From flat-broke chart-toppers TLC to producer Norman Petty laying down after-hours overdubs that allowed him to steal half of Buddy Holly’s song publishing rights, the music business has been reliably populated by some of the worst ripoff artists and bad-faith practitioners in the history of humanity. Naturally, Los Angeles has hosted many of the absolute lowest, and each one of these individuals — almost all uniformly black-hearted dastards — bears both close examination and endless excoriation.
10. Bill McCall
One of the postwar indie label explosion’s most notorious record men, McCall, who owned hillbilly imprint 4 Star and R&B label Gilt Edge, had an impressive artist roster (proto-rockabilly sensations Maddox Brothers & Rose, blues hit maker Cecil Gant, pothead hillbilly star T Texas Tyler) and an equally notable reputation for his unwavering refusal to pay any artist who recorded for him. In fact, just to keep his books in shape, McCall actually wrote checks to his musicians, gathered them in his Fair Oaks Avenue office in Pasadena, doled out the checks and then insisted the artists immediately hand them back. After Slim Willet’s “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” became a crossover, Perry Como–covered smash, Willet became the sole 4 Star artist to actually get his dough — when he burst into McCall’s office and pointed a handgun at the shocked record man’s head. Problem solved! That’s country, hoss.
9. Long Gone John
Perhaps the most contemptible of modern-day flim-flam men, LGJ’s oh-so-very-hip façade as a gutter-level fanboy masked the eternal bullshit pursuit we celebrate here — exploitation and non-payment. Starting life as a bootlegger with his Scatter Brainchild records, issuing illegal Cramps and Misfits discs — reportedly once prompting a furioso Danzig to chase him around a swap meet in an abortive ass-kicking attempt — John graduated, via his Sympathy for the Record Industry label, to snookering some of the finest independent up-and-comers in late–20th century rock & roll. His “business practices” have created disputes with everyone from legendary psych pioneer Roky Erickson to garage cult dynamos The Mummies (who were disgusted by Sympathy’s release of a bootleg they had previously quashed, which was issued with the endearing title Fuck the Mummies). LGJ eventually defected to the Pacific Northwest, and while his absence from L.A. is welcome, the Sympathy legacy of BS still rankles. Not cool.
8. Bob Keane
This avaricious potato head managed to not only destroy one of rock & roll’s finest natural resources — the brilliant Chicano sensation Ritchie Valens — he dedicated his entire life to cheating and tormenting the surviving Valens family members. Anyone familiar with Valens' all-too-little recorded output knows this was a natural-born rocker of the highest order, and Keane’s taking credit for any of it is as repugnant as the crappy royalty rate and outright ownership of the catalog he rooked the teenage genius with. Keane’s turning Del-Fi records into a posthumous money tree while making only sporadic token payments to the estate (usually after being sued) was completely execrable, but his worst sin was convincing the family to name him Ritchie’s guardian, an agreement Valens' mother believed included Keane’s traveling with the boy to make sure he didn’t do anything stupid (like getting into a tiny, overloaded, single-engine aircraft during a snowstorm with an inexperienced pilot who crashed the damn thing five minutes after takeoff). While Del-Fi went belly-up in 1966 after its big seller Bobby Fuller suddenly turned up dead in a Hollywood parking lot, Keane spent the next 50 years prevaricating, underpaying and vilely mistreating Valens’ mother and siblings until his welcome death at age 87 in 2009.
7. Art Rupe
The man whose Specialty Records boasted one of the most lively, lurid, earth-shattering rosters of R&B and rock & roll artists ever assembled easily could have made a considerable fortune and still kept his musicians happy. But, no — why give these uppity musicians a fair shake when you can just bend ’em over and take the majority of their sales for yourself? That’s just what Rupe did, using both Specialty and his publishing firm, Venice Music, to gobble up way, way more than his fair share of mega-smasheroos by Little Richard (“Tutti-Frutti,” etc.), Lloyd Price (“Lawdy Miss Clawdy”) and Larry Williams (“Bony Moronie”) while passing it all off as standard industry procedure. The old bastard may be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but hip locals can never forget the pitiful sight of no less a Rock God(dess) than Little Richard and Dewey Terry (of Don & Dewey fame) picketing — daily — outside Specialty’s Sunset Boulevard offices, circa ’86, in vain hope of redress.
6. Jerry Capehart
Eddie Cochran was one of the greatest of all 1950s rockers, a player of intense dynamism and boundless creativity, whose tragic car-wreck death at age 23 silenced what was certain to have been a profoundly important artistic force. Predatory lowlife Capehart regularly suckered young up-and-comers with writing deals, at the American Music publishing firm, that almost always, for no good reason, included his own name as co-writer. Glen Campbell made it clear in a series of public statements and interviews that Capehart pirated all the credit and money from Campbell’s first solo hit, 1961’s “Turn Around, Look at Me.” And the underappreciated black Los Angeles rocker Eddie Daniels, a close Cochran friend and collaborator who wrote “Little Lou” for the doomed singer, was explicit: “I signed with Jerry Capehart as a songwriter at American Music — he was a cheating dog, man.” While Capehart masqueraded as a composer who churned out flatline pop dross for a series of no-hit wonders throughout the ’50s, after Cochran’s death, he apparently never wrote another tune. But he did spend the rest of his miserable life claiming to have co-written Cochran’s critical rock classics “Summertime Blues” and “C’mon Everybody,” a truly sickening display of pathological hubris that serves only to besmirch the brilliant Cochran legacy.
