Fat Possum Sues Epitaph

Blues label Fat Possum Records is claiming its that now-sundered joint venture with Epitaph Records was a deal with the devil, and the companies have gone down to the crossroads, legally speaking.

LOS ANGELES -- Blues label Fat Possum Records is claiming that its now-sundered joint venture with Epitaph Records was a deal with the devil, and the companies have gone down to the crossroads, legally speaking.

Fat Possum and owner Matthew Johnson have alleged in court that Epitaph hatched "a malicious plot ... to financially destroy" the Oxford, Miss.-based blues label.

A suit filed by Fat Possum on Aug. 17 in Los Angeles County Superior Court (case no. BC320197) charges Epitaph with breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, bad faith, unfair competition, interference with contractual relations and a host of other abuses.

According to the suit, Fat Possum -- the home of R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and other modern North Mississippi bluesmen -- was funded by L.A.-based Epitaph under the terms of an agreement reached in July 1997. From that time until 2003, Fat Possum operated at a loss.

However, the action maintains that in October 2003, as it appeared Fat Possum was about to move into profitability, Epitaph told the label it would no longer fund operations or pay Johnson's salary.

The suit maintains that under financial duress, Johnson agreed to buy back Epitaph's interest in Fat Possum for an unstated price. The action claims that after Epitaph increased pressure on Johnson by delaying the signing of the redemption agreement, it was amended to add $50,000 to the price.

It also alleges that under further pressure from Epitaph, Fat Possum gave up rights to distribute Solomon Burke's successful 2002 album "Don't Give Up on Me" and the forthcoming album by the Black Keys.

Fat Possum claims that immediately before the effective redemption date of June 1, 2004, Epitaph instructed its distributors in the U.S. and abroad to sell off Fat Possum's product at "fire sale" prices. It alleges that product returned to the label by Epitaph and its distributor Koch was far short of the amounts stated in inventories conducted in early June.

Fat Possum seeks damages in an amount to be determined.

Epitaph's attorney, Doug Mark, said at deadline that the label had not been served with Fat Possum's action.

However, Mark says, "Why would my client put a company out of business? It's impossible to comprehend ... Epitaph's reputation for integrity speaks for itself."

Mark notes that at the time Epitaph entered the joint venture with Epitaph, the Mississippi label had filed for bankruptcy and was involved in litigation with its previous distributor, Capricorn Records.

He asserts that through Epitaph's intercession, Johnson was able to continue in business and got his catalog back.


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