The musical futures of George Porter, Jr., Russell Batiste, Jr., and Brian Stoltz may be safe, but their financial ones are cloudy. When Porter split from PBS, he set in motion a chain of events that prompted him and Stoltz to file for bankruptcy. They are embroiled in a civil dispute with their former Massachusetts-based management company, Highsteppin’ Productions, LLC, and tonight the Howlin’ Wolf will host a Save PBS benefit concert to assist the musicians with legal expenses.
Phil Stepanian, owner of Highsteppin’ Productions, LLC, and former band manager, is suing the band for more than $500,000. He claims the band members owe him for crew member expenses, travel costs, and unpaid loans. The band denies these claims, deems the litigation as unwarranted, and has counter-sued. On the advice of their lawyers, the band members remain silent about the suit.
The case isn’t scheduled to go to trial until 2012, but documents show that one battle has already taken place as a judge ordered a percentage of Porter, Batiste and Stoltz’s income be put in an escrow account. Stepanian proposed that the escrow be paid based on the gross earnings from each gig, while Porter proposed that it be based on the net, which would exempt travel expenses. A judge decided that Porter’s counter-proposal “is impractical and likely to lead to accounting quagmires.” The ruling orders Porter, Batiste, and Stoltz to escrow a quarter of the monies earned from concerts, record sales, and music publishing proceeds.
Today, The Daily Kos wrote about what’s at stake in the suit:
Bassist George Porter, Jr, drummer Russell Batiste and guitarist Brian Stoltz are legends of New Orleans music. George, a founding member of the Meters and Runnin’ Pardners, is deservedly acclaimed as the father of funk bass. Brian’s stints with the Neville Brothers and many other bands have redefined the boundaries of rock, funk and pop guitar. Russell is simply one of the most talented and versatile drummers in the world.
For years, they have been playing together under the name of Porter.Batiste.Stoltz or PBS. During part of that time, they were under a management contract to Highsteppin’ Productions, LLC, a management company owned by Phil Stepanian.
Now, Stepanian is suing the trio for over half a million dollars, claiming unpaid expenses for which he has produced no receipts or accounting. He is going after the musicians’ homes, publishing and life works, including George’s share of the Meters catalog and Brian’s writers income from his days with the Nevilles. (For instance, Brian wrote Fearless, Aaron’s duet with Linda Ronstadt on the Brothers Keeper album). (There’s an ad at that video, so mute the beginning). Stepanian has also gained control of all P.B.S. income streams and released over two dozen unauthorized live albums of the band.
Performing tonight at the Save PBS show at the Howlin Wolf are the Funky Meters with Stanton Moore, members of the Voice of Wetlands Allstars, Ivan Neville, Tony Hall, Johnny Vidacovich, Billy Iuso, the Runnin’ Pardners, the I-12 Allstars, John Gros, and more. The doors open at 9 p.m., and the donation ticket price is $30 in advance or at the door. All proceeds go directly to SAVEPBS, LLC to defray litigation fees (George even makes a personal promise that the money is needed only for court fees in this video on Facebook).
If you can’t make the show, you can also make donations at savepbs.org.