A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-ripped-off. Badly. Of the $0.59 it cost to buy the record Tutti Frutti, Little Richard got half. No, not half of 59 cents – half a cent. Less than 1%. “Word got out that Rupe at Specialty isn’t going to pay you much, but he’s going to pay you what he promised,” laughs Art Rupe, who is now 99. “I slept well at night.” Well as long as you did, Rupe.
Sharon Osbourne Presents Rock’n’roll’s Dodgiest Deals (BBC4) is an entertaining, sometimes shocking account of the tug-of-war between artists and the music business. She’s really hammering home the tug-of-war thing; the musicians pulling on one end, music execs pulling – usually harder – on the other. Here’s some footage of an actual tug-of-war to make it even clearer … Sharon has been on both ends of the rope. Her husband, Ozzy, is an artist; she is a manager (his), as well as a lot of other things. And her father, Don Arden, was an agent whose business practices – which included dangling people out of upper-floor windows – weren’t always appreciated.
But the best story, even if you’ve heard it many times before, belongs to Mr O: the one where he took a pair of doves into a meeting with his record company as a token of peace. Ozzy sat on a girl’s lap, she didn’t like it (would you?), he took out one of the peace doves and bit its head off. “I don’t know why,” says Sharon. But at the end of it, the record company “knew who was boss – and it wasn’t them”.
These days, a musician can hang on to more control, as well as more dignity and money. You don’t even need a record deal, you can just put stuff out, on your own, from your bedroom. It’s like a bridge has been built over a pool of seething, greedy sharks. Which is a good thing. But it’s not quite as fun, is it?