More than a dozen musicians filed a lawsuit against the venerable Chicago house label Trax Records, its current owners Screamin’ Rachael Cain and Sandyee Barns, as well as the estate of co-founder Larry Sherman, on Friday (October 14). Vince Lawrence, a co-founder of Trax Records, Marshall Jefferson, Adonis, and Maurice Joshua are among those suing, alleging that the label owes them outstanding royalties and, in some cases, failed to pay particular artists anything at all.
Trax’s early years were characterized as a “shell game” that included falsified signatures, returned cheques, and bad accounting in a copy of the lawsuit that Rolling Stone was able to access. The case states that the plaintiffs are entitled to the highest statutory damages possible for willful infringement, which are $150,000 for each timely registered work that was violated. The plaintiffs may choose to recover statutory damages.
Sean Mulroney, the attorney for the artists in the action, asserts that Trax Records’ history demonstrates a specific pattern of financial mismanagement. Mulroney told Rolling Stone, “Larry Sherman stated he was going to compensate them and never did. “Are you going to spend $50,000 or $60,000 to try to find it, knowing there is no hope of success? What do they go for? You must ask yourself, “Is it worth it? Just let me keep writing. And several of these individuals vowed they would never again compose music. Mulroney has been contacted by Pitchfork for comment.
In 1984, Vince Lawrence and Jesse Saunders joined forces with Larry Sherman to form Trax Records. The Chicago Tribune interviewed Sherman in 1997 about how he managed the company. Sherman stated, “The teenagers making these recordings didn’t know what they should get, and they sometimes didn’t know what their work was worth. You also wouldn’t remark, “I think you’re underestimating the value of your material,” if you were a competent businessman. A couple thousand dollars more are here. At the age of 70, Sherman passed away in 2020.
Marshall Jefferson, one of the plaintiffs, says Trax Records distributed his song “Move Your Body” without his permission and never paid him for his contributions. Jefferson said to a source, “We didn’t have record labels in Chicago.” “It was completely unknown land. We were essentially led to the slaughter because we had no idea how to negotiate record deals or anything similar. Nothing was revealed to us by him. No statements arrived. We merely wished to release our music.
In 2006, Sherman’s wife, Screamin’ Rachel Cain, was made to purchase Trax Records from him as part of a divorce settlement. According to a source, several musicians claim she has threatened them with defamation lawsuits to stop them from talking about the label’s alleged wrongdoings.
In addition, the lawsuit claims Cain attempted to register the name Dance Mania, another 1980s Chicago label, while simultaneously registering the Trax Records logo. The petition apparently states that Vince Lawrence was responsible for both the now-iconic logo and the name Trax Records. One of Vince Lawrence’s proudest accomplishments is this creation, which he intended to be associated with for the rest of his professional life. Sherman never tried to register Vince Lawrence’s Trax Records as a trademark while he was still alive.
Producers Mr. Fingers (also known as Larry Heard) and Robert Owens sued Trax Records in 2020 for failing to pay royalties. They claimed Trax built its business by tricking artists into signing away their copyrights to their musical works in exchange for meager sums of money up front and guarantees of ongoing royalties for the duration of the copyrights.
Heard and Owens successfully reclaimed their music rights earlier this August. The long-struggling label was unable to pay the musicians, thus the musicians were unable to sue, but both sides “amicably addressed their disagreements” by returning the masters and publishing rights to the artists.