By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
At first, no Dallas DJ would play "Scheek Fool." Then KKDA-FM 104.5 played it once; soon radio stations were deluged with requests. The more "Scheek Fool" was played, the more people wanted to hear it, but the demand never translated beyond the regional market, and actually worked against the song.
"The local stations, they played the crap out if it," says Sewell. "They burned it, which is too bad, because for a local independent to get a song in with the 20 or 30 songs that a radio station in a major market has in rotation is quite an achievement." Getting on the radio, Sewell says, "is like a war."
Ricky Ricardo, an Ultrax promoter, was visiting KKDA for a promotion when he heard repeated telephone requests for "Scheek Fool." When he learned that the single was the creation of an unsigned local musician, he told Quon about Goldfinger.
Johnson's networking skills kicked in. Although no longer employed by Goldfinger, he took charge, arranging a meeting between his former protege and Tommy Quon. At the first meeting, Quon asked Ricardo if he thought "Scheek Fool" could be a national commercial success. "Ricky said, 'Man, this record is slamming!'" Johnson recalls. "Tommy told me, 'I'm going to make him famous, and I am going to make him rich.'"
According to Goldfinger, Quon handed him a $20,000 advance against royalties, and Goldfinger scrawled his signature across the bottom of a 25-page exclusive solo artist recording contract. Advances against royalties can issue one of the cruelest wake-up calls in the business: Young, impressionable artists--still more in touch with the myth than the mechanics--get a bunch of cash and think they've arrived, not realizing that they've yet to make the money they're holding in their hands.
The document committed Goldfinger to Quon for three years, and gave Ultrax the rights to the songs Goldfinger had already produced.
Johnson, for his efforts, received a $400 finder's fee and learned he would not be invited to the second meeting.
When Goldfinger signed with Ultrax in early 1992, he joined a financially troubled company.
Sewell says that major labels such as SBK and EMI were slow in paying royalties for acts they'd signed from Ultrax, and the company simply had too much overhead. Vanilla Ice, Ultrax's gravy train, had already begun his well-documented spiral back into obscurity.
To make matters worse, everywhere Quon turned, someone was suing Ultrax. In a 1992 case, a jury awarded a $1.1 million judgment against Ultrax, ruling that the company had promised a former business acquaintance profit-sharing in the Vanilla Ice project. Quon settled for $300,000. Manufacturers were also suing for nonpayment.
In 1992, laws covering sampling and the rights and obligations of their commercial use were just beginning to be hashed out in court. Ultrax's output, heavy with samples from deep-pocketed, aggressively self-interested artists like Michael Jackson and Queen, set the company up for a drubbing in court. The death blow, however, came after a dispute with distributor Ichiban.
Flint, Michigan-based MC Breed was solely Ichiban property, but Quon had stepped in as his manager at the label's behest. "What they wanted," Quon explains, "was someone to manage him and basically front him money." When a three-way wrangle about money ensued, Quon tried to shop MC Breed to bigger labels. "I had a fiduciary responsibility to represent my client's interests," Quon says today.
When, around the end of 1991, Ichiban president John Abbey learned that Quon was peddling the rapper to rivals, he canceled the distribution agreement with Ultrax. The move devastated an already shaky company. Ultrax had thousands of CDs, singles, and vinyl albums in inventory, but no way to get them to the public, Quon says.
Goldfinger, however, had no idea that Ultrax was struggling financially. For Goldfinger, those were heady days. People were hearing his song and recognizing him on the street. Quon treated him like a star. Goldfinger went on tours with major acts, mingled with celebrities, and stood amazed as legions of women threw themselves at him. He produced a CD for his new label titled This Beat is for Freaks.
After a few months, Goldfinger noticed that while the song and album seemed hot, he wasn't getting any royalties. When he asked Quon about it, he says, he was brushed off. As time passed--and as that $20,000 signing bonus dwindled--Goldfinger wanted to know exactly how well the album was selling. "He wouldn't tell me," he says of Quon. "He was like, 'I'll get back to you.'"
Goldfinger says he learned from a friend that Ultrax was using a distributor in Houston as well as a distributor in Dallas. When he talked to the distributor, Goldfinger says, he was told that This Beat is for Freaks had sold some 172,000 copies.
Quon says that while the CD was showing potential, it had not sold enough to recoup Ultrax's costs of making, mass-producing, and distributing it. His estimate of album sales is dramatically lower than the rapper's: a mere 10,000 units, and production costs for This Beat were more than $100,000.
Goldfinger says he began to distrust Quon. "I never got a statement, nothing," he says. "They kept me in the blind.