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Phoebe Snow Finds the Suburbs of the Soul: Rolling Stone's 1975 Cover Story

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The case was briefly tried in the media over promotion, which wasn't legally at issue. The session pay was "Throughout April and May,' says Steve Rand, "Phoebe's attorney and I sought through conversations with Shelter to secure proper payment for her sessions in New York. We had determined that she had spent in excess of 60 hours working on her record in a New York studio and far in excess of 60 hours prior to those sessions working in preparation for her album at studios in Los Angeles, Tulsa and Nashville. At the same time we requested detailed royalty statements such as are required under her agreement with Shelter and didn't receive any such statements. By May Shelter had told both me and her attorney that it would not pay what we considered to be proper compensation for the New York sessions, let alone offer to compensate her for the sessions prior to New York, for which she had been paid not one cent."

Harvey Fierstein, Shelter's attorney, says of the session pay question that "Phoebe and her advisers claim she was entitled to be compensated as a leader for each and every hour that recording was in progress. It was their contention that she was to be paid whether or not her services were performed or her presence required. It was Shelter's position that she was entitled to be compensated for the amount of time that was actually spent in recording or the amount of time that she was required to be present."

Rand: "It's my understanding that in May Phoebe's attorney had advised her of Shelter's refusal to pay proper union scale and its failure to render detailed royalty statements. Acting on her attorney's counsel, she then instructed him to write Shelter, giving it 60 days as required by the contract to cure these various breaches. Sixty days passed, Shelter didn't act, and it's my understanding that she then instructed her attorney to advise Shelter that, by reason of its breaches, she was no longer contractually bound to the company. After that letter was sent to Shelter, she instructed me to see whether any other recording company would be interested in signing her. At her request I approached several companies, one of which was Columbia."

Fierstein: "In July 1974, Shelter heard through the grapevine that Steve Rand had been negotiating with other recording companies and had taken the position that Phoebe was no longer under contract to Shelter. To counteract this Shelter, at my direction, sent telegrams to over 40 recording companies, including Columbia, advising them that Phoebe was under exclusive contract to us. In August Shelter filed an action against Phoebe, and the court set a hearing on an order to show cause in re preliminary injunction, which is a legal proceeding required prior to the issuance of an injunction.

"Inasmuch as Phoebe lived in New Jersey, we had to have her served through the local sheriff. We were unsucÈessful in doing so; it was my opinion that she was clearly evading service. The hearing was set for August 30th, and by local court rules I had to file proof that she had been served by August 28th. I was unable to furnish such proof to the court, so the hearing was taken off the court's calendar. This was not an adjudication of any sort. In late September I heard, once again through the grapevine, that Phoebe was about to sign a contract with CBS. I immediately put in a call to the chief legal counsel for CBS Records. He would only acknowledge that Phoebe had been dealing with CBS, but with this knowledge in mind I served CBS as a party to the litigation that Shelter had initiated against Phoebe. I also prepared a new order to show cause. Due to the fact that my partner and our wives were about to go on a three-week vacation, the hearing on the injunction was not held until November."

By this time Phoebe had signed with Columbia. A CBS representative, who declines to be identified by name, asserts that "the first serious meeting between Phoebe's representatives and CBS took place in mid-August. At that time her representatives showed us papers indicating that they had on several occasions advised Shelter that Shelter was in breach of its agreements with her, that she regarded the term of her contract with them as over and herself as free to enter into an agreement elsewhere. At that point, as I recall, Shelter had started an action against Phoebe and we decided to withhold acting until the court ruled on Shelter's motion for an injunction. Several weeks passed. We were then advised that Shelter's lawyers had voluntarily taken the motion for an injunction off the calendar and at this point we prepared and signed a contract with Phoebe, in the honest belief that Shelter was not seeking an injunction. Thereafter Shelter renewed its motion and added us to its lawsuit. Then, after some procedures took place, there was a hearing, and the court did grant Shelter a temporary injunction against Phoebe. But at the same time, Shelter was ordered to comply with its obligations under the contracts, the main ones being to render accountings and pay royalties. After that, there was an arbitration of the session pay dispute at the American Federation of Musicians. It was found that Shelter should have paid her $5400 in scale and had actually paid her only $1100. Based on that, Phoebe and CBS went back to the court and asked that the temporary injunction be set aside, on the grounds that this was a pretty serious breach. The lower court held that the judge didn't have the jurisdiction to decide the motion, only the appellate court could, so now we're asking the appellate court for that release.

"Remember, when Phoebe came to us in August her album was still very low in the charts; she wasn't trying to capitalize on a burst of popularity. The bottom line, as far as CBS is concerned, is that this girl came to us and told us she had a fixed intention never again to record for Shelter. We have been approached very frequently over the years by disgruntled artists and we almost never sign an artist in this situation, unless we're sure the situation the artist is claiming is a factual one and the artist has already split. We believe, based on the file that we saw, that we did the right thing and we feel very heavily committed to this girl and are going to see this through."

Fierstein spoke for Shelter during the court proceedings leading to the injunction when he said, "Your honor, we want her back. With everything that has gone on, we want her back and we are willing to accommodate her in any way we can." Phoebe says she "just can't talk about being with Shelter. It's what they call a litigious situation and nope, absolutely not." She pauses. "I can tell you one thing, though. No matter what happens, I'll never record for them again."

Her friends in New Jersey say her months of involvement with the company were a time of "very weird scenes" and speak of rumÈred "mind-fuck trips," but they refuse to add substantive details. A former employee of Shelter agrees that "weirdness went on" but asserts that it had at least as much to do with Phoebe as with the Shelter people. Several observers contend that the apparent instance of badly misinterpreted signals between Shelter and CBS during the crucial period of late summer to early fall 1974 is more than passing strange. Nobody is taking bets on when Phoebe will be free to record again.

Phil Ramone would rather talk about the music. "My first impression of her," he says, "was of a healthy Sarah Vaughn. You see chops like hers come along once in a great while. There was even something about the way she played the guitar, a Django Reinhardt kind of rawness. Tie those two things together and you're listening to something that's actually new, an opportunity you don't have very often." To which Phoebe, off on the West Coast leg of her first tour, adds: "Nobody can keep me from performing, my boyfriend's here with me. As long as I don't have to eat sugar I'm cool."

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