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Dubious doo-wop
[ 03:00 p.m. PDT- 05/07/99 ]

Buoyed by sunny nostalgia and regurgitated hits, former stars like the Drifters, the Coasters and the Platters have for years salvaged long-dead careers by performing summertime gigs for weathered boomers. Almost every major-market oldies radio station promotes a stadium concert with a roster filled mostly with almost-forgotten one-hit wonders. The concerts are usually honest feel-good events, but as some already know, there's a murky lie hiding under the boardwalk: Most likely the performers are fakes.

There are three phony groups calling themselves the Drifters ("Save the Last Dance for Me"), two fraudulent Coasters ("Yakety Yak") and four fake Platters ("The Great Pretender"), according to an advisory released by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio (the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland). The problem is that the impostors, staffed by casting-call talent with little or no relation to the original groups, are often better organized than the real deals. But every time a bogus band performs, the real group gets the shaft. In some cases, members of original lineups are barred from using the names of the groups they helped make famous.

On Wednesday, legislation -- written by Kucinich and Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga. -- that would remedy the problem debuted at a House subcommittee meeting. Jon "Bowzer" Bauman (Sha Na Na) and Chuck Blasko (the Vogues) both spoke before the House Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property.

Bowman summarized the plights of several other performers who get ripped off by knock-off acts. "Frequently the real artists, already fiscal victims of managers and record companies in the so-called good old days, donít have sufficient resources to protect themselves legally," he read from a statement. "Artists need a real deterrent -- a proactive, not retroactive, means of intervention to discourage the phony shows before they happen."

The Truth in Rock Act would amend vague sections of the Lanham Act, the 1946 trademark act, to allow members of rock bands to represent themselves as former members of their original groups. The act would also make it easier for trademark owners to sue imposter groups and crack down on groups or promoters who "willfully and intentionally" misrepresent counterfeit acts in advertisements.

The next step is to graft the act to the larger issue of dilution of trademarks, which has the support of powerful patent lawyers and trade associations, says a congressional source familiar with the proceedings. "We want to marry the two," the source says. "We want to make them feel like they are part of the process."

Until then, watch the costume changes at summertime oldies shows with extreme skepticism. "I've personally seen the same performer be a Drifter," Bauman told Salon Arts & Entertainment, "and change his spangly suit to become a Coaster."
-- Jeff Stark

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