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When Is a Band Reunion NOT a Reunion?

Image Nostalgia is a bread and butter business. San Diegans are regularly afforded the chance to see bands whose last chart hit was in the Stone’s age, whose heydays may date back further than the first moon landing.

The Grass Roots, the Turtles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Guess Who, the Drifters, the Coasters, the Shirelles, and dozens more “revival” acts seem to be perpetually on the road, like contemporary Flying Dutchmen, often performing together on oldies package tours. In some instances, there are several versions of a single group touring at the same time, each with few if any original members.

This controversial practice has resulted in lawsuits initiated by controlling trademark holders, disappointed patrons, and by hoodwinked promoters who’ve been forced to issue refunds. Bogus tours have been launched by groups calling themselves Badfinger, the Byrds, Spirit, the Grass Roots, the Supremes, and others, with lineups completely unrelated to the best known and most legitimate versions of those bands.

Locally, several groups with few original members have aroused audience ire. One band billing itself as the Alarm hit the stage at 4th & B without key singer and guitarist Mike Peters, causing customers to demand their money back.

The Catamaran issued dozens of refunds to angry patrons when Ambrosia, advertised with a photo of founding duo Joe Puerta and David Pack, came to town without Pack, the band's chief composer, guitarist, and lead singer.

The Reader's Blurt column has covered the debate over the Dead Kennedys continuing to tour without former frontman Jello Biafra.

Image A few years back, Blurt also covered dueling Sugarhill Gang tours, one of them promoted (and then canceled) by local Willie Psycho, a man in dire need of spellcheck software.

Psycho's attempt to play promoter proved to all that just slapping the word “Original” in front of a band name is no guarantee of getting anything akin to the real thing.

Especially when you misspell it "Orginnal."

In summer 2004, Tobey Tenuda spent several few weeks planning a multi-band showcase called “Bands Reunite: Rockin’ All Night,” a traveling revue of '70s and '80s bands with their original (or most influential) members reuniting to perform for the first time in upwards of 20 years.

Tenuda admits the idea came from watching VH1. “They had a series a few months [Bands Reunited] back where they gathered up guys that used to be in Flock Of Seagulls, Dramarama, all these '80s hair bands, and they put them together to rehearse and do a one-night performance. I thought, Brilliant, I have a lot of contacts, I could do this myself, but make it an actual tour!”

Tenuda, who has promoted shows for Orange County and L.A. venues such as Fat Freddy’s, the Palomino Club, and Sunset Strip mainstays like the Viper Room, says his lawyer instructed that he could legally use the words “Bands Reunited,” so long as they’re “slightly changed or interspersed with other words, so it’s not an exact copy. So all our press releases and contracts, we called the show ‘Bands Reunite: Rockin’ All Night.’”

He signed up several classic hard-rockers including Mountain, UFO, Nazareth, Uriah Heep, and Wishbone Ash and says he was already booking into venues across America, including a few prospects in San Diego (he declines to say where — “this may still happen and I don’t wanna f-ck it up”) when he got a tersely worded notice from VH1.

He read me the VH1 warning, and it’s clear from the threatening language (“immediate injunction,” “seize all profits,” “confiscate your firm’s financial records and any mailing lists”) that VH1’s lawyers disagree with Tenuda’s. “But I’m doing a tour, they do a TV show; it’s two completely different things. There should be no ‘market confusion’ and there’s certainly no appropriation of their trademark. Besides, ours is 'Reunite,' present tense; theirs is ‘Reunited,’ past [tense]. I should be Teflon [from lawsuits].”

He says VH1 considered acceptable alternatives. “I’m willing to take a major financial hit and change everything to ‘Rockers Reunited’ if they’ll sign something basically giving me their blessing and agreeing not to sue me.” UFO is already off the tour, not due to VH1 but to immigration problems.

“Their lead singer couldn’t get a work visa permit to come to the U.S.,” informs Tenuda. “After 9/11, it’s really hard to get visas. It turns out he was once fingerprinted in the U.S, 20 years ago.he wasn’t even arrested and he’s been here [in the U.S.] a dozen times since then, but, nowadays, if you’ve ever been fingerprinted, they don’t let you in.”

