The lead singer of the 1960s soul rock group The Chambers Brothers is barely surviving on his meager income, even though his voice has appeared on hundreds of albums, movies, TV shows and commercials.
While musicians have penchant for squandering their money on luxuries or drug addictions, 72-year-old Lester Chambers is living in poverty because of an exploitative contract he signed decades ago. He claims he received no money in royalties between 1967 and 1994.
“When you’re a young group, you listen to people say: ‘We’re going to make it better,'” he told Vice magazine. “And that never works, because if they were going to make it better they woulda made it better. Young musicians are still caught in the same situation ‘cos they wanna be heard.”
“God knows, The Chambers Brothers were not the only ones. And some of them have come forward and some of them haven’t. When you’re told: ‘Go get a lawyer,’ and they know upfront that you really can’t afford a big business lawyer to do this for you, you’re caught between first and second base.”
After writing letters and making phone calls to record companies for years, Chambers and his wife put their complaint online.
Imitating the online postings of supporter of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, Chambers uploaded an photograph to the Internet, holding one of his Gold Records in front of his face and declaring that “Only the 1% of artists can afford to sue. I am the 99%.”
“I am the former lead singer of a 60’s band,” his message read. “I did not squander my money on drugs or a fancy home. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first royalty check. The music giants I recorded with only paid me for 7 of my albums. I have never seen a penny in royalties from my other 10 albums I recorded. Our hit song was licensed to over 100 films, TV & commercials without our permission. One major TV network used our song for a national commercial and my payment was $625 dollars. I am now 72, trying to live on $1200 a month. Sweet Relief, a music charity, is taking donations for me. Only the 1% of artists can afford to sue. I am the 99%.”
The photograph quickly went viral.
“We’re gonna correct our situation,” Chambers told Vice. “I’m gonna do it for every musician that’s been treated the way I have. That’s my prayer. And I hope God answers my prayer.”
Watch The Chamber Brothers hit “Time has Come Today,” uploaded to YouTube, below: