Blues for Freddie

The family of a Dallas guitar legend fights to protect his legacy

"I never believed he owned the masters," Wanda says. "Nowhere had my father ever mentioned a Roy Ames. In one article, Ames said he had been to our house. No way. We didn't know him...We caught him in lie after lie. Roy Ames is a crook and a criminal, bona fide. He's the real thing, as they say."

Ames insisted during the trial that he tried to contact King's heirs before entering into his deal with Collectables in 1992. He explained that he "always [makes] an attempt to contact the heir when the singer is deceased." But he could not account for what efforts were made or who made them, only that someone told him that Jessie King owned a beauty salon. "And we spent a lot of time trying to locate that beauty salon."

Ames, in his interview with the Observer, said no other efforts were made to reach the Kings. Never mind that at least one of King's heirs is easily located in the Dallas phone book.

"All they had to do was pick up the phone and call us," Ames says. "It's not my obligation to call them. I own the tapes. I bought and paid for them. I can do whatever I want with them. I can burn them up if I want to."

Wanda claims she contacted Ames about receiving royalties from the sales of the disc; she says he told her he owned the tapes but would be happy to pay the estate a percentage of any money he made off disc sales. Though she didn't believe he owned the tapes, Wanda says that at the time, all she was looking for was a fair percentage of the royalties.

On August 17, 1993, Ames sent a contract to Jessie King--who was administrator of the King estate--that stipulated Ames and his company, Home Cooking Records, could "promote and sell PHONORECORDS of certain master tapes owned by Ames and featuring live performances of Freddie King and Band in concert." The contract also gave Ames the right to use King's name, likeness, and any biographical material in order to promote the product. In exchange, the contract stipulated that Ames would turn over 15 percent of the wholesale price on any records sold "within forty-five days after June 30 and December 31 of each year" thereafter.

Wanda King says she balked at the contract because its language was so broad. She wanted to limit the deal to include only the Live at the Texas Opry House disc. She says that she called Ames and told him she was going to add a sentence to the deal stipulating as much, and that he agreed.

Ames also included a "signing advance" of $3,000--"as evidence of good faith." Jessie King promptly cashed the check upon receipt in August 1997. However, Wanda and Jessie King insist Ames did not live up to his side of the bargain and didn't pay the estate the royalties he owed. Though Ames sent the King estate two more checks totaling a few thousand dollars, she did not believe he was providing her with an accurate accounting of sales figures. She was convinced he owed the estate far more than he was paying, despite Ames' assertion that the Live at the Texas Opry House barely sold more than 7,000 copies--hardly enough to make anyone rich, he says now.

According to Wanda, she had her New York-based lawyer, John Gross, contact Ames and void the estate's deal with Home Cooking. Only Ames didn't see it that way. He continued to license Freddie King's music to whoever wanted it. He says he has the right do to it. In the end, the jury disagreed.

One of the issues that Wanda is raising on appeal is the matter of copyright infringement--something Judge Fish threw out after the jury returned its verdict. The judge ruled that there could be no infringement because Wanda had not filed copyright papers with the Library of Congress until 1994, more than a year after the estate entered into its deal with Ames.

But her attorney, David Showalter, says that's ludicrous. He claims the Texas Opry House tapes were made in 1976--and according to copyright law in effect after 1972, they were Freddie King's property immediately upon his creation.

Though liner notes to Live at the Texas Opry House say the concert took place in April 1976, Ames insists the recordings were made in 1970 and therefore should be treated as public domain under pre-1972 copyright law. He points out that 1970 is the date written on the box of master tapes provided during the trial. But no one can prove who wrote the date on the box or when.

More likely, said bassist Bennie Turner during the trial, the recordings must have dated "between 1973, 1974," because the first voice heard on the disc is organ player Deacon Jones, who joined the band in September 1972. Wanda King claims she also has written proof that the concert took place on April 20, 1976. In her possession, she allegedly has a document her father filed with the Houston Professional Musicians Association. Back then, out-of-town performers sometimes had to pay union dues for their musicians. For the concert at the Texas Opry House on April 20, 1976, Freddie ponied up $6.16.

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