On Friday (October 14), more than a dozen artists sued the legendary Chicago house label Trax Records, the estate of its co-founder Larry Sherman, and its current owners Screamin’ Rachael Cain and Sandyee Barns, reports Rolling Stone. Those suing—a list that includes Vince Lawrence, Marshall Jefferson, Adonis, and Maurice Joshua—allege the label owes them unpaid royalties and, in some cases, failed to pay certain artists anything at all.
A copy of the lawsuit obtained by Rolling Stone describes Trax’s early years as a “shell game” that involved forged signatures, bounced checks, and shoddy accounting. According to the lawsuit, “Plaintiffs may elect to recover statutory damages and are entitled to the maximum statutory damages available for willful infringement… in the amount of $150,000 with respect to each timely registered work that was infringed.”
Sean Mulroney, the lawyer representing the artists in the lawsuit, claims Trax Records’ history shows a detailed pattern of financial malfeasance. “Larry Sherman said he was going to pay them and never did,” Mulroney told Rolling Stone. “Are you going to spend 50, 60 grand to chase it down, knowing there’s no moving forward? What are they worth? You have to go, ‘Is it worth it? I’ll just keep writing.’ And for some of these guys, it was, ‘I’ll never write another song again.’” Pitchfork has reached out to Mulroney for comment.
Larry Sherman started Trax Records in 1984. In 1997, Sherman discussed how he ran the label with the Chicago Tribune, saying, “The kids making these records didn’t know what they should get, and they often didn’t know what their material was worth. And being a good businessman, you don’t say, ‘I think you’re underestimating the worth of your material. Here’s a few thousand dollars more.’” Sherman died in 2020 at the age of 70.