The Official Mike Curb Rap Sheet of Transgressions
Saving Country Music started in the spring of 2008 as an organization called “Free Hank III” meant to help Hank Williams III who was suffering at the time from the repressive business practices of Mike Curb and Curb Records. From its inception, many perceived Free Hank III as a bunch of foul-mouthed yobs attempting to prop up a punk artist by over-zealously portraying Curb’s deceptive and dangerous business practices.
Now Mike Curb’s repressive stance towards artists and his sharky dealings with other labels is a given amongst the informed country music community, with his latest ploy being the release of a duets album from Tim McGraw two weeks before the former Curb artist is slated to make his debut on Big Machine Records.
But Hank3 and Tim McGraw are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mike Curb’s draconian business dealings. Mike Curb’s rap sheet is long, so let’s take look at some of the most memorable Mike Curb wrong steps over the years.
Mike Curb Fires Frank Zappa
Mike Curb started his first record label Sidewalk Records in 1963 when he was 18. In 1969, Sidewalk merged with the ailing MGM Records, giving Mike a 20% stake in MGM and appointing him president. One of Curb’s first orders of business was to fire any artist that he felt advocated drug use, including Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground. However neither Frank Zappa nor his music promoted drugs. He was one of the few clean artists in southern California in the late 60’s, often referring to drug users as “assholes in action.”
Mike Curb Abuses Political Power, Pisses off California Gov. Jerry Brown
After working on the political campaigns for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford in the late 70’s, Mike Curb decided to enter politics and ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1978, winning despite no political experience and not even regularly voting in elections. While then California Governor Jerry Brown was out of the state running for President, Mike Curb used his executive powers to fiat through legislation and judicial appointments that Jerry Brown flatly disapproved of. Curb signed anti-crime legislation and appointed a controversial, ultra-conservative judge to the influential California Court of Appeals. Jerry Brown was a liberal Democrat, and had to rush back to California to rescind Curb’s actions. Mike Curb became so controversial, the California legislature created the “Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission” to keep Mike from making any new judicial appointments. The Sacramento Bee editorialized that Mike “tried to take advantage of [the] situation by making a controversial judicial appointment, but mostly succeeded in making an ass of himself.”
Mike Curb ran for Governor later, and lost.
Mike Curb vs. The Beat Farmers
Way before Mike Curb would bombard the country music public with incessant “Greatest Hits” releases from Tim McGraw (see below), or release albums with out the consent or knowledge of Leann Rimes (see below), he would pull the same stunts with San Diego’s offbeat country rock outfit The Beat Farmers. Signing a 7 album deal with Curb in 1986, the band first got sideways with the label when they found out Mike Curb authorized the release of a live album Loud and Plowed…And Live!! without the bands knowledge or consent. Then in 1993, after the band signed to Sector 2 Records in Austin, TX, Curb released Best of the Beat Farmers without the band’s knowledge or consent. The release nearly coincided with the band’s release of the album Manifold on their new label.
Mike Curb vs. MCA over “How Do I Live” Single
No, Big Machine was not the first label to be in a competing radio war with Mike Curb. That distinction falls to MCA. In 1997, MCA wanted to record the song “How Do I Live” for the soundtrack of the movie Con Air. LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood were the two artists tapped to contribute versions of the song, with Yearwood’s version eventually winning out because LeAnn Rimes’ voice was considered “too young” and her version “too pop.” When MCA released the Yearwood version on May 27th, 1997, Mike Curb in retaliation released Rimes’ version on the same exact day–a total contradiction of one of Music Row’s most hard and fast unwritten rules. Rimes was a Curb artist, and Mike Curb had a long-standing beef with MCA. The result? Neither version ended up making it on the soundtrack. Yearwood’s version did well on the country chart while LeAnne’s version stalled. So Mike Curb released LeAnne’s version to pop radio, where it set a record 69 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
Mike Curb Releases Ill-Conceived LeAnn Rimes Album I Need You
LeAnn Rimes was also in the middle of Mike Curb’s first major record dispute. In 2001, Rimes was working heavily on the movie Coyote Ugly, both playing herself in the film and contributing to the soundtrack. Instead of the current Curb practice of delaying the release of albums to keep artists under contract indefinitely, Curb had a stipulation that LeAnn Rimes had to release at least one album per year. Since LeAnn hadn’t recorded an album yet in 2001, Curb cobbled together various B sides and alternate versions to songs and released it as an album called I Need You. Curb then booked LeAnn on a nationwide tour to promote an album neither LeAnn nor her management being asked for permission to make or even notified about until right before the release. So LeAnn decided to fight fire with fire, using the nationwide tour to instead let the public know she did not support the release, including a very public admonishment of I Need You on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Hank Williams III’s This Ain’t Country & Thrown Out of the Bar
Hank3’s entire 14-year career with Curb Records was filled with turmoil. The first major conflict arose over an album called This Ain’t Country. Hank3 turned it into Curb, just to have Mike Curb deem it was not fit for release. Curb shelved the album, and then released it after Shelton left the label and after he’d fulfilled his contractual obligation for the number of releases. It was a way for Curb to squeeze another album out of Hank3’s contract, the same move Mike Curb attempted with Tim McGraw’s Emotional Traffic.
