Kanye West releases Ponderosa Twins’ “Bound” from Clevelander Chuck Brown’s record label
Former 4th O'Jay Bobby Massey and Bobby Dukes wrote song in Cleveland for Ponderosa Twins Plus One in 1971 at Prospect Ave. studio
CLEVELAND, OH – The only important name missing from Kanye West’s “Bound 2″ song from his new Yeezus CD is that of the retired “world’s greatest bail bondsman” Chuck Brown, Sr., the man who owns the song’s publishing rights.
Brown said he’s not worried. He’s a fan of the hip hop impresario who’s just given birth to a daughter with reality star Kim Kardashian, and he also likes his ethics. Brown says West has a social conscious and is respectful of earlier African American recording pioneers.
Brown said he isn’t also looking for a fight because U.S. copyright laws are relatively straightforward. He hopes West sells a billion copies of his new hit CD while ownership and rights are being verified.
“I’m actually honored. We recorded that song in 1971 and thought it was hit. We just didn’t know it would take 43 years for the world to figure it out,” Brown, 72, told the Cleveland Challenger during an exclusive interview.
Bound was written by Canton and Cleveland natives Bobby Massey and Robert Dukes for the Ponderosa Twins Plus One. The two twin sets were Keith and Curt Gardner, and Anthony and Alvin Pelham. The “Plus One” was singer Ricky Spicer. They were Cleveland’s answer to the Jackson 5. The record was recorded at the old Agency Recording Studio on East 23rd and Payne. Brown said it cost him $50 an hour back then for studio time.
Brown had become wealthy as a bail bondsman in the late 1960′s when he developed an interest in the music business. He had been booking a band with Tony Wilson and a group they toured the city with called the Outtasights. He soon realized that recording and publishing music was the way to make real money in the record business.
Brown was already friends with the four men from Canton, Ohio who called themselves the O’Jays: Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, William Powell and Bobby Massey. Their friendship turned into an opportunity when the recording act’s funds ran low while in between labels. Brown remembers they were pursuing a deal with Kenny Gamble of Philadelphia and also talking to Epic Records. The Gamble & Huff / O’Jays collaboration would eventually result in some of the most popular and enduring R&B songs in American history.
Brown said that for about six months Levert, Williams and Powell worked with Massey and a team of musicians to create a “Cleveland” music sound. He paid them salaries of $100 a week. Back then $100 was a lot of money when gasoline was only 12 cents a gallon and minimum wages less than a dollar.
The O’Jays recorded and sang “Shattered Man” and “LaDeeda.” After about six months they moved on to Gamble & Huff, but Massey stayed. Massey liked performing but he loved creating music.
“We were writing a lot of songs back then,” Massey remembers.
Brown, Massey and company brought on young musicians like Dunn Pearson, Jr. and Kenneth Reddon to play piano and guitar behind the Ponderosa Twins Plus One, and to tour with them on the road. They recorded songs for groups called the Elements, David Pe0ples and a female trio called Boraz.
For Cleveland the acts were a big deal as Brown’s record label brought live performances to the area’s high schools and clubs. The group’s were polished. They had the wardrobes and a choreographer, along with a voice coach. Chuck Brown Music, for a fledgling company, was first class.
But after 10 years, around 1977, Brown and Massey’s pursuit of a hit record didn’t pan out. Brown had continued selling bail bonds to have money to invest in the label, so he refocused his attention on what had brought him his wealth and walked away from Saru Records, Chuck Brown Music and Horoscope Records. Massey by then had significantly refined his production skills and launched his own label, Devaki Records, named after his daughter.
For Brown the record business eventually became nothing more than a conversation about his past accomplishments as he went on to build Chuck Brown Bail Bonds into the largest African American owned bail bond agency in America. Prior to his retirement, Brown had 196 agents in 12 states and was generating over $40 million annually in bail bond premium.
Brown, Massey, Levert and Williams are still friends. Eddie and Walt have called to congratulate Brown and Massey for the hit it took them 43 years to get.
