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DKs Claim Suit Unavoidable

10/30/98 -

Ex-Dead Kennedys Guitarist Claims Suit Against Biafra Unavoidable

Members of defunct punk-band are seeking royalties from record sales.

Contributing Editor Randy Reiss reports:

Former Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray said the last thing he wanted in the negotiations over royalties with the defunct punk-band's singer, Jello Biafra, and label Alternative Tentacles was for the matter to end up in court.

Unfortunately, that's where the dispute seems to be headed.

"We've been trying to ask [for our share of royalties] as friends and partners," Ray explained Friday, a day after the suit was filed in California Superior Court. "So we just went to Biafra and said, 'We have some questions here. There seems to be some discrepancies. Can we get an explanation?'

"We didn't get one," Ray continued, "and nothing has happened, so we had no choice."

Seeing no reasonable end to the talks with Biafra, Ray and the rest of the Dead Kennedys lineup -- bassist Klaus Fluoride and drummer D.H. Peligro -- filed suit Thursday.

The musicians are seeking damages, access to royalties owed and a legal recognition of the Sept. 30 decision by Ray, Fluoride and Peligro to no longer have Alternative Tentacles distribute their music. The former Dead Kennedys members collectively are partners in Decay Music, the band's business and administrative entity.

Furthermore, the suit claims that Biafra, as head of the San Francisco-based Alternative Tentacles, failed to pay the other bandmembers their full share of royalties; took the money for himself and the label; promoted his solo efforts much more than the catalog of his former band; placed money that is acknowledged to be owed to Ray, Peligro and Fluoride into a trust that could not be released without Biafra's approval or a court order; would not let the other parties look at Alternative Tentacles' financial records; and will not acknowledge the Decay Music decision to shop the Dead Kennedys catalog to other labels.

The suit specifically asks for a jury trial and seeks "declaratory and injunctive relief,'' as well as financial damages from Biafra on charges of "branch of fiduciary duty, conversion, breach of oral contract, unjust enrichment and unfair business practices."

"I've been trying to talk to the label and Biafra and the former general manager, Greg Workman, for years," Ray said. "I have gotten very little response, and I guess you might call it stonewalling."

Ray said that discussions heated up when he, Fluoride and Peligro decided at the end of last month not to allow Alternative Tentacles to distribute Dead Kennedys music any longer as a result of the dispute. The two sides began negotiating but could not reach an agreement.

Many artists, including '60s-rocker John Fogerty and '80s funk-hero Prince, have experienced negative associations with their past work after going through legal hurdles with their record companies, but Ray said he is still happy with the Dead Kennedys catalog.

"Biafra's not the easiest person to get along with, but we did manage to produce a lot of music that we're proud of and a band that we're all proud of," Ray said. "We always had a difficult relationship, but I never thought he would act like this.

"We've been with Biafra for 20 years. We had hopes earlier that he would walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Unfortunately, he's just talking the talk and not doing it, [and] talk minus action equals zero."

A court date has not been set and Ray still hasn't ruled out a settlement. "It's my understanding that a lot of these things get settled before they ever get to court," Ray said. "We've got a while to go on this, so we'll just have to see what happens."


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last updated 08/05/03