Hank3’s 3rd album Thrown Out of the Bar was slated to be released in late 2004, but Curb refused to issue it. This prompted Hank3 to start a “Fuck Curb” campaign that included T-Shirts, stickers, and the words “Fuck Curb” written prominently on Hank3’s guitar. Hank3 also took Curb to court, and like so many other artists with Mike Curb grievances, the court found in favor of Hank3 and made Curb issue the album that was later reworked into the album Straight to Hell. Curb also delayed the release of Hank3’s 4th album Damn Right, Rebel Proud for undetermined reasons, and since Hank had signed a non-defamation clause to his contract to get Straight to Hell released, he couldn’t even speak out against Curb’s actions.
Mike Curb Loses Long-Time Friend Hank Jr.
When Hank Williams III was born, there were two men in the hospital: Hank Williams Jr. and Mike Curb. For years Mike and Hank Jr. were very good friends and close confidants, until once again Mike’s oppressive business practices got in the way. In July of 2009, Hank Jr. announced his album 127 Rose Ave. would be his last with Curb after a 25 year partnership, and he did so with some choice words. ““You want to know the bottom line? This is my last album, and he’s (Mike Curb) history. . . We will move onward and upward, You just wait. We’ll have a lot to talk about. I’ve had some recording ideas that they didn’t care for. Well, there’s a lot of other labels that do care about it. We’re going to get off this old, dead sinking ship.”
By losing both Hank Jr. and Hank3, Mike Curb had officially squandered the Williams family legacy.
Mike Curb Jobs Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee Messina signed with Curb as a teenager and released 3 albums in the first 4 years of her contract. But then Mike Curb, like he’s done with so many of his artists, put the brakes on Messina’s output. Her last full-length release was 8 years ago, 2005”²s Delicious Surprise. In the fall of 2006 she recorded the album Unmistakable that was originally scheduled to be released on November 6th, 2007. But Curb shelved the album, slowly releasing a number of singles from it in 2008 and 2009, but waiting 3 years after the album’s original release date to make it public, and then it was released it as an “EP Trilogy” with two of the extended plays only made available in MP3 format. ““For me, my fans just want to hear the music,” Jo Dee says. “They just want to be able to get it. And it’s been such a struggle for the last”¦ eighteen years. I signed when I got out of high school. So for eighteen years I’ve been just kind of struggling with the label and having them release stuff or not release stuff.”
In December 2012 Messina became the latest artist to finally be released from her Curb contract.
Mike Curb Ticks Off Tim McGraw
Of all of Mike Curb’s transgressions over the years, his treatment of Tim McGraw must be the most comical, unless you’re Tim McGraw and his fans. Mike Curb released no less than 7 “Greatest Hits” compilations as a filibustering tactic to keep McGraw on the label indefinitely. This was followed by a protracted legal battle over his album Emotional Traffic that the courts finally ruled was McGraw’s final album on Curb, even though Mike Curb insisted Tim owed him yet another. And then when Tim went to release his first post-Curb album, Mike reared his ugly head again by licensing material from other labels and releasing a duets album two weeks before Tim’s Big Machine Records debut.
And this doesn’t take into account the countless other grievances artist and music entities have had with Mike Curb and Curb Records over the years. Lyle Lovett, a 20-year Curb prisoner, entitled his final album with the label Release Me with an image of himself tied up on the cover, symbolizing the binds of his Curb stint. Clay Walker also had public issues with Curb and how the label releases music, or doesen’t. His album She Won’t Be Lonely Long was released both as a full length, and an EP, both with two completely different track lists. “There can only be one boss,” Clay said, “and we know who that is.”
The last artist to leave Curb Records, please turn the lights out.
January 14, 2013 @ 12:04 pm
Wow. Just wow… This Curb guy’s quite the little dictator, isn’t he? I knew he was bad news with the Tim McGraw affair, but this stuff makes him look even more nasty.
January 14, 2013 @ 12:17 pm
I don’t have a ” non-defamation clause “, FUCK CURB!!!
January 14, 2013 @ 12:20 pm
“The last artist to leave Curb Records, please turn the lights out.”
Unfortunately, there are many young artists, especially young females, so desperate to get any kind of record deal they’re willing to sign with the devil.
Got a chance to interview 19-year-old Rachel Holder last year shortly after she signed with Curb. Wanted to ask her about Mike and her deal, but her manager (Wilbur Rimes) was always right by her side, so I decided against it.
