In the sixties, musicians and poets flocked to San Francisco coffeeshops and venues to be a part of the phenomenon today known as the Counterculture Revolution. Fueled by psychoactive drugs and social unrest, young people from all over the country hitchhiked into the city to take part in the manifestation of a new American dream, one that celebrated creativity and experimentation while challenging the traditional ideas of sexuality, women’s rights and the current state of authority.
Yet, it was not all flowers and peace signs. There were those who sought to capitalize on the movement and take advantage of the plentiful supply of naive, starry-eyed, hippie musicians. Enter the shark: Matthew Katz (Katz rhymes with “dates”). He’s a large man, well over six-feet tall and his fluffy, trimmed beard rounds out the bottom of his stubby, button nose. He often sports a cowboy hat and sunglasses. He speaks very deliberately and definitively as if he always knows the answer and hell or high water wouldn’t convince him otherwise. He’s a self-proclaimed visionary and has no shame whatsoever in taking credit for fostering the “San Francisco Sound”. He’s a shrewd business man with loyalties no one. He comes equipped with a contract of doom. He pulls it down upon his victims like a press squeezing out every penny of profit from their creative juices.
Katz’s first foray in the music business as a folk singer flopped, and he later decided he could find more success by exploiting the talents of others, so he got into management. A few busted attempts in the early sixties gave way to tremendous success when in 1965, Katz got a phone call from Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane. Katz caught his break and subsequently took the helm of Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape and It’s a Beautiful Day, all very promising San Francisco-based, psychedelic rock bands.
But it wasn’t long before turmoil ensued. Katz’s Lucifer-esque contracts claimed a stranglehold over every creative product that the bands produced. He claimed the right to the band names as trademarks and servicemarks, which entitled him to control and profits in all merchandise with the band’s logo. It also granted him the god-like ability to dictate when and where the musicians performed under these aliases and the ability to hire and fire members within the band. He claimed the rights to the songs through a copyright assignment, which entitled him to control and profits in all of the manufactured albums and royalties from radio play and other publishing outlets. He included a clause that would allow him to terminate any royalties due to any member of the band that was caught up in a “scandal” whether that “scandal” was before or after the signing of the contract. Katz need only dig up some dirt on his own talent, and he would no longer have to send out the royalty checks.
It wasn’t long before Katz’s job as a manager gave way to a notorious career as a litigant. His ruthless managerial tactics inspired Marty Balin to write a rock opera called, Rock Justice, where the protagonist is a musician that is put in jail for failing to produce a hit record.
Katz’s bumbling organization and authoritarian control led to the dramatic downfall of members of Moby Grape. Moby Grape was considered by many to be one of the most promising San Francisco bands to come out of that era. But a series of tragedies and misfortune coupled with decades of litigation with Katz resulted in Moby Grape being virtually unknowns today. They certainly aren’t as associated with the counterculture revolution and “San Francisco Sound” as their talent promised.
The disputes between Moby Grape and Katz culminated in a defamation lawsuit in 1999 where Katz alleged the intentional infliction of emotional distress due to comments made by the band’s members and fans. A website was made to criticize Katz where commenters labeled him as “a leech who survives on the lifeblood of real artists”, “a diabolical control freak,” an “evil, ruthless bastard” and an “inexcusable parasite”. Subsequent emails were discovered where band members hoped someone would douse Katz in kerosene and set him on fire and claimed they would kick his ass for a dollar. Katz sought $3,000,000 in damages.
After numerous amendments and refilings the case was eventually dropped in 2004, when Katz focused his legal talents elsewhere. It was around that time that he secured a judgment from a court reiterating his stranglehold over the band, It’s a Beautiful Day.
It’s a Beautiful Day was founded by husband and wife duo, David and Linda Baker Laflamme and vocalist, Pattie Santos. Like Katz’s other bands they signed the contract of doom, and it came back to haunt them. The litigation ensues to this very day; just yesterday, Katz filed yet another complaint in the District Court of Central California to block David Laflamme from performing as It’s a Beautiful Day and requested damages to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars for alleged copyright infringement. This lawsuit successfully extends Katz’s career as a music business troll to almost 50 years running.
While it’s easy to criticize Katz for his cold-blooded tactics, what is less clear is why these artists signed such blatantly one-sided contracts in the first place? What level of callowness is required to read and sign a 7-page contract that virtually gives up every right that you may have in your work? What sorts of drugs were they on? We may never know the lofty promises that Katz assured these young hopefuls when he massaged their pens to the dotted lines. But clearly they learned their lesson after decades of grief and court battles. Hopefully, others will learn from it too.