He also tried to talk the members of San Diego’s own Iron Butterfly to take UFO’s place on the bill, even though one original member is dead. However, his plans for "Bands Reunite" were ultimately scuttled entirely, once VH1 went balls-to-the-courtroom-wall with their opposition.

Image One act that does turn up from time to time, in alternating versions, is the Box Tops, a white soul group originally formed in Memphis in the mid '60s around their vocalist/guitarist, the late Alex Chilton. “The Letter” topped the U.S. chart in 1968 (“Gimme a ticket for an airplane, ain’t got time to take a fast train...”), and they hit number two the following year with a sitar-soaked piece of psychedelia called “Cry Like A Baby.”

Image By 1969, the band was down to only two original members — Chilton and bass/piano player Bill Cunningham. Their last Top 20 hit was the now-forgotten “Soul Deep.” They disbanded in 1971, with Chilton going on to form the cult pop group Big Star.

An alternate Box Tops was put together in 1974 by one of their producers, Tommy Cogbill, to record “Willobee and Dale”; however, the LP was a commercial flop.

In the late '70s, groups from the Woodstock era became dependable draws on the nostalgia circuit. Jason Mershon, former owner of the Harbor Nights nightclub and restaurant in Point Loma, was a show promoter in Colorado at the time.

“I was in the entertainment promotion business,” he told me in a lengthy interview, “and they [the Box Tops] were one of the bands I promoted. Alex Chilton wasn’t with them anymore, and they were going through different singers. I was booking a lot of similar acts...Cory Wells from Three Dog Night, I was booking him. We didn’t call it One Dog Night or anything, but we promoted him as their original singer.”

“There was a version of Steppenwolf going around without John Kay, just with Nick St. Nicholas [bassist on one Steppenwolf LP] and Goldy McJohn [keyboardist on the first five albums]. People would complain about Steppenwolf. They were upset that John Kay wasn’t in the band. And I’d say, ‘John Kay isn’t with the band. This is Steppenwolf now and he isn’t with them anymore.’ ”

At that time, 1977, the only member of the Box Tops who’d recorded with Chilton’s original group was Tom Boggs, who had replaced original Tops drummer Danny Smythe in 1968, playing on “Cry Like A Baby.”

“They asked me to join them as their singer,” says Mershon, acknowledging that his experience as a promoter was a factor in his assignment. “I hadn’t really been in any bands before, but I could sing in that gravelly voice like Chilton had used. I was also able to promote them, so I sort of did double duty that way, getting them gigs at the same time.”

Mershon claims there was never any resentment from audience members or club owners over Chilton’s absence from the lineup, unlike the Steppenwolf tour he’d promoted.

“He [Chilton] was never a well-known lead singer. It wasn’t like Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, or Steve Tyler. When I did the tour in ‘77 and ‘78, it wasn’t like people knew who Alex Chilton was. He wasn’t a household name, so there was no problem carrying it off. It’s funny; after the shows, people would come up and say, ‘Wow, you sound just like you do on the record.’ They didn’t care, they didn’t know, like I say.”

I ask if there had ever been a single complaint relayed to him. “No.”

[Pause]

“Never ever.”

[Longer pause]

“You can rationalize it in some way,” he continues. “They want to hear the music of the groups. People want to hear the Temptations, they want to hear the Coasters and the Drifters. I mean, how many of those members do you think are originals? None. Zero. But the thing is, they still have the licensing. I don’t know how many Drifters or Coasters or Shirelles are floating around the country, but they’re all doing the same thing. People are happy. As long as you put on the show, just sing the hits in the same style, the crowds are always happy.”

What about obtaining licensed permission to sing the songs of the Box Tops? “That was no problem,” says Mershon, “because that falls under ASCAP and BMI. Any band can perform those songs if the venue you’re playing at is licensed by ASCAP and BMI, so those are all covered under that.”

Still, not all concertgoers are happy when they find out that they’ve paid to see what is essentially a cover band, with few if any founding members.

“I know this one agent who promoted a lot of bogus bands,” says Mershon. “He had a group on the road called Bread, without David Gates, which I thought was completely ridiculous. He had all these names like Steppenwolf. There’s a million Temptations. Even the ones out there now, there are no originals. They’re all dead. I mean, the Guess Who are making a lot of money right now without Burton Cummings, their lead singer. It’s mainly a nostalgia thing.

