Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dennis Yost: An Appreciation

"For Dennis Yost, there may be no Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, right or wrong, but there ought to be some measure of appreciation for a lovely voice that probably touched you whether you know it or not." - DAVID WILD, staff writer, Rolling Stone, as quoted in the Huffington Post.

"Paradoxically, I came to know Dennis (Yost) better in the later years, in which he was involved in a massive struggle to retain his own musical identity, which was one of the saddest and most difficult cases of someone losing the name of their own group, when he had pretty much been the group." - JON "BOWZER" BAUMAN, chair, Truth in Music

Popular music has lost one of its most underappreciated talents this past week as Dennis Yost, former lead singer of the 1960's pop group the Classics IV, died in a Ohio hospital of respiratory failure at the age of 65. He had been living in nursing homes in recent years, particularly after suffering a brain injury sustained in a 2005 fall.

Growing up during the Wonder Years in Indiana, my first exposure to Yost was via Chicagoland's AM top 40 pop radio, as in WLS and WCFL.

In some respects, they were the precusors of such 70's soft rock bands as Wet Willie and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. In fact, Yost was the Classics IV, as his vocal prowess was the artistic and commercial focus of the group. The end result was a string of late-Sixties pop hits -- "Spooky," "Stormy" (sampled by John Legend in his song "Save Room"), "Traces," and the lesser-known but sweeter "Everyday With You Girl." These songs would become staples on many oldies radio stations.

I was fortunate enough to catch Yost in the early 1990's performing live as part of an oldies package at the Orange County Fairthat included former Dovells' frontman Len Barry, former Spiral Staircase leader Pat Upton, Cub Koda from Brownsville Station, and journeyman Sonny Geraci of the Outsiders and Climax fame (i.e. Precious and Few). Time was sometimes, mostly cruel to them, but that night, they manage to create magic on stage that took me back in time, at least for a while.

It would be revealed later in the decade that, according to a 20/20 interview done on imposter groups in the 1990's, Yost admitted to have been battling severe mental depression, which was exacerbated by a costly legal battle over the trademark rights to the name "Classics IV," that was being used by an impostor group.

In fact, Jon "Bowzer" Bowman, former front man for the rock revival group Sha Na Na who now heads the advocacy group Truth in Music, has joined forces with others in the music industry in spearheading a state-by-state drive to pass "truth in music" laws, which forbids the use of a group name unless one of the surviving original members are actively performing in the group.

As I write this, at least 26 states have passed such legislation, and similar bills are being introduced in the other 24. Ohio now has such a bill that is slated to arrive at the governor's desk next week.

It because of the persistent of Bowman and others, including the Supremes' Mary Wilson, that resulted in the Marvelettes finally being able to reclaim the group's name. It was through them that founding group members Gladys Horton and Katherine Schaffner were able to prove that federal trademark registration for the name "Marvelettes" and subsequent ownership of the group's name was obtained via fraudulent means by sleazy music promoter Larry Marshak.

Years ago, in an interview, Gladys Horton coined the term "cultural banditry" to describe how these fake groups are virtually committing identity theft by cashing in on the artistic legacy of others and taking advantage of the gullibility of the public in perpetuating the practice.

Needless to say, venues like the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas are enablers in this despicable practice, and their shows should be boycotted for what they represent: the shameless exploitation of one's artistic legacy for cheap personal and professional gain.

As for Yost, he should be proud of what he has accomplished in his career, and that his battles to protect his musical legacy from opportunistic leeches in the entertainment industry would result in hard-fought victories by others so that they serve as deterrents to others who may try to emulate such practices.

Rest in peace, Dennis. You will be sorely missed.

No comments: