By Matt Robert
Written for “Transformations,” the W.P.I. alumni magazine, to accompany an article on members of the J. Geils Band that attended W.P.I. in the 1960s. The article never appeared.
Despite the serendipitous meeting of John Geils Danny Klein, and Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz as young coeds at W.P.I. in the late 1960s, perhaps the members of the band now wish that they had attended law school instead. The legendary good time party band set out looking for a love, but, like many who make it big, has found that love stinks and that maybe one-time friends really do look at the purse.
A lawsuit, filed by the sanctuary-seeking Mr. Geils, charges the other band members (including his former college mates) for performing under the band name – his name! – without him.
“The simple back story,” says Mr. Geils’ attorney, Chuck Grimes, a specialist on intellectual property rights, “is that Mr. Geils was born and raised with this name, J. Geils, and in 1967 he started performing under the name, and started a group, The J. Geils Blues Band,” which, he says, has “always been known as the J. Geils Band.”
“And now,” Grimes adds, “the other fellows got the idea that they own the name, not Mr. Geils. As you can imagine, that was rather disconcerting to Mr. Geils, and that they would go so far as to – frankly – interfere with his efforts to perform as himself – never as the J. Geils Band, but as himself.”
Adding insult to injury, Geils felt, the other band members “took upon themselves to…appear…without him in an Adam Sandler movie [Grownups 2. Adam Sandler is reportedly a big fan], and now they’re on tour as The J. Geils Band without him [the band embarked on the “Houseparty 2012” tour in late August], and they’ve never done that before.”
Everything had been a house party, according to Grimes, throughout the ‘70s, until the band experienced big-time success with the release of a string of gold records, beginning with 1978’s Sanctuary and climaxing with 1981’s massive pop-crossover Freeze Frame, which reached #1 in the U.S. and went platinum. That’s when they met with a Detroit Breakdown, he says, and advisors were brought on board to form a corporation and coerce group members into signing shareholders’ agreements.
The other band members now contend that Mr. Geils, in signing the agreement, ceded rights to the band name, which Grimes says is not so.
“A shareholder’s agreement doesn’t transfer rights from Mr. Geils,” says Grimes. “It says that we’ll operate together as shareholders.” The trademark, he says, is the linchpin and the prevailing legal factor. “It’s his name! He has the trademark rights in it,” says Grimes.
Grimes sees it as an open-and-shut case for Geils, citing that, upon registration of the band name by the remaining members the U.S. Patent/Trademark office asked, “‘Is this the name of a living individual? Do you have his consent to register his name?’”
“Could there be any more clear indication?” Grimes asks.
Grimes remains unsure how long the litigation will drag on, whether it will ever go to trials, or whether band members will play together again. He says that it depends on “how much bad blood” remains among band members “when all of this clears.” Overall, though, he says he just wishes that everybody could “figure out a way to play nice in the sandbox.”