A stink over 'Think'

A local housewife-songwriter claims country hunk Collin Raye stole her song

But "that defense is not going to fly," says one veteran Nashville producer who has endured his share of frivolous lawsuits. "Look, a legit songwriter wouldn't take the chance of listening to a song from someone they'd never heard of, and guys like this don't have to resort to stealing ideas from unknown writers. Hell, every time I have a hit, I get sued. It's what America's about."

But McKinley's holding the trump card, for now: the statement from Judith Finell that says there are four similarities between her song and the Raye hit. According to her affidavit, both songs have "highly similar" hooks--meaning, that when both songs get to the line "I think about you," their lyrics and melodies sound the same. And, she writes, "in each song, every verse and chorus ends with the hook." In essence, she's saying, both McKinley and Raye sing the word "about" in sort of the same way.

But Finell's seems a tenuous argument. Sure, the words are the same, but what about those other songs sitting in the Library of Congress? Also, Finell contends that "both songs share several distinctive creative features and depart similarly from other works within their genre"--that is, they're both about an "absent second person." Quick, name a song that isn't.

Finell refuses to comment specifically on her testimony--Conley's orders--but she does say that it's unlikely this case will go to court.

"I'd say about 80 to 90 percent of the cases I've been asked to give opinions in are settled before they get to trial," she says from her New York office. "Very, very few cases I see or other experts like me see actually end up in trial, because of the expense or the risk of liability on both sides. When one side is a little guy and one side's a big guy, they usually settle well before they go to court. The burden is on the plaintiff to prove the defendant had access to it."

So this could go on forever, or it could be settled next week--like that producer in Nashville says, "You don't have to be right to think you're right," and lawsuits are as American as country music. McKinley will keep playing in small coffee houses around town, and Raye will keep playing to the Fan Fair faithful who would never believe the man behind the American flag sweatshirt on the cover of his debut album would ever steal from one of them. It would make a damn fine country song, though.

Scene, heard
It'd be Rhett Miller's dampest dream come true: There's a chance that when Billy Bragg tours this summer in support of his forthcoming album Mermaid Avenue--a splendid collection of previously unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics put to music written and performed by Bragg and Wilco, featuring guest Natalie Merchant--he will be backed by his Elektra labelmates the Old 97's. Elektra publicity will neither confirm nor deny this nifty rumor--"it's a possibility," is all Elektra's Brian Gross will offer--but Wilco is scheduled to be in the studio this summer recording the follow-up to its 1996 double-disc gem Being There, which would make the Bragg tour impossible. Imagine: Rhett Miller singing Woody Guthrie lyrics and Jeff Tweedy music as he stands next to Billy Bragg. The mind reels...

The North Texas Music Festival, which will be held on June 4 at Trees from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., will feature "a super deluxe fashion show by Dickies and The Hip Connection [and] hair and make up by Tony & Guy," at least according to the press release. Like, cool. But more to the point, the "summer social," as it's being billed, will feature, in order of appearance: Dexter Freebish, Hi Fi Drowning, Blender, Deborah Vial, Elemental, Flickerstick, Astro-gin, Buck Jones, and American Fuse--with that aforementioned fashion show sandwiched in between all the rock. I seem to recall a time when Deep Ellum was more about sounding good than looking good, but things change down on Fraternity Row...

Jeff "Chate" "cottonmouth, texas" Liles--a man whose name has appeared in these pages since the invention of the printing press--has been dropped from Virgin Records, which released his album anti-social butterfly last year, though not so's you'd know. At least, Liles thinks he has been let go: "I haven't gotten a letter or anything," he said last week while preparing for his forthcoming return to Los Angeles in search of yet another label deal. (For what it's worth, his name is off the Virgin Records roster found on the label's website.)But Liles has never been stopped by a little thing like getting screwed by a major corporation: He's planning on releasing a new album later this year on a label he and girlfriend Perla Doherty are starting, and you can catch him worldwide on the Internet, where he's broadcasting a "radio" show titled "Heir Guitar." Located at www.ahoc.net/~chate/index.html, the show features Liles' trademarked deadpan drawl on all things rock and rolled--very funny, very wry, very good.

Send Street Beat email tips, dope jams, phat beats, mad love, and LeAnn Rimes pictures to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com

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