Publishing credits on the Yeezus CD lists “Bound 2″ as being licensed by Rhino Entertainment Company, which is owned by Warner Music Company, along with RMC Music, Inc., Robinson Music Group, LLC and published by Gambi Music, Inc.
Robinson Music Group and Gambi Music are owned by the estate of the late Joseph Robinson, Jr. and Sylvia Robinson, who Brown said once distributed his records. He doesn’t have fond memories of their business relationship.
“They were selling my records from the front door and the back door,” Brown told Cleveland Challenger.
This isn’t the first time Rhino and the Robinson’s have been accused of licensing music they don’t own. Songwriter, producer Mark Roberts filed a March 7, 2006 claim in New York’s U.S. District Court for copyright infringement and giving authorship of his song to a deceased songwriter.
The case involves the recording and release of a musical composition, “Baby Let’s Rap Now, Dance a Little Later,” (the “Released Work”), as well as the rights to two other, unreleased compositions, “Love Trap,” and “The Woman That Got Away,” (the “Unreleased Works”). The Released Work was released in 1980, and re-released as part of various compilation works in 1997, 1999, 2000, and 2001.
Plaintiff Mark Roberts contends that the Released Work is a recording of his original composition, “Baby Let’s Talk Now, Dance Later” (the “Roberts Work”), and that his copyright in the Unreleased Works has been infringed by the moving defendants’ improper attribution of authorship of the works in question to a deceased individual named Norman Thomas Keith (“Keith”)
Brown said for years “the white boys” in the record business from England, Texas, Chicago and other places either called or visited to see if they could cut a deal with him about his ownership rights, but he held on.
“I own 100 percent of the Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s publishing rights and all of the other songs recorded under my labels,” Brown told Cleveland Challenger. “I had a distribution deal with Joe and Sylvia, nothing more.”
Brown said the Robinson’s distributed his music under All Platinum Records. Their relationship ended in 1977 when Brown left the industry. At one time he said Joe owed him $80,000, which created an extremely tense relationship between the two men before the All Platinum owner felt pressured to pay up.
Both of the Robinson’s died, leaving copyright administrator rights to the songs they owned to their three sons: Joseph, Leland and Rhondo Robinson. By then, and unknown to Brown, they had begun taking credit for the songs recorded by the Ponderosa Twins Plus One under his label.
According to a news release announcing West’s licensing of Bound 2, the song’s owners are All Platinum Records.
Cleveland Challenger has learned that in 1995 Rhino Records purchased the released and unreleased masters that were owned by Sugar Hill Records, that the Robinson’s founded. Rhino was at the time a corporation under Castle/Sanctuary. The June 1994 “Newswire” release shows the Rhino acquisition including the “Astroscope” label, which was owned by the Robinson’s but included Brown’s music.
Rhino will control the Sugar Hill catalog throughout North America, South America, Japan and the Caribbean islands, and Castle Communications will control the rest of the world.
The acquisition encompasses recordings made for Sugar Hill and other seminal rap labels such as All Platinum, Sweet Mountain, Stang, Vibration, Jersey Connection, Willow, Turbo, Victory, Platinum and Astroscope.
In May 2013 the Robinson sons were found guilty of failing to file income tax returns on incomes they’d generated from managing the catalogue of songs left to them by their parents, which included those songs Brown says could only have been fraudulently conveyed to them from his record labels.
From 2005 through 2008, Joseph, Leland and Rhondo Robinson had income of $577,000, $580,000 and $792,000, respectively. The three brothers pleaded guilty in March 2012 to two misdemeanor counts of failing to file returns. Fines of $8,000 were levied against Leland and $16,000 against Joseph. Rhondo will be sentenced at a later date.
Brown’s not sure how the Robinson’s gained access to his music catalogue, but he intends to find out.
“I guess if I’d have been dead then I would not have lived to see this,” he said. “But I’ve got children just like Joe and Sylvia had children. The music I published under my label belongs to me and my family, not to the Robinson’s. It’s my duty to make sure I get what’s mine.”