"Look, Rob Grill [bassist and vocalist] of the Grass Roots owned that name, and he rented it out to different groups. There were a lot of Grass Roots going around.”

Would Mershon would be willing to seek out, say, Pete Best, early '60s drummer with the Beatles, and book him on a tour with a group they'd call the Beatles?

"No,” says Mershon, “because the Beatles were four well-known individuals. That's not the case with all bands."

So, were there ever any legal threats over the use of the Box Tops name?

“O,h no,” Mershon insists. “What happened with a lot of bands that were big in the '60s, even with Steppenwolf, the copyright of the names became, uh, not defunct but it wasn’t copyrighted anymore. So a lot of agents bought up the names. They owned them and they put all these different groups on the road. The Box Tops thing, the name was floating around. They stopped having hits in 1971, so actually there’s very few people who remember them. Joe Cocker’s version of ‘The Letter’ is probably played on the radio more than the Box Tops’ version.”

Image Chilton’s alleged obscurity is open to debate. Before he died last year, he still sometimes toured with Big Star and as a solo act, and he released several critically acclaimed (if commercially unsuccessful) albums, such as 1979’s Like Flies on Sherbert.”

In 1987, the Replacements included a song called “Alex Chilton” on their record Pleased To Meet Me. He fronted a reconstituted Box Tops for several years, and new generations know his Big Star song "In the Street" (1972) as the theme song to That '70s Show!

Many rock aficionados (myself included) consider Chilton the definitive — and only — voice of the Box Tops. I mention this to Mershon.

“We had every right to use the Box Tops name legally,” he insists, “because Alex Chilton didn't own sole rights to it. And, ethically, because I WAS a former Box Top. Maybe I wasn't the ORIGINAL singer, but Phil Collins wasn't Genesis' original singer, and his version [of the band] is considered legitimate."

I mention that Collins was a member of Genesis before founding vocalist Peter Gabriel departed for a solo career. "Okay, then, Van Halen was still Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, even though he came from outside the band. I'm not Alex Chilton but, in the late '70s, I was the lead singer of the Box Tops. And that legacy has currency value.”

When Mershon was again asked to join the Box Tops for a five-month tour in 1991 and 1992, no members remained who’d ever been in Chilton’s Box Tops.

Inevitably, such a “revival” would be characterized by many as plundering the bottom of a nearly dry well, an attempt to squeeze a few last drops (and pennies) from the name recognition. Mershon opted this time for a more subject-specific and safeguarded approach, especially since Alex Chilton was touring around the same time with a unit called Alex Chilton’s Box Tops.

Image

“I called myself J.J. Breeze then,” says Mershon, “and we called the group J.J. Breeze and the Box Tops. We had that name so there wouldn’t be any confusion. I copyrighted the new name to make sure that everything was legal, and so that nobody would think we were misleading them.”

Mershon — aka Breeze — also wrote several new songs for the group, including a humorous ditty about condoms called “Protection,” which was released as a single under the name “J.J. Breeze.”

The song became a staple on Dr. Demento’s "Funny Five" for several weeks.

So, was the inclusion of new original songs an attempt to further distance this new Box Tops from other versions of the band? “Absolutely,” says Mershon.

When not with the Box Tops, Mershon was throwing beauty contests like Miss Legs America, in bars and clubs across the country. “I called myself Jason Legs Hunter and spent about ten months a year on the road doing that, from 1980 to 1985.”

Image

By 1994, he’d written a musical play called Heaven Rocks. “It’s about what Heaven is like now, with all the different rock stars. Elvis, Morrison, and Hendrix are taking over everything, things have changed a lot, and Moses doesn’t like it. Everybody you can think of that’s dead is in the play.”

Image

The production premiered in Palm Springs in 1994, moving on to Boston, L.A., and elsewhere. The show even utilized some of the songs he’d written for the early ‘90s Box Tops tour, along with other tunes cowritten with Jerry Corbetta, former lead singer of one-hit wonders Sugarloaf (“Green Eyed Lady”). “We had a lot of the top [rock star] impersonators in the country,” says Mershon. “It was quite a production.”

One thing the show did NOT have was any songs by those original artists.

