The following accounts of the Läther story are taken from various books, articles and fanzines on Frank Zappa. Some of them are true. Some of them are not so true. You decide.
"Zappa Zaps WB, Discreet Over Album--'Zappa In New York' Involved" by John Sippel, Billboard, November 5, 1977
LOS ANGELES--Warner Bros. Records and Discreet Records are to refrain from manufacturing and marketing the album, Zappa In New York, following a hearing Tuesday (25) before Judge Malcolm Lucas in Federal District Court here.
The two defendants will lay off producing and selling the album until a Thursday (3) hearing before the court, at which time Lucas will decide upon a motion for a temporary restraining order, proffered by Harvey Fierstein, counsel for Frank Zappa, a co-plaintiff with John Williams who designed original artwork for the package.
The suit also named Capitol Records, which would be duplicating and pressing the album; Ivy Hill Lithography, which would print the album artwork and make the jacket, and Martin Cohen, local attorney and brother of Herb Cohen, former Zappa personal manager and owner of Discreet Records.
Crux of the legal hassle between Zappa and Williams and the defendants is whether Zappa could rightly refuse a license to Warner Bros. to reproduce the nine songs in the New York album which Zappa authored. Zappa contends that because he never issued the license, Warner Bros., Discreet and the other defendants in releasing the album would infringe on his copyrights.
Zappa claims that Warner Brothers first began to manufacture the album only when it heard recently he had negotiated a deal for the albums with a competing company. It's believed that the multiple-set package, listing for $24.95 for four LPs, will be on Phonogram/Mercury (Billboard, Oct. 22, 1977). Zappa claims the sessions embodied in the set cost him $100,000 out-of-pocket.
He has not been repaid for any part of that amount by Warner Bros., he claims. His pleading noted that Warner Bros. intended to release New York either Oct. 28 or Dec. 28, 1977.
Zappa alleges that from 1965 to 1976, Martin Cohen administered Zappa's musical compositions through Cohen's Third Story Music, also named as a defendant. Warner Bros., Discreet and Martin Cohen conspired prior to May 31, 1977, to infringe upon the nine song copyrights.
Zappa and Williams claim that the defendants also infringe upon the album artwork which was registered for copyright by Williams.
The suit asks $5 million damages for unfair competition, and $5 million for invasion of privacy, plus additional damages prescribed by the court.
In a separate motion for a temporary restraining order, Zappa contends that Martin Cohen is withholding $50,000 in copyright royalties while Discreet has more that $40,000 in record royalties which belong to him.
Zappa says he delivered to Warner Bros. Records four albums, for each of which he was to have been contractually paid $60,000. He has not been paid, he claims. Warner Bros. Records, he further claims, impeded negotiating a pact with EMI of London. When Warner Bros. heard of the Mercury/Phonogram deal, it notified the Chicago-based label it still had Zappa under exclusive contract. Zappa claims his WB paper does not guarantee him $6,000 annually as required by California Code Section 3423.
From "In Retrospect: Läther" by Zomby Woof, Mother People #26, December 1984:
In March 77 the double LP Live In New York [sic] 2D 2290 was prepared and soon delivered to WB with cover, for a late spring/early summer release. ... Warner Brothers refused to release the LP with the song "Punky's Whips" because they feared a lawsuit from the song's namesake Punky Meadows of the group Angel. Zappa maintained that his manager had a written release so he didn't see a problem there. Obviously an agreement wasn't reached and FZ was getting ready to walk.
Zappa had often complained about the poor promotion Warners had given his albums, and he felt the small budgets allotted him to make records made it difficult to be competitive with other rock acts. Now facing censorship of his art, a total insult, Zappa wanted to get rid of Warners. Somewhere around this time FZ delivered the remaining units to fulfil his contract, without covers or publishing licenses. These were: Studio Tan DSK 2291, Sleep Dirt (retitled by Warners, FZ titled this LP Hot Rats III) DSK 2292, (? DSK 2293, more about this later) and Orchestral Favorites DSK 2294.
Zappa's contract stated that when he delivered an album the company had 6 weeks in the United States and 6 months in the Common Market countries to release it. They were also supposed to pay him approximately $60,000 for an album when they received it. When no record came out and no money was paid Zappa filed a $5 million breach of contract suit against Warner Bros. Records. During the course of all this legal activity, FZ went through 4 different law firms, trying to find one who had the balls to fight Warners. With all this in motion FZ immediately set out to find another record company to put out his material. Although Zappa had wiped his hands of Warner Bros., there was no way they were going to let him put out material they had tapes of; because if that kind of precedent was set a company like Warners might lose their stranglehold of power over other recording artists.
The first place Zappa went to look for a new deal was EMI/Capitol Records (now his new distributor, check out Them Or Us!), a supposed competitor of Warner Bros. Capitol agreed to sign Zappa but the day they were to close the deal Capitol backed out. It turned out that Capitol and Warner Bros. had the same law firm, Gangtyre & Brown. Capitol also pressed all the records for Warner Bros. Pressure was placed by Warners, through the law firm, to Capitol not to sign Zappa.
