Curb’s Bogus “Topical” Charge Against Tim McGraw


On Wednesday (11-30), Tim McGraw won his initial country battle with Curb Records according to The Tennessean. Tim is still under contract with Curb, and his album Emotional Traffic still does not have a release date, but McGraw is now free to record new music with another label, or independently. McGraw’s attorney says he’s “very happy.”

The full trial will take place in July, where the fate of McGraw’s album and contract will be decided. —    ***UPDATE***UPDATE***UPDATE***

On Wednesday, Tim McGraw will be in a Tennessee courtroom as part of the opening salvo in his bid to leave his contract with Curb Records, get his album Emotional Traffic released, and be able to record new music with a new label. Like with so many Curb artists before, the label is holding the album up, asserting that Emotional Traffic‘s content is not “topical” because it was recorded too soon after McGraw’s previous album, and that he owes them another album beyond the contract he signed with them now some 20 years ago. McGraw is countersuing, saying that by Curb refusing to release the last album on his contract, they are keeping him in a state of “involuntary servitude.”

The irony that Curb Records would be opposed to releasing music because it is too old is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Curb Records on many occasions has made artists wait up to 5 years between album releases, much longer than the 1 to 2 year turnaround most labels subscribe to, causing recorded material regularly to sit on the Curb shelves for years before it is released. They also have a long and storied history of taking old material from artists, and presenting it as new. And to even further the irony, the content of Emotional Traffic only gets older the longer they hold the album back with litigation. And make no mistake, though Curb may be criticizing the tracks of Emotional Traffic right now, at some point, Curb will release Emotional Traffic, either in original form, or with the songs presented in a different context.

I’m no Perry Mason, but I thought I would offer the Tim McGraw defense team a little pro bono research work on how Curb Records itself has set a legal precedence that disproves it’s own case. Over the years, by not only regularly releasing older music, but many times releasing music many years after it was recorded as a purposeful practice, proves that Curb is not worried about the “topical” nature of material, but rather trying to stretch another album out of Tim’s record deal.

Hank Williams III – Hillbilly Joker aka This Ain’t Country

In the early 2000’s Hank Williams III turned in what was supposed to be his second album on his Curb deal called This Ain’t Country, a rock or “hellbilly” album. Curb refused to released the album, saying the content was not “topical,” and shelved it, not allowing Hank3 to release it independently, on another label, or even in bootleg form. After Hank3 left Curb at the beginning of 2011, Curb released the nearly 10-year-old album under the name Hillbilly Joker, and not only released it, but presented it as new material, with a marketing push that included end caps in stores that inferred it was a country album instead of rock. The album made the Billboard Country Top 10, and left many customers angry, thinking they were buying a new album of country material, not a 10-year-old rock album.

The release of Hillbilly Joker after Curb played the “not topical” card meant they squeezed an additional album out of Hank3’s contract; the same exact tactic they are trying with Tim McGraw now. It also helped trump Hank3’s actual release of new post-Curb music a couple of months later.

Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell

After a two year court battle and a “Fuck Curb” T-Shirt campaign to get his double-album opus Straight To Hell released, a judge finally ruled in favor of Hank3 against Curb Records, saying they had no right to indefinitely hold his album without a release date. Straight to Hell was originally entitled “Thrown Out of the Bar” until Hank3 added a massive hidden track on a second disc in an attempt to circumvent Curb and get more content out to his hungry fans.

Hank3’s “David slays Goliath” court win for Straight to Hell might be the best legal precedence for Tim McGraw’s case, and can give hope to McGraw fans that the courts could rule in McGraw’s favor.

Steve Holy – Love Don’t Run

This album not only proves that Curb is willing to release old music, but that it’s their modus operandi. The album was finally released on Sep. 13th 2011, but this was after a 5-year gap from his last album in 2006, and another 5 year gap from his first album in 2001. When speaking to The Boot, Steve explained this is how Curb purposefully operates.

I know that songs last longer on the charts now than they used to, so you’re naturally going to have a larger gap between albums, but I don’t think that every five years was the plan…I understand why Curb operates the way they do. They used to get laughed at. People would ask me, ‘Why are they doing it this way?’ But, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everyone else is starting to do that.

Other labels have been attempting to stretch the album cycle, from 12 months, to 18 months to 2 years, but the 5 year cycle that Curb seems to be forcing on its artists is not the Nashville norm.

Clay Walker – She Won’t Be Lonely Long

Clay Walker was a little less political when his album met with continuous delays, and She Won’t Be Lonely Long is another example of Curb not only releasing old material, but trying to pass it off as new.

Curb released the album in June of 2010 after years of delay, but only after releasing another album with the same exact name in February of 2010. In a move that still has Clay Walker fans scratching their heads, 4 months before the full-length She Won’t Be Lonely Long was released, and EP called She Won’t Be Lonely Long was released, that included three songs from Walker’s previous album Fall.  So yes, there were two She Won’t Be Lonely Long‘s, one with tracks it would be hard to call “topical” because they appeared on another album from years earlier. Clay told CMT:

That’s a pretty sore subject with me. I just try to avoid talking about it. The only thing that strikes me is that we need to get more music out quicker to the fans. There can only be one boss, and we know who that is.

 Hank Williams Jr. – 127 Rose Ave.

When Hank Williams III was born, there were two men in the room: Hank Jr. and Mike Curb. Hank Jr. and Mike were close personal friends for many years, and Jr. has made Curb Records millions of dollars over his career. Hank Jr. decided to leave Curb Records in July of 2009 for a laundry list of reasons, including the label constantly vetoing song ideas and delaying albums. But one of the biggest contentions Hank Jr. made is Curb wanted to use a picture of him that was 7-years-old for the album cover of his album 127 Rose Ave. Using a 7-year-old picture doesn’t sound very “topical”. Jr. told CMT:

“We’re going to get off this old, dead sinking ship. . . They were going to [use] a picture of me from seven years ago when I was 25 pounds heavier. That was going to be the cover. It was ‘Ho hum,’ basically. Well, we didn’t ho-hum this one.”

LeAnn Rimes – I Need You

In another perfect example of Curb’s willingness to publish old music and call it new, in 2001 they swept together a pile of Leann Rimes songs left on the cutting house floor, as well as a few remixed tracks from the Coyote Ugly movie soundtrack and called it I Need You. LeAnn had no knowledge or input on the album whatsoever. In a far cry from Curb’s current policy, at that time Leann was expected to release an album every year. Since LeAnn had been working on the movie and soundtrack for Coyote Ugly (she also played herself in the film), Curb decided to fabricate an album for her instead of paying for new material.

Upon its release Curb booked her on a tour to promote the album, but LeAnn instead used the opportunity to publicly distance from it, telling people it was not her idea and to not buy it. It still charted #1 in country from LeAnn’s built in popularity, though critics panned it, and some cite I Need You where LeAnne’s career began to dwindle.

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