“We did all original music, but in the style of the stars. We couldn’t get permission to use the hits. The lawyers said we’d be infringing on the copyrights. In fact, one of the subplots of the play was about copyright laws and how the estates won’t let you have the rights to the music. In the play, the devil is disguised as a lawyer and he goes up to Heaven to tell the stars that they can’t play their own songs anymore because they’re now owned by the estates.”

For several runs of Heaven Rocks, local crooner Jose Sinatra played John Lennon.

Image Heaven Rocks ceased production for awhile — it was later revived as Rock and Roll Heaven — The Musical Comedy. In 2006, the show won two L.A. Music Awards.

ImageImage

(Mershon & friends brandishing awards, as seen at rnrheavenrocks.com)

While the show was between productions in the mid-to-late ‘90s, Mershon reflected on the Legs contests he’d thrown in San Diego, at venues in Escondido and Pacific Beach. “I always liked it here and knew my way around. When I came down in 1997, I was looking for a business venture to invest in.”

Point Loma’s Quality Inn had a restaurant and nightclub built onto it that was closed at the time. Mershon purchased the business and fixtures outright, also agreeing to pay lease fees to the hotel for use of the club venue; he called it Harbor Nights and then Jason’s. “For the first seven months, we had live bands six nights a week. We probably had a hundred different local bands come through.”

The club went on to host various late-night raves and events, such as Vortex, which Mershon describes as “a really outrageous fetish ball.” The club also regularly booked “tribute bands,” groups that specialize in re-creating sound-alike sets of music by performers who are either defunct, dead, or far too famous to play an obscure Point Loma hotel bar.

Mershon acknowledges that this sort of endeavor has been a recurring motif in his entertainment career. “It’s a nostalgia thing,” he repeats. “The music is timeless, and people want to hear it, even if the original bands aren’t out there anymore.”

He’s optimistic about the local scene — at least the bands themselves, even if the audience for live music in San Diego is as fickle as any he’s come across in his travels. “In L.A., people will drive for a half hour to see a good band, and they’ll go see that group everywhere they play. Here, it’s hard to get them to walk across the street to see a top act. I could offer free limo rides and the club would still be half empty, no matter how much promotion I do. That’s why the all-age raves seem to do so much better sometimes.”

Would Mershon be interested if a group with the Box Tops moniker asked him to hit the revival highway with them one more time? “I don’t know,” he says. “The last time I did the tour with them, I had spent so many years on the road. I think I finally burned out on it. I realized I wasn’t missing anything. It just wasn’t as fun as it was when I was 25 years old.”

Note: In 2002, the original Box Tops reunited with Alex Chilton at a German recording studio to cut several new tracks and re-record a few others for a planned box set compilation. Mershon was not invited.

Image

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Following Serra High controversy, other San Diego High Schools forced to reckon with racist namesakes

Name Shame

Image Nostalgia is a bread and butter business. San Diegans are regularly afforded the chance to see bands whose last chart hit was in the Stone’s age, whose heydays may date back further than the first moon landing.

The Grass Roots, the Turtles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Guess Who, the Drifters, the Coasters, the Shirelles, and dozens more “revival” acts seem to be perpetually on the road, like contemporary Flying Dutchmen, often performing together on oldies package tours. In some instances, there are several versions of a single group touring at the same time, each with few if any original members.

This controversial practice has resulted in lawsuits initiated by controlling trademark holders, disappointed patrons, and by hoodwinked promoters who’ve been forced to issue refunds. Bogus tours have been launched by groups calling themselves Badfinger, the Byrds, Spirit, the Grass Roots, the Supremes, and others, with lineups completely unrelated to the best known and most legitimate versions of those bands.

Locally, several groups with few original members have aroused audience ire. One band billing itself as the Alarm hit the stage at 4th & B without key singer and guitarist Mike Peters, causing customers to demand their money back.

The Catamaran issued dozens of refunds to angry patrons when Ambrosia, advertised with a photo of founding duo Joe Puerta and David Pack, came to town without Pack, the band's chief composer, guitarist, and lead singer.

The Reader's Blurt column has covered the debate over the Dead Kennedys continuing to tour without former frontman Jello Biafra.

Image A few years back, Blurt also covered dueling Sugarhill Gang tours, one of them promoted (and then canceled) by local Willie Psycho, a man in dire need of spellcheck software.

