Chicago house music legend Vince Lawrence is fighting to get publishing back

The pioneer of house music in legal for the money that belongs to him
Chicago house music legend Vince Lawrence is fighting to get publishing back
Lee Farmer – Gina – Vince Lawrence – Photo Credit: Eddy “Precise” Lamarre

Vince Lawrence is speaking up for the integrity of his music. Lawrence, the co-founder of the Trax record label, and his attorney Sean Mulroney, recently detailed to rolling out why he’s suing the estate of Larry Sherman, another co-founder of the label. The lawsuit, which also includes Marshall Jefferson, Adonis and Maurice Joshua, alleges that Trax didn’t make royalty payments, and didn’t pay any of them anything on multiple occasions related to releases of their music.

We know who has benefitted from house music, and it’s not the artist. Can you bring us up to speed?

Lawrence: I was running with a group of young entrepreneurial teenagers all over Chicago and [they] were throwing parties … I wanted to make music that fit those parties and became friends with Jesse Saunders, who was a DJ. Jesse and I made a record widely regarded as the first house music recording. We sold two thousand copies a week but realized we couldn’t press as many records as we could sell and had titles we were ready to release, but were too busy selling the first record.

I went to the guy who owned the pressing plant and said, “Hey, there’s a partnership to be had in you pressing records and us selling them.”

He had his own label and said, “We need to differentiate between the stuff that’s on your label and what I’m pressing for you, otherwise we won’t have a common pool of where we can make an accounting to each other.”

Then I say, “I have an idea to create a different label and call it Trax because these records aren’t records you have been known to orchestrate in the past.” … We brought in more artists and grew. Next thing we know, we were selling tens of thousands of records per week. Sometimes, these guys in New York were buying 10,000 records a week and we didn’t understand what they were doing with them.

It turns out they were shipping those records overseas, the house music movement caught on overseas and became the movement we know today, all while we were happy teenagers. [We were] happy to make a few dollars, not necessarily concerned about accounting. We trusted Mr. [Larry] Sherman, and weren’t too mindful of our business. It turns out we weren’t getting our fair share. It just became harder and harder to work with Larry, his situation and the group of three kind of splintered. I continued to provide artists to the label and put songs in, but I signed to Geffen Records. That deal was much more lucrative and my focus shifted in that direction.

Trax Records continued to grow, those songs continued to sell and we never got into accounting. What do you do if someone takes you in and believes in you to some extent? You don’t want to sue your uncle or your dad.

Well, Larry died a few years ago, and I went to ask the people who were left what’s left. “Hey, I want my stuff back.” They told me I had to sue him in order to get the things they knew belonged to me. So here we are.

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