Anatomy Of A Rock’n’Roll Lawsuit

The tale of the URO and the lawsuit, brought to us by Sal Clemente and the members of the URO.

***Queen’s Note: If you love rock and haven’t seen the URO in action, SHAME on you!***

Wanna hear an interesting story? Some ‘behind-the-scenes’ band gossip? A tale of woe and dread eight years in the making?

Thought so…

Almost 10 years ago, when Alan and I first conceived (literally and figuratively) the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra, we really could never have predicted all of the amazing things that have happened to us, good and bad.

We’ve had the chance to work with all kinds of great, and good, people in our time with the URO. Great bandmates, incredible family, and some awesome business/theatre people, who’ve been both ethical and generous with us.

We’ve also had to adjust to the idiosyncrasies of others – a few bandmates (that’s another blog) and one person who, after working with us for several years to try to take the URO to the next level of business success, decided to quit, and then sue us for everything we have.

This is that story

We met this fellow (let’s call him, ‘Bob’) in March of 2006, after a performance at our beloved Regent Theatre – he came backstage, was effusive about the band, and how much he wanted to work with us.

We got together with Bob several times over the next few months to determine the direction of our collaboration, and in that first year, when the economy was booming and gigs were plentiful, we worked to build the foundation of a good relationship. Bob was inexperienced, older, but certainly enthusiastic and hardworking – kinda like us, so we went for it.

Our first few co-productions were a successful run at The Regent Theatre and a very successful single show at The Berkeley Performance Center.

Now what? We wanted to make a bigger splash, but what to do?

Alan and I pushed to complete a documentary film we were making about the URO and our version of Jesus Christ Superstar (hundreds of hours of footage still rest quietly in the vault), but Bob wasn’t interested – he wanted to put on more and bigger shows.

Bob insisted that the way to go was to push into downtown Boston and make the URO a “theatre event.” He wanted to make us the new Blue Man Group, and we kinda liked the sound of that. Perhaps we were all suffering delusions of grandeur.
Alan and I let Bob know there was no way for us to come up with the money to produce a long run in Boston, but Bob, who drove an Astin Martin when he wasn’t driving his Range Rover, seemed to have the deep pockets needed, and was willing to produce the Wilbur shows on his own. So, after looking closely at all our options, Alan and I agreed to do it. This was in 2007, before our current horrible recession, when W was still president and the world was young…

For those of you who might not know, each show we do (or run of shows) has several objectives and costs that are unique to that production. These costs range from paying the performers, to renting lights and the theatre space itself, to, in cases like The Wilbur, paying ushers and box office people and stagehands and PR people. This is called ‘four-wall production’ (because all that’s in the building is four walls and the rest is up to you) and, well, the costs can really ad up.

The Wilbur theatre run was the most expensive show we’ve ever put together – the costs were not on an inconceivable scale, but they were far more than we were used to, and Bob, who consulted with several theatre professionals before making the final call to ‘go,’ was told in no uncertain terms that this better be his ‘f**k you money,’ because, well, there was no guarantee that he’d ever get it back.

That’s the way producing works – it’s a risk. Sometimes a big one. We put the decision on whether to ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ in Bob’s hands…it was his money, after all. It was a ‘go.’

Over the years, some of our shows have made a profit, many have broken even, and some have lost a modest sum. The Wilbur Theatre lost more than a ‘modest sum.’

It’s not that the show was poorly attended, or poorly executed – from the outside looking in, I’m sure it appeared successful. But the costs of producing in a big theatre only balance out over time and we didn’t have enough of it. We did 10 shows when we needed to do 30. We spent $45k on advertising when we needed to spend $145k. Bob’s inexperience (and our own) led us into making some short-sighted decisions that ended up turning a great opportunity for success into a money losing proposition. It was humbling, for sure.

To our dismay, ‘Bob’ then turned to Alan and me to recover his loss.

We came to discover that Bob didn’t have the deep pockets he needed to absorb the loss at The Wilbur – which he said was close to a hundred thousand dollars.

Holy crap. That may not be a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but to struggling musicians…holy crap.

