Source: –

by RANDY REISS – 10/29/1998

Tenuous talks between the former members of the ’80s punk group Dead Kennedys over royalties have broken down and the matter now is headed to court.In a seven-count suit filed Thursday afternoon (Oct. 29), members of the Dead Kennedys claim that the band’s former lead singer, Jello Biafra, failed to pay them their full share of royalties and that he instead took the money for himself and his label Alternative Tentacles. “It’s ironic, because Alternative Tentacles was formed by us as an alternative to the greedy tentacles of the large corporate labels,” said former Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray, whose real name was unavailable. “Then Biafra took it over and became what he hates. Biafra has violated the spirit of the label.”
The suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court charges Biafra — who also heads the Alternative Tentacles label, which released Dead Kennedys material — with breach of duty and breach of contract. Biafra and the other former members of the group, Ray, bassist Klaus Fluoride and drummer D.H. Peligro, had been in talks this month to work out a deal, but an agreement couldn’t be reached, according to David M. Given, who is representing the three Dead Kennedys members.

The suit grew out of a Sept. 30 announcement by Ray, Fluoride and Peligro that they had taken a vote and decided to move the Kennedys’ six-album catalog to another label. They charged that for the past 10 years, Alternative Tentacles had paid them a lesser royalty rate than that given to other groups on the label.

“We ain’t gonna work on Biafra’s farm no more,” Ray said, paraphrasing folk-rock legend Bob Dylan in an official press release announcing the suit Thursday (Oct. 29).

Biafra has acknowledged that there were some accounting mistakes but denied that he purposely cheated his former bandmates of money. He also has threatened to take the matter to court. Representatives for Biafra and Alternative Tentacles could not be reached for comment on the suit by press time.

In an interview earlier this month, Biafra (born Eric Boucher) said the three were paid royalties based on a retail price of $10.98 per CD, an arrangement agreed upon by all bandmembers in 1989. According to Biafra, Ray asked that the rate be raised to $13.98 last year and claimed that Alternative Tentacles consented to the increase. Biafra said he never heard back from the other members to confirm it.

Biafra also claimed that the label’s lawyers have made written offers to the former Dead Kennedys members to recalculate past royalties. He said they even suggested that the additional amounts could come out of Biafra’s pocket.

“If they tried to solve the problem constructively, the whole royalty situation would have been sorted out and they would have been paid in January,” Biafra said.

Given said that the negotiations over the disagreement broke down over the past few weeks and that the group saw no other choice but to file suit against the politically outspoken Biafra. “One of the things they asked for was … an independent party to look at the books, and [Biafra] refused to [do that],” Given explained.

“The other big thing was that he refused to pay the recognized sum of past royalties that were due,” he added. “These were recognized unconditionally, and what he did was put them in a trust and say, ’You can’t have this until we work out a deal.’ ”

Some Dead Kennedys albums, such as Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980) and Frankenchrist (1985), are considered landmarks of American punk for their creative song structures and biting social commentary.

The band broke up in early 1986 and later that year were involved in a court case that involved a controversial poster included withFrankenchrist. Ray and Flouride currently perform in the San Francisco surf-instrumental band Jumbo Shrimp. Peligro also is a former member of the L.A. funk-rock outfit Red Hot Chili Peppers and currently heads up a band called Peligro.

Following the three former Dead Kennedys bandmates’ announcement that they were leaving Biafra’s label, the singer leveled his own raft of charges at Ray, including the claim that the guitarist licensed the Dead Kennedys’ recording of “Viva Las Vegas” for use in the film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” without ever consulting him. Biafra acquired the label from the band in 1986.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Ray said Biafra’s actions in negotiating left the group no other option but to sue.

“Biafra’s acting like a large record label. He’s shortchanging us on royalties and cutting us out of earnings from the Dead Kennedys catalog. I think that’s a shabby way to treat your bandmembers, ” he said.

A court date has not yet been set.