Tangled Up In Litigation (Part 1)

Bob Dylan was and is a genius. But if you’ve ever subjected your ears to his 1970 album Self-Portrait, you might find yourself wondering the same thing as Rolling Stone magazine in its review: “What is this ___?” (See http://www.rollingstone.com/…/albumr…/self-portrait-19700608) Some speculate, and Dylan has hinted, that the album was bad on purpose. The reason might be, oddly enough, connected to contract law.

In his younger days, Bob did not seem to care much for reading contracts. He signed on with Columbia Records before he reached the age of 21. He is quoted as admitting, “I was just so happy to be able to record, I didn’t even read it.” When Albert Grossman became Bob’s manager a short time later, Grossman began waging a war on Columbia Records and what he felt was a crummy deal with the record label. Grossman hired a lawyer to write a “disaffirment” letter to Columbia stating that the contract was invalid because Bob was under 21 when he signed it. But Columbia (without notifying Bob’s attorney) managed to get Bob to sign a “reaffirment” of the Columbia contract. The terms were less than advantageous, but Bob’s troubles did not end there.

In the late 60’s, Grossman had a contract drafted that gave Grossman a 50% claim on every song Bob wrote for the next 10 years. It turns out that the Self-Portrait album, recorded after Bob finally got around to reading the contract, is an album of cover songs NOT composed by Dylan and therefore not subject to Grossman’s 50 percent cut. And it never earned much money because…well…just read the Rolling Stone review.