“We didn’t have record companies in Chicago. It was totally uncharted territory,” Marshall Jefferson told Rolling Stone, insisting the label never paid for his work and released his music without his consent. “We didn’t know how to do record deals or anything like that, so we were basically lambs to the slaughter. He wouldn’t tell us anything. We got no statements. We just wanted to get our music out.”
Jefferson, the act behind the iconic dance anthem “Move Your Body,” is one of the many artists suing the legendary Chicago house label, Trax Records, over years of shady business from fraud to copyright infringement to unpaid royalties, or failure to pay artists at all.
On Friday (Oct. 14), Rolling Stone broke the story of nearly two dozen artists filing a lawsuit against the label, the estate of Trax co-founder Larry Sherman, and the label’s current owners Screamin’ Rachael Cain and Sandyee Barns. Along with Jefferson, the list of plaintiffs include a fellow Trax co-founder Vince Lawrence, Adonis, and Maurice Joshua alleging the label owes them unpaid royalties, or simply, what they were owed in the first place.
In a lawsuit obtained by the outlet, the label’s seedy early years come to light with mentions of questionable, even nonexistent, accounting along with forgery and bouncing checks. The lawsuit states, “Plaintiffs may elect to recover statutory damages and are entitled to the maximum statutory damages available for willful infringement… in the amount of $150,000 with respect to each timely registered work that was infringed.”
The artists’ representation, Sean Mulroney, told Rolling Stone, “Larry Sherman said he was going to pay them and never did. Are you going to spend 50, 60 grand to chase it down, knowing there’s no moving forward? What are they worth? You have to go, ‘Is it worth it? I’ll just keep writing.’ And for some of these guys, it was ‘I’ll never write another song again.’”
Sherman, who passed away in 2020, founded Trax Records in 1984 alongside partners Vince Lawrence and Jesse Saunders. In a 1997 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Sherman was quoted, saying “The kids making these records didn’t know what they should get, and they often didn’t know what their material was worth. And being a good businessman, you don’t say, ‘I think you’re underestimating the worth of your material. Here’s a few thousand dollars more.’”
In 2006, Sherman was ordered to sell the label to his wife, Screamin’ Rachel Cain, as a part of their divorce settlement. According to Rolling Stone, several of the artists have received threats of defamation lawsuits from Cain in an attempt to discourage them from speaking on the label’s wrongdoings.
This lawsuit comes after a similar legal battle was won last month by artists Larry Heard and Robert Owens. The pair sued Trax to gain possession of their masters.
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