Stax Records, though never exactly out of fashion, has been enjoying a moment in recent years. A museum opened on the site of the original Stax studio in Memphis, Tennessee, a little more than a decade ago. In 2007, Concord Music Group revived the Stax label with the two-disc, 50-track Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration. The Obamas hosted Stax artists during an event at the White House last year; the new Wu-Tang Clan album is supposed to come out on RZA‘s Stax imprint, Soul Temple. And a Broadway musical is in the works.
Ah, but there’s no business like show business. Concord recently announced it was aiming for a spring 2016 Broadway premiere for its Stax musical, which would follow last year’s Tony-nominated Motown: The Musical. Stuart Benjamin, the Oscar-nominated producer of Ray, is co-producing the project. He definitely has enough material: The label kickstarted Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MG’s and so many more, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. As The Hollywood Reporter points out, though, the musical’s would-be creators are now facing a lawsuit by another company that wants to make both a Stax musical and a film. Why, it’s almost as if these shows are being born under a bad sign.
Tony Derosa-Grund, a producer of 2011 horror movie The Conjuring and executive chairman of Houston-based Evergreen Media Group, has sued Concord in Connecticut federal court.
The lawsuit basically claims Concord has the wrong rights to make a Stax musical, and Evergreen, of course, has the right ones. The complaint alleges that although Concord might have the rights to certain Stax sound recordings, Universal Music Group subsidiary Rondor has the publishing rights to 99 percent of the Stax catalog. Evergreen claims it struck an exclusive deal with Rondor to use Stax songs in its movie and stage musical. You can see the problem here.
Evergreen also claims Concord knew about the need to secure the rights from Rondor and announced its project anyway. Derosa-Grund’s firm wants the court to block Concord’s Stax musical and force Concord to pay damages. In the meantime, Evergreen is going ahead with its own Stax ventures.
Concord didn’t have an immediate comment for THR. Which is really a missed opportunity. “Court? I’ll take you there!” “Who do you think you are, Mr. Big Stuff?” To soften the way for a settlement: “All you gotta do, man, is try a little tenderness.” Or something a little more absurdist, maybe: “Do the funky chicken.” …Stax really does have plenty of hits. Hey, somebody should try to make a Broadway musical out of it.
Below, just because, watch the Obamas sing along to Justin Timberlake‘s cover of Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” in April 2013 at the White House.