Psycho's attempt to play promoter proved to all that just slapping the word “Original” in front of a band name is no guarantee of getting anything akin to the real thing.

Especially when you misspell it "Orginnal."

In summer 2004, Tobey Tenuda spent several few weeks planning a multi-band showcase called “Bands Reunite: Rockin’ All Night,” a traveling revue of '70s and '80s bands with their original (or most influential) members reuniting to perform for the first time in upwards of 20 years.

Tenuda admits the idea came from watching VH1. “They had a series a few months [Bands Reunited] back where they gathered up guys that used to be in Flock Of Seagulls, Dramarama, all these '80s hair bands, and they put them together to rehearse and do a one-night performance. I thought, Brilliant, I have a lot of contacts, I could do this myself, but make it an actual tour!”

Tenuda, who has promoted shows for Orange County and L.A. venues such as Fat Freddy’s, the Palomino Club, and Sunset Strip mainstays like the Viper Room, says his lawyer instructed that he could legally use the words “Bands Reunited,” so long as they’re “slightly changed or interspersed with other words, so it’s not an exact copy. So all our press releases and contracts, we called the show ‘Bands Reunite: Rockin’ All Night.’”

He signed up several classic hard-rockers including Mountain, UFO, Nazareth, Uriah Heep, and Wishbone Ash and says he was already booking into venues across America, including a few prospects in San Diego (he declines to say where — “this may still happen and I don’t wanna f-ck it up”) when he got a tersely worded notice from VH1.

He read me the VH1 warning, and it’s clear from the threatening language (“immediate injunction,” “seize all profits,” “confiscate your firm’s financial records and any mailing lists”) that VH1’s lawyers disagree with Tenuda’s. “But I’m doing a tour, they do a TV show; it’s two completely different things. There should be no ‘market confusion’ and there’s certainly no appropriation of their trademark. Besides, ours is 'Reunite,' present tense; theirs is ‘Reunited,’ past [tense]. I should be Teflon [from lawsuits].”

He says VH1 considered acceptable alternatives. “I’m willing to take a major financial hit and change everything to ‘Rockers Reunited’ if they’ll sign something basically giving me their blessing and agreeing not to sue me.” UFO is already off the tour, not due to VH1 but to immigration problems.

“Their lead singer couldn’t get a work visa permit to come to the U.S.,” informs Tenuda. “After 9/11, it’s really hard to get visas. It turns out he was once fingerprinted in the U.S, 20 years ago.he wasn’t even arrested and he’s been here [in the U.S.] a dozen times since then, but, nowadays, if you’ve ever been fingerprinted, they don’t let you in.”

He also tried to talk the members of San Diego’s own Iron Butterfly to take UFO’s place on the bill, even though one original member is dead. However, his plans for "Bands Reunite" were ultimately scuttled entirely, once VH1 went balls-to-the-courtroom-wall with their opposition.

Image One act that does turn up from time to time, in alternating versions, is the Box Tops, a white soul group originally formed in Memphis in the mid '60s around their vocalist/guitarist, the late Alex Chilton. “The Letter” topped the U.S. chart in 1968 (“Gimme a ticket for an airplane, ain’t got time to take a fast train...”), and they hit number two the following year with a sitar-soaked piece of psychedelia called “Cry Like A Baby.”

Image By 1969, the band was down to only two original members — Chilton and bass/piano player Bill Cunningham. Their last Top 20 hit was the now-forgotten “Soul Deep.” They disbanded in 1971, with Chilton going on to form the cult pop group Big Star.

An alternate Box Tops was put together in 1974 by one of their producers, Tommy Cogbill, to record “Willobee and Dale”; however, the LP was a commercial flop.

In the late '70s, groups from the Woodstock era became dependable draws on the nostalgia circuit. Jason Mershon, former owner of the Harbor Nights nightclub and restaurant in Point Loma, was a show promoter in Colorado at the time.

“I was in the entertainment promotion business,” he told me in a lengthy interview, “and they [the Box Tops] were one of the bands I promoted. Alex Chilton wasn’t with them anymore, and they were going through different singers. I was booking a lot of similar acts...Cory Wells from Three Dog Night, I was booking him. We didn’t call it One Dog Night or anything, but we promoted him as their original singer.”

