There Are Still Two Versions of Ratt — and Their Legal Disputes Go Round and Round
When an attorney calls me for this story and says he represents Ratt, I ask what version of the band he works with. The attorney, Stephen Doniger, chuckles and replies, “That’s sad you have to ask that.”
Two factions have been warring over who does and who doesn’t have the right to use the name and trademarks of Ratt, the Sunset Strip glam-rock pioneers known for ’80s hits such as "Lay it Down" and “Round and Round.” Since 2015, drummer Bobby Blotzer had been playing shows under the name Ratt with a lineup in which he’s the sole member from the band's ’80s heyday. Then, last October, founding singer Stephen Pearcy reunited with the other musicians from the "Round and Round" era — guitarist Warren DeMartini and bassist Juan Croucier — for a surprise performance on a Monsters of Rock cruise.
Pearcy, DeMartini and Croucier have since announced a series of Ratt shows, including high-profile sets at Maryland’s M3 Rock Festival and Rocklahoma in Pryor, Oklahoma. Pearcy says he and DeMartini are even working on demos for a new Ratt album. Meanwhile, a sold-out Dec. 29 Michigan casino show by Blotzer’s Ratt was canceled. According to a Facebook post by Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, that performance was nixed after being “issued a ‘cease and desist’ letter from the parties claiming rights to the Ratt trademark.” (“Sister Christian” hitmakers Night Ranger, who also were on the bill, did go ahead and perform that evening.)
Since one Ratt boasts the band’s frontman, guitar hero and bassist, and is booking large rock festivals, while another Ratt is built around the drummer and just got canceled, it might appear this dispute is over. Not so fast, Blotzer says. The drummer released a defiant statement via Facebook on Jan. 9. “This has NEVER been put to a FINAL judgment,” Blotzer wrote. “Let me repeat: NO FINAL JUDGMENT.”
The statement also insults Croucier’s appearance (which Blotzer compares to “Danny DeVito with a headband on") as well as the bassist’s “stage moves,” while repeatedly referring to him as “Crucifer.” Blotzer asserts his former bandmates didn’t care about the Ratt fans who’d purchased tickets to see the canceled Michigan show. “Fans had spent tons of money, taken vacation, found someone to take care of their kids.”
Attorney Doniger, however, says caring about the fans is exactly why his clients “will not allow Blotzer to continue touring as Ratt with his cover band.’”
On a recent afternoon, Pearcy is driving in his Dodge Charger when reached via phone. Asked about the Blotzer dispute, Pearcy says, “That would be like somebody taking years of what you worked for and trying to change the course of history ... and saying, ‘Hey, forget about those guys. It’s all about me.’" He laughs. "Well, if the guy wrote songs it might be a whole different story. But I really don’t even want to talk about this person actually.”
Does Pearcy ever see himself performing with Blotzer again? “That will never happen."
When I reached out to Blotzer for an interview, his attorney Drew Sherman wrote back via email that the drummer was on “winter holiday through the end of next week," which was well past this story's deadline. Two days after that email, Blotzer posted his 1,200-plus-word Facebook statement, which he apparently wrote in response to something prominent rock-radio host Eddie Trunk said about Ratt on his SiriusXM talk show.
Blotzer had called in to previous episodes of Trunk’s show to discuss the Ratt dispute, which the host says he's still welcome to do. “When this stuff happens, I don’t take sides in it,” Trunk tells me. “I’ve always maintained the policy that all sides are open to come on my shows and discuss it.”
In Blotzer’s Facebook statement, he maintains that he simply wanted to go tour and play, but his bandmates’ cease-and-desist tactics prevented him from working. “They didn't speak to each other till they saw the huge success we had this past year," Blotzer wrote on Facebook. "We did 70 or so shows, and grossed more money on this tour than any tour Ratt has done in 20 years past.”
But Doniger says it’s not true that Pearcy, Croucier and DeMartini had no plans to tour again. They just didn’t want to tour with Blotzer. “The guys [Pearcy, Croucier, DeMartini and Blotzer] toured together between 2012 and 2014," Doniger says. “They stopped because Stephen Pearcy’s twin sister died and he had to take time off. At that point DeMartini and Croucier decided not to tour without all partners for the integrity of the band. But within a year Blotzer was taking steps to usurp control of the trademarks so that he could tour by himself as Ratt.”
The Ratt trademark dispute is much more complicated to follow than the lyrics to “Lay It Down” or “Way Cool Jr.” There are fractures and reformed alliances, as well as previous lawsuits focused on using the Ratt name in solo projects, including “Ratt’s Juan Croucier” and Pearcy’s “Rat Bastards."