Alan and I could have walked away then, but we didn’t. We had all done our best, but financially, The Wilbur run just didn’t work out the way we planned. No one was really to blame and we certainly didn’t want to see anyone we worked with lose money trying to make us a success. So, Alan and I agreed to work to see Bob’s investment (and our own) repaid. We had some corporate gigs coming up, and an opportunity to do a longer run at another Boston Theatre (The Stuart) – we figured we just needed another chance to move forward! The economy was still strong – we’d taken a hit, but we could see light at the end of the tunnel.

And then, 2008, the crash, the long, long, long recession…

We continued to work with Bob over the course of the next few years, but our relationship slowly deteriorated. Bob’s enthusiasm and professionalism waned. He couldn’t help us financially produce shows and he became a troubling intermediary with people in the entertainment business. Alan and I tried to get Bob to modify how he worked with others, and us, to no avail. And all the while, Bob insisted we pay him more and more money. Finally, we had to make a choice between investing in the URO’s future or putting it in Bob’s pocket, and we chose the former. We were still willing to work with Bob to see us all repaid, but only on terms that didn’t make the band suffer the consequences.

It was then that things got ugly – Bob quit working with us, and he now insisted that the money he had lost on the Wilbur show, and any other money he had ‘invested,’ was now a ‘loan.’

A ‘loan’ that he wanted us to pay back, immediately, as in, go to the bank and get a loan for 100k, sell all our equipment, take out a second mortgage. We didn’t agree, because, well, it was crazy, and after several months of trying to work things out… Bob decided to sue us.

Now, with all the troubles in the world, this doesn’t seem like a really big deal. ‘Bob,’ Alan and I, are former business partners that couldn’t work with each other anymore and, instead of settling the issue ourselves, we are forced now to go to court to do it…

We’ve come to find that in the good ol’ U-S-of-A you can sue somebody for just about anything you can think of. No matter what the ‘facts’ are. In England, Alan’s country of origin, if you sue someone and you lose, you not only pay the settlement, but whatever legal costs your opponent incurred – which is probably a terrific deterrent to prevent a frivolous suit! In the U.S., it doesn’t work that way. Alan and I are looking at a legal fees of nearly $30,000 dollars by the time this is all over – and that’s if we win.

Here’s the thing – we have a really good case. We never signed any contract with ‘Bob.’ It was obvious to everyone involved that Bob was making the decisions and financing The Wilbur Theatre production. After The Wilbur, Alan and I insisted that our company, Ultrasonic Productions, produce our shows, and we’ve managed to get through even this terrible recession without losing anything close to what was lost on The Wilbur. Further, in the years between the Wilbur and when he quit, Bob was repaid a lot of money – much more than Alan and I have recouped from the URO. Did we all make some mistakes? Certainly – but Alan and I always acted in good faith and we did our best to fulfill our obligations, and in the time we worked together, we did even more than was asked of us by Bob, himself. We accomplished a lot while Bob worked with us, and some of it was due to his efforts, so the decision to bring him in wasn’t really a mistake – he just wouldn’t commit enough and quit too soon.

When all was said and done Bob decided to take his ball and go home, and then he decided that we shouldn’t be able to continue the URO without him.

Financially, Alan and I just don’t have the resources to pay for this. We’ve borrowed from family, put our own money in, borrowed from the members of the band, but now it’s getting near the end and we’ve got to come up with a big sum…around $15,000, to see this through.

We don’t want something for nothing – we are entertainers and I think we do a damn good job of it. We have a show coming up, Saturday, September 28th, if we can get close to selling this thing out we can raise a good chunk of what we need to pay our legal fees.

If you can, please come to the show. If you can’t come, maybe you can buy a ticket for someone else…or just buy a ticket and let the theatre know and we will make that happen for you. Whatever we all can do to keep the URO going will help. And seeing you all at the show having your help to see us through this trial will be greatly appreciated. You can click on the pic below to purchase tix. Thanks, and…I’ll keep updating you on our case’s progress. Who knows? Maybe we can get a good audience for the trial. It should be interesting.

Rock on!


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