Cat Power’s Jukebox Is Taking Money Out Of The Hands Of Blues Musicians

Jukebox isn’t our favorite album, no. We’ve mentioned that. And, recent Cat Power performance have been tepid enough that we find ourselves concentrating on the tightness of Chan’s band (and Letterman’s grip). But hey, this is interesting! Looks like Matador missed a credit for “Lord, Help The Poor And Needy,” which on the album’s listed as “Traditional, by Jessie Mae Hemphill, arranged by Chan Marshall, Public Domain.” Cue San Francisco Weekly

Via SF Weekly:

Olga Wilhelmine Mathus, a San Francisco-based blues musician and founder of the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the northern Mississippi hill country blues tradition — says the song isn’t in the public domain and that Hemphill owns the copyright. Mathus believes Marshall owes royalties to the late singer’s estate.

“The money from that song should go to Jessie’s estate and be divided up among her relatives, who, much like Jessie, are poor, elderly black people, many of whom are living off welfare,” Mathus said. “This isn’t anything new. It’s unfortunate that most of the originators of blues music died in poverty because of situations similar to this.”

We hate to point out that Jukebox probably isn’t raking in that much dough, but we will. Continue.

Some might dismiss Mathus’ fervor for Hemphill’s cause as sadness over the loss of a close friend and musical mentor, but it takes only a couple minutes of Internet searching to discover that “Lord Help the Poor and Needy” is indeed copyrighted to Jessie Mae Hemphill with Broadcast Music, Inc. and the United States Copyright Office.

When asked about the disputed credit on April 1, Matador Records cofounder Chris Lombardi seemed ready for the question. “We made a mistake and credited it incorrectly on the album,” he said. “It’s actually a Jessie Mae Hemphill song. I think we thought it was a traditional song and had not yet been registered, but her representatives contacted us recently and we’re setting up the mechanical royalties now.”

Then there’s a bit of he said/she said, until we come to the finale.

Even as Matador works to resolve the missing credit, the dispute raises an interesting question: Is the simple payment of publishing royalties enough recompense for copyright infringement? In 1985, blues legend Willie Dixon successfully sued and won credit and royalties from Led Zeppelin after alleging that their 1969 hit “Whole Lotta Love” was appropriated, without credit, from his “You Gotta Be Loved.”

So what is ample restitution for infringing on an artist’s copyrighted work? Mathus believes money is a good start, but hopes the attention Cat Power’s music receives could ignite a spark of interest in Hemphill and her fellow musicians. “I think it’s good that someone of Cat Power’s visibility covers a song like this, as it makes it more accessible for the more mainstream audience,” she says. “A lot of folks were turned on to R.L. Burnside after Jon Spencer came out with a record on him, so perhaps this will turn more people on to Jessie’s music, the music of the north.

For Jessie Mae Hemphill’s sake, it’s just too bad it didn’t happen on a Cat Power album people actually care about. Wonder what Charlie Daniels would have to say about this. (By the way, please note we gave Jessie Mae Hemphill a proper tag…)