There are too many stories of musicians signing rights away to songs and future royalties, and now a member of ’60s group the Chambers Brothers — best known for their classic ‘Time Has Come Today’ — is taking his plight to the masses via YouTube and Facebook, attracting the support of Yoko Ono.
Earlier this week, a photo began circulating online showing 72-year-old Lester Chambers hiding behind a gold record with a lengthy message beneath it. “I am the former lead singer of a 60’s band,” the letter began, adding the various festivals the group played. “I did not squander my money on drugs or a fancy home. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first royalty check. The music giants I recorded with only paid me for seven of my albums. I have never seen a penny in royalties from my other 10 albums I recorded.”
Chambers also said “our hit song” was licensed to over 100 “films, TV & commercials without our permission.” He concluded the message by stating his current economic status, trying to live on $1,200 US a month, with music charity Sweet Relief taking donations for him. Chambers also said only one percent of those in his situation are financially capable of suing for royalties, stating: “I AM THE 99 Percent.”
A video featuring a song co-produced by Chambers was posted Wednesday on YouTube; it expands on the musician’s situation. “America, we have been given a bad cheque, a cheque that has come back labeled insufficient funds,” he says in spoken word on the song ‘Make a Stand.’ “We cannot believe that there are no funds in this money vault of opportunity, in this great nation, this great country that we call America.”
The five-minute video features various images of the Chambers Brothers — one of rock’s first interracial bands — with facts on the band’s history and sales, including the point that six of the band’s albums made Billboard’s Top 200 and six singles were in the Hot 100.
“My foreign royalties from 1977-1999 were $1,300 total for only a few Columbia albums,” a statement in the video reads. “Never received foreign royalties on any of our other products.”
Chambers also says ABC used ‘Time Has Come Today’ for a national ad in 2000 but “Sony insisted we only receive payment from Boston ABC network, so the payment I received for an 8 week national commercial was $625.”
“So even though we face trouble of today and tomorrow I have hope that we will stand up, join hands, unite and make a stand,” says a message that concludes the video.
Chambers’ campaign has struck a chord with many. According to The Examiner, 24 hours after it was posted, Chambers’ Sweet Relief Musicians Fund received close to $10,000 in donations.
“We received an e-mail from Yoko Ono’s office this morning, and they were glad to see that the word was getting out and hoped that Lester’s cause would get more attention now,” Sweet Relief’s executive director Rob Max said. Max also said Chambers’ living conditions as recent as two years ago had him “sleeping on an air mattress” in a house that “was under construction and it had no roof” north of San Francisco. Max also stated that Sweet Relief is not assisting Chambers regarding his royalties dispute but “we wish him all the success, always.”
Although his health condition makes touring quite a challenge, Chambers is taking advantage of the Internet again by playing a concert as Lester Chambers & The Mud Stompers on March 24 which will stream online.
The Chambers Brothers released their final album, ‘Recorded Live in Concert on Mars’ in 1976.