Counterfeit Queen of Soul
July 8, 2018 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Mary Jane/Vickie Jones could belt like Aretha so why not "be" her? A strange and bittersweet ballad of kidnapping, stolen identity and unlikely stardom. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any recording of Ms. Jones anywhere.
posted by MovableBookLady (9 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This story had a surprisingly sweet ending, considering. I can see that her sons are proud of her. This would probably make for a feel-good movie.

I remember seeing signs for fake band performances in the '80s in the Deep South, but I never believed that anyone thought that they were looking at the actual bands. I thought they were just cover performances for (and by) country crowds, and probably by that point they were. It never occurred to me that there had ever been a truly sinister side. I suppose the mob would naturally step in to create a rough sort of IP law to prevent two Jameses Brown from performing in the same county.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:40 PM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you MovableBookLady for another great post.
posted by blue shadows at 5:39 PM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Crazy story, but there have been some other examples of this sort of thing. In 1969, a US promoter put together a fake version of The Zombies (who had broken up two years earlier) to capitalize on the success of "Time of the Season" as a single. And in 1974, Fleetwood Mac's then-manager sent out a bunch of ringers to do gigs in their name while the real band was on hiatus from touring.

Both of these groups contained no musicians ever previously associated with the name, which make them different than, say, the many vocal groups (Coasters, Drifters, etc) that spawned several versions, each headed by a different former member.

Somewhat related: famous bands that tour with only one original member, like the current version of War, which is headed by keyboardist Lonnie Jordan and the group's longtime manager, while the other four living members of the band who helped write and record all their hits are forced to gig using the name The Lowrider Band, and can't even say in ads that they used to be members of War.

In conclusion, as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson once said, "the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 6:54 PM on July 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Reminds me a lot of Austin's own Miss Lavelle White. Miss Lavelle did a 'fake' Aretha show in the 70's; said they fired her the first show because she fessed up after the first set. Aging well at 90 she is.
posted by Afghan Stan at 7:33 PM on July 8, 2018

The music business always seemed like such a cesspool of petty low life pimp-like crooks. And the creative people screwed royally time after time often because they were often too naive and inexperienced. This story is particularly harrowing because the kidnapping angle more than the notion of Aretha Franklin being ripped off.

One thing I remember was when phony "cover" records used to be a thing. When I was a kid in the early 70s, I was a music freak, despite recorded music being something of a luxury in the household. My mom was pretty accommodating, procuring what I presume were records that had been tossed, for my listening pleasure. At some point, I ended up with a bunch of compilations of pop music that I knew from the radio, but they all sounded off, for some reason. As I got a little older, I came to realize that they were compilation pop records all right... of songs performed by anonymous musicians more or less in the identical styles as the original recordings, It boggles my mind that these records exist, either because some people were trying to squeeze a few bucks off some pop stars, and that some consumers were being duped because they didn't know better and/or didn't really care whether the music was performed by the original artists or not.

Now these records weren't like those Lawrence Welk or 101 Strings albums of top 40 hits. These were compilations that were rather cagey about the authenticity of the recorded performances. The names of the famous artists were there, as were the the titles of their hits. But they were clearly not recordings of those artists, just facsimiles in reasonably similar style to the originals. A quick search brings up this old WFMU Beware of the Blog post about a disc called "That English Sound!" that's more tooth grinding that the records I had. But you get the drift.

Now I'm presuming these records were more or less legit, in that royalties were being paid to someone... And I could be wrong. But if it were the case that these were legit, I just can't get my head around the idea that getting a cover band together to do a bunch of pop songs and press a bunch of records to hawk in local drug stores was a worthwhile thing to do. Does this thing possibly happen today?
posted by 2N2222 at 8:42 PM on July 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think maybe what you are describing is a subgenre of what are known as tax-scam records, in which fly-by-night record labels released dubious, mislabeled, and generic product mostly in the seventies apparently with the intent of providing a net loss to the label's ownership. Here's an interview with Aaron Milenski, who appears to have written a book on the topic.

That said, quickly rerecorded and released covers of current hits are a long-established practice for the American recording industry going back to the earliest days of recorded music, so your soundalikes are not necessarily associated with the tax-scam labels by any means. The exact same practice is used today to essentially avoid royalties for use of a song in the context of, say, an ad. The knockoff version might, for example, be performed in a different key.
posted by mwhybark at 12:46 AM on July 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

In 1969, a US promoter put together a fake version of The Zombies (who had broken up two years earlier) to capitalize on the success of "Time of the Season" as a single.

Something similar that has come up a lot is a hit song by a "band" of studio musicians, and the label then creating a soundalike touring band to actually go out on the road with the song. The Strangeloves and the Grass Roots are two that I can recall off the top of my head. There's also Tommy James and the Shondells - they recorded "Hanky Panky" years before it became a hit and then disbanded. When the song unexpectedly climbed the charts, James had to hastily recruit a new band of Shondells.

One thing I remember was when phony "cover" records used to be a thing.

What I've seen a lot of is re-recordings of hit songs by the original artists. Many years ago, I got burned several times by compilation albums that contained these. Strictly speaking, they weren't lying - these were the same songs recorded by the same artists. But they weren't the original versions, which is what I really wanted. (Spotify is now a landmine for this sort of thing.)
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:04 AM on July 9, 2018

Somewhat related: famous bands that tour with only one original member, like the current version of War

The Guess Who have often been like that. In the late 1970s, their original bass player discovered that the name "The Guess Who" had never been officially registered - he promptly registered it, and still controls the band name.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:21 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

You're right, 2N2222, that the kidnapping part of this story makes it worse than other examples of music business skullduggery, and I didn't mean to minimize that in my comment.

From the linked reports, sounds like the musicians who were in the fake Zombies and/or Fleetwood Mac were willing participants, and thus, part of the scam themselves.

Glad that Ms. Jones' story turned out as well as it did...
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 9:01 AM on July 9, 2018

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