The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published Thursday, May 13, 1999


Silencing 'the great pretenders' is number one on FAME's list

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

The Platters were the most popular vocal group of the '50s and the group's 1955 hit "The Great Pretender" was its biggest-selling single. But the title has come back to haunt Herb Reed, the group's original bass singer, with a heartbreaking irony.

On any given day, there are several groups calling themselves the Platters out there singing "The Great Pretender," "Only You" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," openly competing with Reed.

Reed, who appeared Wednesday at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Museum, Sharon, has a request for fans of music from the '50s and '60s: when a favorite group comes to town, study the faces of the group members in promotional photographs carefully. Do they look like anyone from the original group?

If they don't, don't go to the concert, he said.

Reed, who organized the Platters, gave it its name and is the only original member from its days as an all-male quartet, has fought many legal battles with vocal groups that call themselves the Platters. "I've had some legal papers to answer or file or defend since 1969," he said. "It's like second nature to me now."

And even though he recently won an important federal appellate court decision, the fight is not over. "When you win you gotta defend," he said in a voice with the authority of granite.

But Reed is finding many allies in his fight in the organization Friends Against Musical Exploitation. One of them is Mary Wilson, who has battled with Motown Records since 1975 over the name the Supremes, which she started with Florence Ballard, who has died, and Diana Ross.

Ms. Wilson has been bumped from an engagement by another group calling themselves the Supremes because they had a Web site and she didn't, she said.

After trying for years to be booked in Las Vegas, she was dropped from a Legends of Motown bill because she complained that she was performing alongside a group calling itself the Marvelettes, which contained no original Marvelettes.

"I'm out of a gig because I stood up for my rights," she said, noting she missed the Vocal Group Hall of Fame induction ceremony because of the Vegas booking. "The law doesn't protect you."

FAME is trying to change that. Founded last year by Gene Hughes of Casinos and Pat Benti, the group is lobbying Congress to pass the Truth to Rock Bill, which would give the rights to a name to the first person or group of people who use it.

Many singers signed away the rights to their group name because of coercion, they received bad or improperly motivated advice, or they didn't know any better. The result is that there are competing groups calling themselves the Platters, the Coasters, the Drifters, the Vogues without having any original members in them or any ties to the original group.

"Now with so many groups calling themselves the Supremes no one's trying to stop them," said Ms. Wilson. "There are five or six groups of Supremes out there."

Although millions of dollars are at stake in concert bookings, money is not the sole motivation behind FAME. The legacy of the music also is at stake.

"Why support these phonies when there are originals out there trying to make a living and keep the sound alive?" Reed said.

"They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Ms. Wilson said. "They're no longer imitating us. They're taking over our songs. They're becoming us."

Benti said FAME is trying to organize Truth in Rock day for July 12, in which radio stations would help raise awareness of the plight of Ms. Wilson and Reed. It also plans to start working in state capitols to lobby for truth in advertising laws to prohibit fake groups from billing themselves as original or as having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"That's the quickest way to deal with all the fake groups out there," he said. "We've got to put an end to these great pretenders."

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Updated May 13, 1999
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