Chicago house music pioneers Larry Heard (a.k.a. Mr. Fingers) and Robert Owens filed a lawsuit against Trax Records on June 23 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The claim alleges Trax Records — co-founded in 1984 by Larry Sherman (who died in April) and Jesse Saunders — exploited both artists in multiple ways, including nonpayment of royalties. The suit seeks $150,000 for each work that is alleged to have been infringed, but “not less than” $1 million in total. Trax Records, currently run by Screamin’ Rachael Cain, has yet to comment publicly.
In the preliminary statement of the lawsuit the plaintiffs claim:
“This case involves an all-too familiar story of the early days of the music industry. Talented, but unrepresented, musicians hungry for their first break were lulled into a business relationship with an unscrupulous record company that made promises it never intended to keep and masqueraded as paternalistic benefactors for those artists – like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Heard and Owens claim they were not the only house music artists to be exploited by Trax Records:
“It also happened with another house-music legend known as ”Frankie Knuckles,” an American DJ, record producer, and remixer who, like Owens and Heard, played an important role in developing and popularizing house music in Chicago during the 1980s…. Knuckles could have died a richer man and been able to leave something to his heirs, if only Trax had paid him what it owed for its exploitation of his music.”
The lawsuit claims nonpayment of the following tracks:
Larry Heard said of the lawsuit: “After doing several releases independently, it was so disappointing that my earliest ventures into the music business was with a label in the community that turned out to be dishonest, like with many other artists that we hear about all too often.
“We are simply seeking justice and fairness. Maybe, our efforts will shed light on the many predatory practices that have been in place for a long time in this industry.”
Robert Owens added: “Trax’s treatment of those artists on its label is notorious to those in the electronic world. Many of my friends and fellow artists have been similarly treated. Hopefully this lawsuit will end Trax’s reign of non-payment.”
For years, artists have alleged that Trax Records never paid them. Earlier this month, a UK-based DJ Steve Morgan launched a wildly successful fundraiser for house music DJ/producer Adonis to “pay for stolen royalties” allegedly not paid by Trax Records.
Adonis later posted on Facebook, “34 years not one cent in royalties.”