5. Quincy Jones
A big ol' sacred cow with an appalling track record of misfires and flat-out godawful crap to his credit, Q rates as one of the region's most reliable purveyors of worthless bullshit. From the spectacularly tuneless train wreck known to the world as The Wiz to the superhuman feat of running Michael Jackson’s creativity flat into the ground with a series of lifeless sound-alikes to the truly stunning achievement of overseeing Frank Sinatra’s thunderingly unlistenable “L.A. Is My Lady,” Jones has swaggered through a notably substance-free career. But the real insight to this gentleman’s tin ear and total lack of loyalty is revealed through his treatment of legendary jazz vocalist Little Jimmy Scott. Jones and Scott began their career as teenagers in Lionel Hampton’s band circa 1949; decades later, when the semi-retired Scott, living in severe poverty, began to make his vaunted return to music, one of the first people his camp reached out to was Jones: “Oh, yeah, absolutely, beautiful, just send a demo.” They did — a haunting, almost dirge-like reading of standard “All of Me,” but Jones never responded. At all. Ever. The famed Q instinct was as infallible as ever: In no time, Scott’s major-label comeback album, All of Me, was lodged firmly in the Billboard jazz chart’s Top 5. That’s showbiz.
4. Mike Curb
Just for being the titular head of the appalling neo-fascist hyper-square late-’60s Mike Curb Congregation pop choir, this cat deserves eternal opprobrium, but the manner in which the Curb Records president messes with his artists is truly epic. From his refusal to let Hank Williams III record or release any of the country scion’s fan-fave “Hellbilly” thrash material — to the point that III actually had to bootleg himself to get it out to listeners — to the legendary feud between control freak Curb and country giant Merle Haggard (“Mike Curb tried to kill my music. I mean he put it in a coffin”), which led to Hag’s repeated (for YEARS) offer to publicly climb into a boxing ring and fight the exec, Curb’s rep as jerk-o-meter–bursting creep is near unrivaled. But Curb perpetrated perhaps the worst type of spiritual betrayal, tormenting fuzz-guitar titan Davie Allan for decades but refusing to let Allan license any of his own material for reissues — after Curb had started his career alongside Allan as teenagers, playing keys in Allan’s first garage band. Such cold-blooded passive-aggressive betrayal is awe-inspiring, causing such deep ire that Hank III, for years, routinely fired up his cellphone midshow to call Curb’s home number and have the audience howl “FUCK YOU” into his answering machine.
3. Jerry Goldstein
Though he was involved in creating some of the most memorable early rock & roll hits — as composer of “My Boyfriend’s Back” and as a member of zebra-striped coolsters The Strangeloves (“I Want Candy”), Goldstein turned out to be one of the most rapacious, unprincipled manipulators in pop history. The man whom Sly Stone sued for $50 million in missing royalties and whose epic legal battles with the estate of former client Jimi Hendrix still rage on is an almost indefinably awful example of music business screw-you. Perhaps the most illustrative example of his callous, breathtakingly soul-free modus operandi is the case of classic Long Beach funk purveyors WAR. When a dispute over royalties broke out between Goldstein and five of the band’s founding members, it initiated a blizzard of lawsuits and countersuits that, in 1997, resulted in the musicians losing all rights to the band name (when a judge swallowed Goldstein’s lawyers’ ludicrous argument that “It’s like the Glenn Miller Band — it doesn’t matter who the musicians are”), WAR today is a gaggle of anonymous hired hands propping up one original member, keyboardist Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan (who never sang lead on any of those famous hits), while his bandmates toil in obscurity as The Lowrider Band. File in the “how do you sleep at night” category.
2. Kim Fowley
Despite his mystifyingly ballyhooed cachet as some kind of underworld rock & roll overlord, producer-manager-songwriter-hustler Kim Fowley was little more than a reliable Hollywood annoyance, a money-obsessed egomaniac with relentlessly ugly taste and, despite innumerable credits with everyone from Alice Cooper to Helen Reddy, a largely undistinguished professional track record. Fowley was all about artifice, not art, and although he considered himself to be an oracular fount of rock & roll knowledge, he was a tiresome blowhard who only cared about making as many quick and dirty dollars, at whoever’s expense, as he could. And, of course, he was a pedophile and rapist, indisputable facts verified by countless victim accounts and, most publicly, the horrifying Runaways/Jackie Fox assault brouhaha — a charge so appalling that the befuddled behavior of the cadre of spineless apologists who stood by Fowley is still unbelievable. To sum up, let’s throw down one of his favorite catch phrases: DOGSHIT.
1. Phil Spector
Ah, Phillip. The murderous, malignant dwarf whose dreadful, overblown “Wall of Sound” production nearly drove rock & roll into the ditch during its highest flowering is most assuredly the worst of the worst. Spector couldn’t have made a record genuinely rock if his gun collection depended on it, so he relied on that painfully ostentatious signature style to mask both his deep creative inadequacy and his peculiarly toxic, self-centered pathology. The Spector horror stories are legion, from the malicious, deliberate isolation and psychological abuse he zealously inflicted upon spouse Ronnie Spector to everyone’s fave rave, the 18-hour Ramones gunpoint hostage situation. For Phillip, firearms became an instrument of punitive blackmail that was deliciously handy in any social or business setting, and, just as with Fowley, the number of people who looked away, preferring to boast about attending one of his bowling or dinner parties (zzzzzzzzzzz) signaled a tacit approval that steadily fueled this deplorable asshole’s ever-burgeoning madness — until poor Lana Clarkson found herself thrust into its pathetic lethal climax. Unspeakable.