or 'The Butler,' which are wonderful ensemble pieces which were imbued with Academy Award potential, the 'Respect Yourself' story, combined with the world-renowned and enduring Stax music, makes Evergreen's feature film project exponentially more commercially viable," said Evergreen CEO Tony DeRosa-Grund in a statement. "Our goal is to simultaneously develop the Stax feature film and Broadway musical. Our plan is to first release the film then very shortly thereafter, open the Broadway musical version of 'Respect Yourself.' By employing this model, the musical can take significant advantage of the millions of dollars spent on the promotion of the film."

Songs to be featured include "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," "Green Onions," "Knock On Wood," "Soul Man," "I'll Take You There," "In The Midnight Hour" and "The Theme from Shaft."

Stax Records nurtured the careers of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG’s, The Staple Singers, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, David Porter, Steve Cropper, and Rufus and Carla Thomas and more.