“There was a version of Steppenwolf going around without John Kay, just with Nick St. Nicholas [bassist on one Steppenwolf LP] and Goldy McJohn [keyboardist on the first five albums]. People would complain about Steppenwolf. They were upset that John Kay wasn’t in the band. And I’d say, ‘John Kay isn’t with the band. This is Steppenwolf now and he isn’t with them anymore.’ ”

At that time, 1977, the only member of the Box Tops who’d recorded with Chilton’s original group was Tom Boggs, who had replaced original Tops drummer Danny Smythe in 1968, playing on “Cry Like A Baby.”

“They asked me to join them as their singer,” says Mershon, acknowledging that his experience as a promoter was a factor in his assignment. “I hadn’t really been in any bands before, but I could sing in that gravelly voice like Chilton had used. I was also able to promote them, so I sort of did double duty that way, getting them gigs at the same time.”

Mershon claims there was never any resentment from audience members or club owners over Chilton’s absence from the lineup, unlike the Steppenwolf tour he’d promoted.

“He [Chilton] was never a well-known lead singer. It wasn’t like Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, or Steve Tyler. When I did the tour in ‘77 and ‘78, it wasn’t like people knew who Alex Chilton was. He wasn’t a household name, so there was no problem carrying it off. It’s funny; after the shows, people would come up and say, ‘Wow, you sound just like you do on the record.’ They didn’t care, they didn’t know, like I say.”

I ask if there had ever been a single complaint relayed to him. “No.”

[Pause]

“Never ever.”

[Longer pause]

“You can rationalize it in some way,” he continues. “They want to hear the music of the groups. People want to hear the Temptations, they want to hear the Coasters and the Drifters. I mean, how many of those members do you think are originals? None. Zero. But the thing is, they still have the licensing. I don’t know how many Drifters or Coasters or Shirelles are floating around the country, but they’re all doing the same thing. People are happy. As long as you put on the show, just sing the hits in the same style, the crowds are always happy.”

What about obtaining licensed permission to sing the songs of the Box Tops? “That was no problem,” says Mershon, “because that falls under ASCAP and BMI. Any band can perform those songs if the venue you’re playing at is licensed by ASCAP and BMI, so those are all covered under that.”

Still, not all concertgoers are happy when they find out that they’ve paid to see what is essentially a cover band, with few if any founding members.

“I know this one agent who promoted a lot of bogus bands,” says Mershon. “He had a group on the road called Bread, without David Gates, which I thought was completely ridiculous. He had all these names like Steppenwolf. There’s a million Temptations. Even the ones out there now, there are no originals. They’re all dead. I mean, the Guess Who are making a lot of money right now without Burton Cummings, their lead singer. It’s mainly a nostalgia thing.

"Look, Rob Grill [bassist and vocalist] of the Grass Roots owned that name, and he rented it out to different groups. There were a lot of Grass Roots going around.”

Would Mershon would be willing to seek out, say, Pete Best, early '60s drummer with the Beatles, and book him on a tour with a group they'd call the Beatles?

"No,” says Mershon, “because the Beatles were four well-known individuals. That's not the case with all bands."

So, were there ever any legal threats over the use of the Box Tops name?

“O,h no,” Mershon insists. “What happened with a lot of bands that were big in the '60s, even with Steppenwolf, the copyright of the names became, uh, not defunct but it wasn’t copyrighted anymore. So a lot of agents bought up the names. They owned them and they put all these different groups on the road. The Box Tops thing, the name was floating around. They stopped having hits in 1971, so actually there’s very few people who remember them. Joe Cocker’s version of ‘The Letter’ is probably played on the radio more than the Box Tops’ version.”

Image Chilton’s alleged obscurity is open to debate. Before he died last year, he still sometimes toured with Big Star and as a solo act, and he released several critically acclaimed (if commercially unsuccessful) albums, such as 1979’s Like Flies on Sherbert.”

In 1987, the Replacements included a song called “Alex Chilton” on their record Pleased To Meet Me. He fronted a reconstituted Box Tops for several years, and new generations know his Big Star song "In the Street" (1972) as the theme song to That '70s Show!

Many rock aficionados (myself included) consider Chilton the definitive — and only — voice of the Box Tops. I mention this to Mershon.

