The drummer Bobby Colomby co-founded the New York jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears, which grew to eight by the time of its 1968 debut. Band members left and were replaced, and by 1974, Colomby was the only original member in the group. “We had an agreement: Last man standing owns it,” he said.
While Colomby took a less itinerant job, as an executive at CBS Records, he leased the Blood, Sweat & Tears name to David Clayton-Thomas, who sang the group’s signature hits, including “Spinning Wheel,” but was not an original member. After a 20-year lease, Clayton-Thomas formed a new band in 2004, so Colomby hired musicians to tour as his salaried employees. “As far as I’m concerned, as long as I’m the guy behind it, it’s still the original band,” he said, adding that if his 1960s bandmates still played in the group, “you’d see guys with walkers onstage.”
Blood, Sweat & Tears still play 55 to 65 shows a year, according to its manager, Larry Dorr. In a phone interview with Dorr and Colomby, neither could name all current members of the band. But Colomby likens it to a franchise: “When you go to a Yankees game, what do you see? There’s no Babe Ruth, no Mickey Mantle. But you’re going to see the pinstripes, a tradition, a style.” Blood, Sweat & Tears, he insists, isn’t a group of specific people, “it’s a musical concept.”
Soft rock bands are not exempt from legal feuds. Wayne Nelson, a bassist who joined the Little River Band in time for the successful group’s sixth album in 1981, said with a laugh, “We fought as much as a metal band, but it was all passive-aggressive.” Nelson was a paid employee first, and then was made a partner via LRB Proprietary Ltd., the group’s unit trust. When singer Glenn Shorrock left, he was paid $85,000 to turn over his shares, Nelson said.
Eventually, the name was owned by the guitarist Stephen Housden, who had joined for the group’s seventh album, and stopped touring in 2006. Now, Nelson effectively licenses the trademark from Housden, who earns tour income without ever leaving his home.
Shorrock and two other founding members tried to perform as the Original Little River Band, but Housden forced them to change the name. Since then, the band’s ex-members have called the current lineup “a tribute band” and “a joke.” No musician grows up dreaming of fighting in court and parrying insults, but, Nelson concluded, “That’s the life of a band in these times.”