The second place Zappa went was Mercury/Phonogram and they were very into the deal. Zappa Records was established and the first release was going to be the 4 record box Läther SRZ-4-1500. Reportedly 300 test pressings were made and the boxes were printed. The cover was supposedly done by Norm Seeff from the same photo sessions as the Joe's Garage covers. On the test pressing sheets the fixation date is 8/31/77, the record information sheet is dated 10/17/77 and the release date was to be 10/31/77. The album available [sic] in the U.S. and Canada only had a retail price of $27.92. Unfortunately just before this package was to be released Warner Bros. informed Polygram that they were rushing the album Live In New York out, and if Polygram continued with Läther Warners would take legal action. At this point Polygram backed out and Läther never was released.
In fall of 77 FZ was touring the U.S. again complete with a backdrop of the Warner Bros. logo which read "Warner Bros. Sucks." He went on radio stations all across the country explaining his situation. At KROQ in Pasadena Zappa played all 8 sides of Läther, inviting the audience to tape it, rather than buy the LPs he knew Warners would soon put out.
[According to one source, the unreleased DiscReet title DSK 2293 would have been a documentary recording about Robert Kennedy, not a Zappa album.]
From "Tinseltown Rebellion" by John Bamford, Hi-Fi Answers, November 1986:
The years 1978 and '79 were expensive times for Zappa record buyers. Following the 2LP live set In New York came six releases in quick succession, two of them double-albums. But three of these LPs, Studio Tan (Sept '78), Sleep Dirt (Jan '79) and Orchestral Favorites (May '79) were released without Zappa's permission.
Zappa's contract with Warner Brothers stated that by a certain date he had to supply a certain amount of product. The contract also stated that upon handing them the tapes, they hand him a cheque. Zappa turned up one day with tapes enough for three albums, but apparently no-one in the history of Warners had ever walked in with that much completed material in the can and demanded their money. According to Zappa they were shocked, and went to extreme lengths to postpone payment.
Eventually they agreed to pay--but then didn't, and breached contract by exceeding the specified time clause. So Zappa sued them, but Warners still had the master tapes and released the LPs anyway (in very tacky, low-budget sleeves). The legal wranglings went on for eight years...
To this day I've thought those albums had a weird sound. In talking to Zappa recently I learned that although Warners had the master tapes, he had the Dolby line-up tones. (He likes to be present during disc mastering.) So the equalization on those recordings is all wrong!
[Notice that Zappa evidently told this writer he delivered three albums at once to Warner Brothers, not four.]
From Mother! The Frank Zappa Story by Michael Gray (Plexus, London, 1994):
At this stage Zappa considered himself free of a record contract. There was a period of some months when it seemed he would sign with Virgin in Britain. He talked with Richard Branson but the sticking-point was Branson's lack of enthusiasm for the nine/ten/12-volume set. At the same time Warners followed In New York (which had not received good critical notices) with some of the rest of the material Zappa had intended for the 4-LP set Läther, assembling and issuing without consultation Studio Tan in October 1978--including some fine guitar and some George Duke keyboards on "Redunzl" and "Greggary Peccary" [sic]--and a ragbag of recordings from 1974 and 1976 on Sleep Dirt at the beginning of 1979. Finally they released the material from Zappa's orchestral foray of 17 and 18 September 1975 with the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra as Orchestral Favorites in June 1979, conceding that it was "Frank Zappa's final album for DiscReet Records after a relationship with the Company [i.e., Warner Brothers] that stretches back some ten years."
From Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics Of Poodle Play by Ben Watson (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1995):
At the end of 1977 Frank Zappa delivered four albums to Warner Brothers: Zappa Live In New York, Hot Rats III, Studio Tan and Zappa Orchestral Favorites. According to Zappa they refused to pay the $24,000 due in the contract. He then re-edited the music into the Läther four-record box set, the most ambitious of his not-to-be projects and the most highly rated of his countless "bootlegs." He offered it to EMI and Mercury-Phonogram, with the latter reaching the test-pressing stage. Zappa accuses Warner Brothers of pulling corporate strings to stop the deal. Incensed at this corporate censorship, he broadcast all eight sides from Burbank-Pasadena KROQ radio station, inviting listeners to tape the music off the air. He sounded a little drunk, another unique feature of this extraordinary broadcast. Although unwilling to bore the listeners with "a bunch of legal crud," he explained the basic situation, outlining a scenario in which he would not be able to release any music for the next five years.
What followed was three and a half hours of music that ran the gamut of Zappa's art from musique concrète to orchestral composition, arena rock to chamber jazz, guitar extrapolations to cartoon soundtracks. Abandoning the sequencing of the original albums, which divided the music by genre, Läther revealed the hidden continuity of Zappa's ideas.
[Watson's opening sentence should presumably read "At the beginning of 1977...," otherwise his timeline makes no sense.]
Accounts from Dominique Chevalier's Viva Zappa! and Julian Colbeck's Zappa: A Biography have been intentionally omitted, as they appear to "borrow" liberally from the Mother People article and the Michael Gray book, respectively. (Oddly, even though the "Christmas In New Jersey" section of Chevalier's book is cribbed from Zomby Woof's "In Retrospect" articles on Zappa In New York and Läther, Chevalier adheres to the Läther-came-first position, which is not Zomby Woof's opinion.)
Läther vs. the DiscReet albums
Frank Zappa on Läther
Gail Zappa on Läther
A review of Läther
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