Despite newfound fame from their hit single “Love Me Do” in fall 1962, the Beatles agreed to return for a few final gigs at a German club where they had performed as a fledgling band.
Those dates at Hamburg’s Star-Club were, in a word, historic: Ringo Starr had replaced Pete Best on drums in what is believed to be the first set of live performances of the Fab Four.
Now a Miami Lakes, Fla., company, Fuego Entertainment, along with a British promoter, says it plans to sell the eight “lost” club recordings of the Beatles in late 1962. Among them: Paul McCartney and John Lennon singing “Ask Me Why.”
But The Beatles’ company, Apple Corps Limited, is trying to stop them in federal court in Miami. Citing copyright, trademark and other recording infringements, the Beatles’ London-based firm filed suit Friday seeking $15 million in damages from Fuego, its president, Hugo Cancio, and the company’s partner, British promoter Jeffrey Collins.
Cancio and Collins - partners in Echo-Fuego Music Group - contend they have the legal rights to the Star-Club music.
“Whatever it is they claim to have, it’s a bootleg tape and there was no permission from the Beatles to record it, and Fuego doesn’t have permission from the Beatles to exploit it,” said New York attorney Paul LiCalsi, who filed suit along with Miami lawyer Richard Wolfe.
Although pop music’s most famous band broke up long ago - and two of its members have died - The Beatles and their survivors have fought alleged recording infringements in Europe and the United States for decades.
In the Miami suit, Apple claims Fuego’s planned sale of “inferior quality recordings of Beatles performances ... tarnishes the extraordinarily valuable image” of the band.
At the core of the lawsuit: A 15-track album that boasts eight songs never released as an LP or single. Among the claimed recordings: Paul McCartney singing Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” and George Harrison vocalizing Maurice Williams’ “Do You Believe” - along with McCartney and John Lennon on “Ask Me Why.”
The other songs: “Twist and Shout,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Hippy Hippy Shake,” “A Taste of Honey” and “Money.”
On Friday, Cancio expressed surprise over the lawsuit, saying Fuego and Apple had been negotiating in “good faith” until a recent impasse over Apple’s request for the Star-Club master recordings. Fuego refused.
“We legally obtained these recordings from Jeffrey Collins,” Cancio said, adding they have the right to release them.
Collins, reached at his company in Coral Springs, Fla., declined to comment on how he obtained the Hamburg club recordings.
In an earlier press release, Fuego asserted the Star-Club recorded most groups that appeared there in the late 1950s and early 1960s under performance contracts. Many of these recordings were released by the record label Polydor. The historic recordings with Ringo were sold in 1994 to Collins, who sought them out because of a “renewed interest” in The Beatles, according to the Fuego release. Fuego, a publicly traded company that acquires, produces and distributes music, unveiled its joint venture with Collins on its website on Jan. 10. The company said the tapes of the Beatles’ live performances at the Star-Club were “hand-delivered to Mr. Collins by the DJ he had booked into the Star-Club the night the recordings were made.”
Fuego promoted the recordings on the Web site, fuegoentertainment.net, including a membership offer to “Fuego Plus,” to preview one full track and three clips of the rare Beatles’ club recordings.
The Fuego sales pitch: “Learn about the historic Beatles `Lost’ tape from the first ever live performance of John, Paul, George and Ringo at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany, and the future Fuego release of these tracks following digital remastering.”
Within a week of the announcement, Apple’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to Cancio and Collins, demanding they stop violating The Beatles’ recording rights.
The company stopped streaming the live recordings on its Web site to tease potential customers.
But Fuego and Collins forged ahead with their plans to release the club recordings. In early February, Collins was interviewed on NBC’s “Today Show.” And on Feb. 21, Fuego issued a press release to announce it “commenced the digital re-mastering and enhancement process to improve the quality of the historic Beatles’ lost tapes in preparation for its future release,” according to the company’s Web site.
The title: “Jammin’ with The Beatles and Friends, Star Club, Hamburg, 1962.”
The release noted the historical significance of Ringo on the drums - highlighting that seven of the 15 songs were later studio recorded and released by the group’s record company, E.M.I. - but that the remaining eight tracks had never been released.
Apple’s lawyer, LiCalsi, said The Beatles have been down this road before.
In a 1991 New York case, Apple successfully stopped Sony Music Entertainment Inc. and others from releasing “The Beatles Live at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962 - Vol. I and Vol. II.”
Several years later, in a London case, Apple put a halt to the release of similar recordings by Lingasong Music Limited.
According to the lawsuit in Miami, Apple confronted Collins, the British promoter, about his previous efforts to produce and distribute the 15 Star-Club recordings featuring Ringo on drums for the first time.
The suit says Collins backed off. In a letter to Apple’s LiCalsi in July 1995, Collins said he would relinquish the project, saying “without their consent we have absolutely no intention of commercially releasing the album.”
LiCalsi said Collins - who was sentenced to three years’ probation in January 1996 for violating New Jersey’s sound recording piracy laws in an unrelated matter - has broken that promise.