“We had every right to use the Box Tops name legally,” he insists, “because Alex Chilton didn't own sole rights to it. And, ethically, because I WAS a former Box Top. Maybe I wasn't the ORIGINAL singer, but Phil Collins wasn't Genesis' original singer, and his version [of the band] is considered legitimate."

I mention that Collins was a member of Genesis before founding vocalist Peter Gabriel departed for a solo career. "Okay, then, Van Halen was still Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, even though he came from outside the band. I'm not Alex Chilton but, in the late '70s, I was the lead singer of the Box Tops. And that legacy has currency value.”

When Mershon was again asked to join the Box Tops for a five-month tour in 1991 and 1992, no members remained who’d ever been in Chilton’s Box Tops.

Inevitably, such a “revival” would be characterized by many as plundering the bottom of a nearly dry well, an attempt to squeeze a few last drops (and pennies) from the name recognition. Mershon opted this time for a more subject-specific and safeguarded approach, especially since Alex Chilton was touring around the same time with a unit called Alex Chilton’s Box Tops.

Image

“I called myself J.J. Breeze then,” says Mershon, “and we called the group J.J. Breeze and the Box Tops. We had that name so there wouldn’t be any confusion. I copyrighted the new name to make sure that everything was legal, and so that nobody would think we were misleading them.”

Mershon — aka Breeze — also wrote several new songs for the group, including a humorous ditty about condoms called “Protection,” which was released as a single under the name “J.J. Breeze.”

The song became a staple on Dr. Demento’s "Funny Five" for several weeks.

So, was the inclusion of new original songs an attempt to further distance this new Box Tops from other versions of the band? “Absolutely,” says Mershon.

When not with the Box Tops, Mershon was throwing beauty contests like Miss Legs America, in bars and clubs across the country. “I called myself Jason Legs Hunter and spent about ten months a year on the road doing that, from 1980 to 1985.”

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By 1994, he’d written a musical play called Heaven Rocks. “It’s about what Heaven is like now, with all the different rock stars. Elvis, Morrison, and Hendrix are taking over everything, things have changed a lot, and Moses doesn’t like it. Everybody you can think of that’s dead is in the play.”

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The production premiered in Palm Springs in 1994, moving on to Boston, L.A., and elsewhere. The show even utilized some of the songs he’d written for the early ‘90s Box Tops tour, along with other tunes cowritten with Jerry Corbetta, former lead singer of one-hit wonders Sugarloaf (“Green Eyed Lady”). “We had a lot of the top [rock star] impersonators in the country,” says Mershon. “It was quite a production.”

One thing the show did NOT have was any songs by those original artists.

“We did all original music, but in the style of the stars. We couldn’t get permission to use the hits. The lawyers said we’d be infringing on the copyrights. In fact, one of the subplots of the play was about copyright laws and how the estates won’t let you have the rights to the music. In the play, the devil is disguised as a lawyer and he goes up to Heaven to tell the stars that they can’t play their own songs anymore because they’re now owned by the estates.”

For several runs of Heaven Rocks, local crooner Jose Sinatra played John Lennon.

Image Heaven Rocks ceased production for awhile — it was later revived as Rock and Roll Heaven — The Musical Comedy. In 2006, the show won two L.A. Music Awards.

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(Mershon & friends brandishing awards, as seen at rnrheavenrocks.com)

While the show was between productions in the mid-to-late ‘90s, Mershon reflected on the Legs contests he’d thrown in San Diego, at venues in Escondido and Pacific Beach. “I always liked it here and knew my way around. When I came down in 1997, I was looking for a business venture to invest in.”

Point Loma’s Quality Inn had a restaurant and nightclub built onto it that was closed at the time. Mershon purchased the business and fixtures outright, also agreeing to pay lease fees to the hotel for use of the club venue; he called it Harbor Nights and then Jason’s. “For the first seven months, we had live bands six nights a week. We probably had a hundred different local bands come through.”

The club went on to host various late-night raves and events, such as Vortex, which Mershon describes as “a really outrageous fetish ball.” The club also regularly booked “tribute bands,” groups that specialize in re-creating sound-alike sets of music by performers who are either defunct, dead, or far too famous to play an obscure Point Loma hotel bar.

