September-October 2008

A BAND BY ANY OTHER NAME: WOULD IT SOUND AS SWEET?

By Dennis Roger Reed

At some point in your musical career, you may decide that playing with others is fun and worthwhile. You'll form or join a band. Unless the living room is going to be your only venue, you'll have to have a band name. This may be the hardest part of being in a group. Seriously, folks take band names very seriously. For the generations of Beatles/Rolling Stones or Sex Pistols/Clash, band names meant something. They were witty, or intriguing.

So count on at least one band member being obsessive, but eventually you'll end up with something you are called on the marquee, even if that marquee is a wet-wipe board at your kid's day care center Spring Fling.

Good band names say something about the music you can expect the band to make. A name like The Lost Valley Boys probably summons up an image of a bluegrass band. County Down probably plays Irish music, etc etc.

Once you have decided on this great name, it's a good idea to check and see if anyone else beat you to it. With the wonders of the internet, that is much easier to do than in the past. Chances are if you have come up with a really good name, then probably someone else has already done so. It's embarrassing to name your band The New Lost City Ramblers only to find out that a band has already used this name and recorded 948 albums.

Now if that someone else with the same name you want hasn't updated their webpage since 1998 and only played gigs within the Hoop City, Iowa, city limits, then you could chance it. But if the name is in use by a gigging band, or one that has recorded, let it go.

There are legal issues like trade marking, but for most of us that need a name for the band that will be playing coffee houses or bars, a more home grown approach may suffice.

So eventually you decide on a name that is usable and yet unused by others. You play some gigs and people know that if you are listed in the calendar section of the local paper, the band they know by that name will be the band they see at the event. This is a good thing, and something to build on.

I've played with a Southern California based roots rock band for over ten years. Our record company president (imagine a guy wearing flip flops and working in his garage more than Clive Davis, okay?) contacted us to let us know that we now came in second on a Google of our band name. Another band with the same name in Europe now gets the first hit.

A short trip to their website shows that they have a much better web designer than we do, but that's beside the point. The folks using our name are a blues rock band with a female vocalist, and they've recorded and toured with the name we use since about 2001, and had been together under several other names for a couple of years prior. Our band released the first CD in 1997 and got a good number of print reviews worldwide. We've done festivals with some pretty big name stars, so there are handbills and print ads in some major publications going back to 1996. So there's no question about who legally has the band name, right? Wrong.

We contact our attorney (think buddy in another band more than Perry Mason, okay?) and he does some research, and it's not so black and white. The country the clone band comes from doesn't exactly recognize American copyright law in the same manner others do. This would probably entail hiring an attorney versed in that nation's laws and regulations. Oh boy.

The majority of the band says things like "Who cares?" but the fear from a few of us is that our European cohorts might really grab the brass ring and then we'd have to change OUR name. This could be a very, very frustrating experience. Just ask Martin Simpson's ex-wife Jessica.

Our attorney buddy says that a more human approach might work. So we put together a nice little letter to our new friends along the lines of "You all know just how hard it is to establish a band name. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of luck. And so if you ask B. B King or Little Richard or John Hammond or Marcia Ball who we are, and if they remember us, they sure won't say "A blues rock band from Europe." They'll say it's a group of middle aged music veterans from Southern California."

We asked them to drop the use of the name out of respect, more or less. And we got a nice reply in a fairly short time, with a response that they'll finish their current commitments and find a new moniker. And we hope they do.

So choose that name, embrace it and use it. Enjoy live music today.


Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He's released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard's and Paul Simon's revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.

  

All Columns by Dennis Roger Reed