OffBeat Magazine is celebrating 30 years and reached that milestone with our November 2017 issue. To mark the anniversary, over the next 12 months OffBeat will re-publish excerpts from features and interviews from the past 30 years. In our third installment, from our August 1992 issue, Keith Spera interviews songwriter Dr. John.
You were one of the people who were taken advantage of as far as royalties and songwriting credits. The one that always comes up is the Lloyd Price tune, “Lady Luck.”
Besides “Lady Luck,” there’s a lot of songs that I wrote by myself. In a lot of instances that I know from later trying to find out where all my songs and money went, a lot of these songs were given to disc jockeys to play records. I never met these people, but their names are on the records with mine. That’s just how things was when I was first writin’ songs.
Like the thing with “Lady Luck,” I had written a song, had a contract on it with Venice Music, but what I never knew was they didn’t copyright the songs until they recorded ’em. When Lloyd Price, I guess, heard the song when he was at Specialty Records, when he left to go to ABC/Paramount, he took songs that he copyrighted.
So you lost out on that one.
I lost out on a lot of deals early on. I mean, I had a deal with Aladdin Records for a lot of songs. My parents signed the contract ’cause I was like 15, and it said, in real big print on the contract, which I recently saw, “Rate of royalty: nothing.” They only paid like three-and-a-half cents for sheet music. If you didn’t read it carefully, it looked like I was paid three-and-a-half cents royalty, but that was for sheet music. For royalties for the songs, they owed me nothin’.
You didn’t have any attorney look at it?
Well, I had an attorney for the Lloyd Price thing, but he happened to be Lloyd Price’s attorney too, and nobody in my family thought about that being a conflict of interest. That’s just the way things went.