Former Motown Exec Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Rodriguez

Andrew Parks

By Andrew Parks

on 05.07.14 in News

Gomba Music — a company owned by former Motown executive Harry Balk — has filed a lawsuit against Clarence Avant in a Detroit federal court, claiming his record contract with Rodriguez violated an exclusive songwriting deal the singer had with Gomba. According to the Detroit Free Press, “The lawsuit contends that Avant instead devised a ‘fraudulent scheme’ to credit the album’s compositions to others — including the musician’s brother — rather than to Rodriguez himself. The result, said the complaint, is that Gomba — and by extension Rodriguez — failed to benefit from the album’s eventual success in apartheid-era South Africa, where it may have sold 500,000 copies.”

An unnamed settlement of statutory and punitive damages is sought in the case, which arrives a year after a legal inquiry was made into whether Rodriguez is still owed royalties from his breakthrough album Cold Fact, which has sold nearly 200,000 copies, propelled in part by the success of the 2012 documentary Searching For Sugarman. As its storyline unfolds, Avant is shown saying, “You think somebody’s going to worry about a 1970 contract?”

Apparently. Which has led Avant to tell the paper, “Let the lawyers work it out now. I don’t want to be bothered with all this bullshit. I really don’t. I’ll tell them today; let’s talk to their lawyer and get it over with … I think I’ve really been painted as the bad guy. It really bugs me. I think I’ve been the good guy. … the one guy who believed in him.”

In an interview with Wondering Sound’s Alex Naidus way back in 2008, Rodriguez discussed the beginning stages of getting his finances sorted, starting with a Nas song that sampled “Sugar Man” (“You’re Da Man”) and eventually touching upon all the years he was racking up considerable sales numbers in South Africa. “It’s slowly getting out there to other people,” the cult hero explained. “But, yeah, in the missing years, I didn’t know any of this was happening. I think there might still be some accounting to do!”