Mershon acknowledges that this sort of endeavor has been a recurring motif in his entertainment career. “It’s a nostalgia thing,” he repeats. “The music is timeless, and people want to hear it, even if the original bands aren’t out there anymore.”

He’s optimistic about the local scene — at least the bands themselves, even if the audience for live music in San Diego is as fickle as any he’s come across in his travels. “In L.A., people will drive for a half hour to see a good band, and they’ll go see that group everywhere they play. Here, it’s hard to get them to walk across the street to see a top act. I could offer free limo rides and the club would still be half empty, no matter how much promotion I do. That’s why the all-age raves seem to do so much better sometimes.”

Would Mershon be interested if a group with the Box Tops moniker asked him to hit the revival highway with them one more time? “I don’t know,” he says. “The last time I did the tour with them, I had spent so many years on the road. I think I finally burned out on it. I realized I wasn’t missing anything. It just wasn’t as fun as it was when I was 25 years old.”

Note: In 2002, the original Box Tops reunited with Alex Chilton at a German recording studio to cut several new tracks and re-record a few others for a planned box set compilation. Mershon was not invited.

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Comments
6

it does drive one crazy eh?!!

June 10, 2011

I've argued over Badfinger being legit, since surviving frontman Joey Molland was NOT an original member, and the other three pivotal members are dead. But I maintain support of his right to be Badfinger - As early as 1970, “Better Days” - a Molland/Evans single from the No Dice album (the first full Badfinger album with Joey Molland) – was the popular flipside of the monster hit single “No Matter What” (US #8). Joey also co-wrote “I Don’t Mind” on this album.

1971’s Straight Up album had Joey’s “Sometimes,” “Suitcase” (featuring Beatles cohort Klaus Voorman), “I’d Die Babe,” AND a lovely little acoustic ballad still well-suited for solo performance, “Sweet Tuesday Morning.” He also co-wrote “Flying” on this one, a personal fave of mine ---

And arguably the two most rootsy rockin’ songs ever done by the classic lineup were on their final Apple album Ass (1973), with Joey’s “I Can Love You” and “Icicles.” Of the album’s ten songs, Joey wrote five.

For Badfinger’s self-titled Warner Brothers album in 1974, Joey wrote four of the twelve tracks – the final album with the four “classic” members, Wish You Were Here, also had four Joey tracks (two of them grafted onto other songs in operatic “suites”), “Got To Get Out of Here” being the Beatlesque best, tho the closing track “Should I Smoke” is one of the band’s all-time great rock-out end-of-set numbers ---

June 11, 2011

I understand the logic of your arguement. However, without casting aspersions on Joey Molland and whether or not he is Badfinger, let me reframe that question in this manner. If he were to be the only surviving member at some point, would it be proper for Woody to tour as the Stones? I concede that is ahighly unlikely probability because Keith Richards will most likely outlive us all, but if it were to pass, what would be your opinion?

June 30, 2011

I'll preface my reply to your query with another query - how many randomly surveyed music fans would be able to name one, two, or all three deceased Badfinger players? I'd venture to guess not very many -- but ask the same people to name Ronnie Wood's bandmates in the Rolling Stones, and chances are almost everybody would instantly name Mick 'n' Keith, and maybe a coupla other players from the Stones' age.

Jason Mershon actually has a solid argument about the level of fame of a bandmember being "replaced" - he just misses the mark by assuming Alex Chilton and John Kay (Steppenwolf) lacked such name recognition.

I'd rather play Badfinger music with most if not all of the players from the 70s albums I treasure - but I'm happy to go see Joey any time he trots those songs, including many of his own, to a venue near me. He may be Last Man Standing, but he's still the Man when it comes to honoring that music in concert --

June 30, 2011

Forgive me if I couldn't decipher your reply, but your answer to my hypothetical is...? And for the record, I have no problem admitting that the only origanal Badfinger members I can name are Pete Ham and Tom Evans both of whom hanged themselves.

June 30, 2011

No, Ron Wood would not qualify to tour sans-Stones as "The Rolling Stones." His bandmates are too famous and pivotal to write out -- Wood COULD, however, adopt Bill Wyman's "Stone Alone" moniker without arousing mass ire...

July 1, 2011

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