Teaching a (history) lesson

Dixie Chicks sic lawyers on a fan's exhaustive Web site

"They're the ones who sweated to make this music and, you know, they have the right to decide what to do with it," he continues, speaking quickly, sounding as though he's in a rush to take another call. "That's the bottom line as far as I'm concerned. It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair."

Senior Management's Simon Renshaw, the band's manager, insists the only reason the band went after Brooks was that the sound bites were in MP3 form. "I will just say one thing: His site with MP3 files...is a huge red flag," Renshaw says. "And that's all I really want to say about that, quite honestly."

The band and Sony Music were all unavailable for comment regarding Brooks' Web site.

Most of the other unofficial Web sites dedicated to the band also feature unauthorized sound clips, but none of them have been forced to remove the files and disable the links to them, as Brooks was. Of course, all the other sites only feature songs from Wide Open Spaces. Brooks understands why the band is trying to distance itself from its independent releases. He just doesn't think it's necessary.

"You can't deny that their old image--their Western and frilly image and their bluegrass and traditional western sound--is very different," Brooks says. "It's different from what they're singing now, and it's very different from what Nashville expects now. I think they're underestimating their fans, but I also think that, as a big-label [band], they have to look at their fans from a marketing viewpoint. And their new fans are like the Web mistress of the best 'new' Chicks site on the net. She's 14 years old, and is a huge fan of the Dixie Chicks. I think the label is concerned that as these girls grow up, meaning from 14 to 16, that they'll lose interest."

Despite Beiter and Renshaw's legal arguments against Brooks' site, the cease-and-desist letter appears to be part of a broader strategy--constructed by the band, its management, and its label, Sony Music subsidiary Monument Records--to rewrite history, mostly with an eraser, and Brooks' Web site is just caught in the middle.

Since signing with Monument in 1995, the Dixie Chicks' story has undergone a page-one polish, excising the contributions of founding members Robin Macy and Laura Lynch. Macy and Lynch are not even mentioned by name in any of the press material distributed by the label, skipping over an integral part of the group's past faster than you can say "two other members," as the band's bio does. The two founding members--who started the band along with the sister team of fiddler Martie Seidel and banjo player Emily Erwin in 1989--are treated as easily replaceable sidemen who never had much of an impact, other than occupying a place in group photos.

A time line on the Sony Music official Chicks Web site (www.sonymusic.com/ labels/nashville/DixieChicks) says that in 1989, "Emily & Martie begin playing for tips on a Dallas street corner; debut club appearance at Poor David's Pub; Martie wins 3rd place at National Fiddle Championships." Anyone looking at that part of the official site would be led to believe the sisters were the entire band until Maines' arrival in 1995, when she quit college to join the Chicks.

According to the band's biography, the original Dale Evans look was strictly a "marketing tool" (so says Martie) and by "mid-decade, the sisters were ready to head toward the country mainstream." To that end, "all the act needed was a charismatic lead singer, [and] in 1995, they went looking for one." As a result, the band simply went "through a couple of member changes"--meaning, of course, Macy and Lynch were ousted.

Brooks is appalled that Erwin and Seidel would treat their own past with such reckless disregard. Then again, when Macy parted ways with the Dixie Chicks in 1992, the party line was that the split came over creative differences. However, a source close to the band says that Macy was kicked out because Martie and Emily thought she was too old and not quite perky enough, crushing her spirit like a tin can. The band even continued with the name she came up with (taken from a Little Feat song) and compositions she wrote. Macy, reached at home in Kansas, doesn't wish to discuss that period of her life, because she says she's moved on.

Lynch may have been the victim of the same fate, even though the Dixie Chicks' camp claims she left of her own accord. Lynch left before the band recorded its first demos for Sony because, according to Seidel in a November 1995 article in the Dallas Observer, the band thought it would send the label a "mixed message." Perhaps by coincidence, the youthful, tow-headed Maines joined the group around the same time that Lynch left. It seems that the Dixie Chicks have become the country version of Menudo, hiring and firing based on age.

When Maines entered the fold, the group's Branson-ready wardrobe was tossed in favor of midriff-skimming tops and fashionable togs, and its music was modernized as well. The band's old sound and look are so incongruous with its new ones, the only thing that the group has in common with the one that appears on the Dixie Chicks' first three albums is the name on the spine.

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