Two entities are at the center of the current legal dispute. The Ratt Partnership, a 1985 agreement, spelled out equal shares among the original members, including guitarist Robbin Crosby, who died in 2002 (and who was kicked out of the band and Ratt Partnership in the early ’90s for major substance-abuse issues). WBS — short for Warren, Bobby and Stephen — was created in 1997 to handle licensing and other aspects of the partnership business, after Croucier declined to reunite with his bandmates following a breakup during the grunge era.
Somewhere along the way, Blotzer assumed sole control of WBS. (How? It's complicated.) Now, who exactly is a member/owner of the Ratt Partnership and whether the Ratt Partnership or WBS owns the Ratt trademarks have become the crux of the current dispute. Did Pearcy and DeMartini, who quit the band in 1992, also withdraw from the Ratt Partnership at that time? In Pearcy’s case, did he actually quit via a handwritten note on a napkin?
In late November, Doniger released a statement indicating the Ratt Partnership still owns the Ratt name and trademarks, and that any transfer to WBS was invalid because the trademarks could only be transferred with unanimous partner approval — and Croucier was never advised or consulted. “There’s a court order saying WBS has no trademark rights in the name,” Doniger says. “Thus, WBS has no right to authorize anyone to tour as Ratt.”
Asked about what he feels is the biggest misconception of the Ratt dispute, Blotzer attorney Sherman says, “That Juan Croucier owns the Ratt trademarks. The summary judgment ruling was not a final judgment and the trademarks have not transferred away from WBS. Even if they did in the future, they would be owned by the Ratt Partnership, not Juan Croucier. And the only two remaining members of the Ratt Partnership, according to Croucier, are him and Bobby.”
Blotzer/WBS have filed a request for reconsideration, scheduled for Jan. 23 in a downtown Los Angeles federal courtroom. According to Sherman, “There are significant contradictions in sworn testimony by Mr. Croucier.” But Doniger says, “Blotzer tried to pull a fast one and has now ended up with nothing.” At the Jan. 23 hearing, Doniger is seeking more than $250,000 in costs and attorney’s fees from WBS for his clients.
In addition to the ability to generate revenue by touring as Ratt, whoever controls the trademarks controls revenue from merchandising and licensing (but not music sales or publishing).
Pearcy, a guitarist-turned-singer influenced by the likes of Alice Cooper and Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom, founded the band in San Diego in the mid-’70s as Mickey Ratt, later shortening the name to Ratt. Pearcy moved to Los Angeles in 1981, living and rehearsing in a Culver City garage. A friendship with Van Halen partially inspired his move to L.A. That connection began in 1977 after Pearcy smoked a joint with David Lee Roth outside West Hollywood’s Whisky a Go-Go, back when Van Halen was still an unsigned local band.
Pearcy, DeMartini and Crosby wrote Ratt’s grimy, infectious hit “Round and Round” in a one-bedroom apartment known affectionately as Ratt Mansion West, bouncing vocal and guitar tracks between two cassette players. The singer says “there’s not a day that goes by” in which he doesn’t think of Crosby.
In 2017, Ratt doesn’t command nearly the fan base of early-’80s Sunset Strip contemporaries Mötley Crüe. But that was not always the case. Beginning with their 1984 debut LP, Out of the Cellar, Ratt notched four consecutive platinum albums and headlined arenas.
“I think it’s quickly forgotten just how big Ratt was," Trunk says. "To me, album for album, song for song, you could even make the case they were more consistent than Mötley Crüe. But I think a lot of the reason they don’t get that same reverence as a band like Mötley Crüe is they had a lot of lineup changes. Mötley was great at making a book and dating Hollywood celebrities, and the excess really fueled their legacy, whereas Ratt kind of kept it in-house and you didn’t really hear about it all that much. So I think that factors in their perception.”
Before Blotzer began doing shows as Ratt, he was touring a project called Bobby Blotzer’s Ratt Experience and playing Ratt songs — à la Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience. Doniger says Blotzer realized he could make 10 times as much money touring as Ratt — $2,500 to $4,900 a night as Bobby Blotzer’s Ratt Experience, versus $25,000 to $45,000 as Ratt.
Bands successfully touring with one original member has become commonplace. Look at Foreigner, among others. And there are prior examples of two versions of the same band touring simultaneously, as with L.A. Guns. It all depends on that particular band’s partnership agreement and who owns the trademarks.
But how do two touring versions of a band affect fans? That depends, Trunk says. “I think for the really hardcore true fans that really know what’s going on, it divides them and obviously upsets them. I think that for a majority of people that don’t follow it that closely, honestly, a lot of them don’t know anything different. They see a logo, they see a name and they go and hear the songs played well like they remember them, and they have some fun and have beers with their friends and go home.”
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