By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Before 1993, Louis Bickel Jr. had no interest in the music business outside of buying a few CDs and listening to his car radio. He was an upper-class kid from Highland Park whose father is a partner at a prestigious Dallas law firm, a young man with money in his father's deep pockets. After he graduated from Texas A&M University in 1990 with a political science degree, Bickel went to work for a local insurance company as a recruiter. Such was the life of a kid from the Park Cities who was born and bred into the workaday world.
Bickel did not become involved or infatuated with the music business until happy fate placed him in Deep Ellum one night during the summer of 1992. On that night, Bickel became enamored of a band called Leper Messiah, a group Bickel believed was so good that he became convinced they would hit it big some day--and, just maybe, take him along for the ride.
"I loved them," Bickel said just a few months ago. "They were great."
He went to hear the band, who would later become Deep Blue Something, a couple of times that summer, and became friendly with them. They told him they were trying to put out a CD and lacked the money to finance such a project. Bickel offered his help, promising the band whatever money they would need to get their record done. Over the course of the next few months, Bickel would see them perform in Dallas, Denton, and Austin, discussing with them just how much they would need to record their CD. Bickel was convinced he had found his winning lottery ticket.
In late 1992, Bickel paid "no more than $3,000," according to Deep Blue Something's lawyer, to send the band into Reeltime Studios to record the CD that would become 11th Song. Shortly after that, on January 7, 1993, Bickel and Deep Blue Something agreed to a contract that Bickel says gives him the rights to all the songs on that CD--including the one that would transform them from struggling local musicians into national stars. The deal also called for Bickel, who was doing business as Doberman Records, to receive a percentage of money made from "all [Deep Blue Something] songs past, present, and future," in the words of the contract.
Like any first release by a local band, the CD at first sold modestly--a few hundred copies, most of which were sold by the band at shows. But over the course of the next two years, the CD would sell in the thousands. It would spawn a big hit single on local radio; help land the band a big-time record deal with Interscope Records during the summer of 1995; get the band on VH1 and MTV several times a day every day and a shot on "The Tonight Show"; and make them one of the most successful bands ever to come from Dallas.
Louis Bickel, like the rest of America, watched from the sidelines as Deep Blue Something ascended the pop charts, landing a new recording of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in the Top 10 and selling hundreds of thousands of copies of the record Home. The band had new management, a mammoth and powerful record label, and the success Bickel says he always knew Deep Blue Something would attain; he, on the other hand, had his insurance job, a condo on Skillman he bought in 1991, and a few thousand bucks he made from the sale of 11th Song.
But he still had his contract--that lottery ticket--and he was convinced he owned the rights and royalties to all the songs on 11th Song, including "Breakfast at Tiffany's," not to mention everything on Home. Bickel wanted what was coming to him, the money and maybe even the fame he thought he had been promised in January 1993, and he'd get it even if he had to take his old friends to court.
This is the oldest story in the music business: A struggling young band turns to someone for help when they need it most, then cuts that person loose when the band becomes successful. Then that person turns around and sues the successful band, claiming to have been left out when it came time to split the pile of money between them. At least, this is the familiar tale Bickel and his attorney are telling.
"This isn't an unfamiliar scenario," says Bickel's lawyer, Michael Byrd. "It's one where people who get helped out early and hit it big tend to forget the people who helped them early and forget the consequences."
Quite simply, Louis Bickel wants Deep Blue Something--and Deep Blue Something managers Paul Nugent and Mike Swinford, label Interscope Records, and distributor Atlantic Recording Corporation--to give him an accounting of how much money "Breakfast at Tiffany's" has made, and then to turn 5 percent of all those royalties over to him.
The band, Nugent, Swinford, Interscope, and Atlantic refuse to do that, of course, claiming Bickel has no legal right whatsoever to the song. In fact, they all allege Bickel's 1993 contract with Deep Blue Something is void because he never lived up to his side of the agreement. They allege that the money Bickel used to pay for the recording of 11th Song was nothing more than a loan, and that he has been more than compensated through sales of the CD, which, one source says, has grossed more than $40,000--only a few hundred dollars of which the band ever received, according to members of Deep Blue Something.