January 14, 2013 @ 1:23 pm
There was a story just today of two young singer-songwriters, Jon Stone and Kristy Osmunson signing with Curb. Preying on young people’s dreams of making it big in country music by signing to a “major label” is about the only thing keeping Curb alive these days. How Curb’s hallways are littered with the dead careers of young, promising stars we’ve never heard of is even more of a travesty than what Mike Curb has done to these household names.
TX Music Jim
January 14, 2013 @ 12:40 pm
Frankly, it is suprising with some of the heavy handed stunts Mr. Curb has pulled thru the years that he has not come to some serious harm or even his untimely demise. I’m not advocating either of these things just suprised given the millons of dollars at stake thru the years and the dictatorial tendencies Mr Curb has shown that somebody hasn’t taken matters a little further towards the dark side.
January 14, 2013 @ 1:09 pm
Most undoubtedly, had he been in the rap or hip hop industry…
January 14, 2013 @ 1:17 pm
Or in jail. This is the nature of white collar crime in America these days. Mike Curb has ostensibly robbed many artist of the most productive years of their careers, both creatively and financially, with no repercussion except public sentiment. Throughout my research, I couldn’t find one single court case ever brought against him that lost, or that he brought against others and won. Since he gets his clients to sign deceptive contracts, he can manipulate them however he wants. Tim McGraw thought he was cherry by putting a provision in his contract to make sure Curb released at least one album a year. So what does Curb do, releases 7 “Greatest Hits” to keep in compliance, and shelves all of his new material.
TX Music Jim
January 14, 2013 @ 4:26 pm
Trig, I’ll bet it would be damn near impossible to prove in a court of law that Mr. Curb is gulity of defruading his artists in terms of the contracts they agreed upon. Sad but true. That is why he gets away with it all these years. My hope is that as the new media continues to evolve and give avenues to artists to be independent and successful without the Mike Curbs of the world, he will simply go the way of the dinosaur and cease to exist. Wishful thinking I guess but more of a possibility than ever before.
January 15, 2013 @ 12:43 pm
Agreed – I expect he has a whole army of expensive lawyers to make sure he stays just within the law. That is not to say he may not have crossed the line, but what is ethical and what is permissible are not the same. That is especially true in business law. And as others have said, the desire for some kind of deal and lack of business sense of many artists makes them easy to manipulate.
I had forgotten he had the politics background. Not surprising he overstepped his role there.
January 14, 2013 @ 1:01 pm
I don’t understand what’s in it for Curb to not release records? I understand the rest of his dealings — at least, it makes some business sense — but why sit on records? What good does it do him?
January 14, 2013 @ 1:33 pm
That’s a good question. Eventually, Curb releases all the records they have an artist under contract for, so it doesn’t matter to them how long that process takes. I think the reason they wait so long for some artists is a retention tactic. Once they determine and artist is likely leaving, they slow down the release process to try to keep them on the label as long as possible. There are both financial and political benefits to that.
First, they can still entice new talent to the label by saying they have huge artists like Tim McGraw and LeAnn Rimes singed to them. This also gives the label more clout with other labels, the media, awards shows etc. because the bigger and more popular your roster is, the more political power you wield in the business.
Second, Mike Curb seems to have some theory that in the current music climate, to maximize the amount of money you get from recordings, you have to dramatically slow down the release cycle. I think this is a common theory, but most labels are slowing it down from an album every year, to about an album every 1 1/2 to 2 years. Curb has slowed it down to every 5 years, and sometimes longer.
Third (and this is the part I’m not exactly sure of) I believe there are some direct financial benefits. For example, to sign with Curb you pretty much sign away the rights to your songs, including songs you write yourself. With licensing and royalties being such a big part of the music business these days, I believe the longer they keep an artist on their roster, the bigger benefit they have from these secondary income sources from artists.
Some have also theorized it’s simply a power thing. Mike Curb wants to prove who’s boss. And maybe he thinks if he keeps an artist around long enough, they will change their mind and not leave.
January 14, 2013 @ 1:38 pm
It’s only a matter of time before Lee Brice gets out of Curb.
January 14, 2013 @ 3:05 pm
Steve Holy is another Travesty of Mike Curb. His “Blue Moon” cd had the major hit single “Good Morning Beautiful” 5 week #1 in 2001. One of the first ten cd’s I ever bought.
Then another hit in 2006 with “Brand New Girlfriend” another huge 5 week #1.
And then there was my favorite Group Trick Pony. I met them a few times when they came to my city, and were a great trio. Never got the proper recognition they deserved. They also have an unreleased cd Live from the Wild Horse Saloon, which was suppose to be released and never was.
Mike Curb is an a$$ and if I ever saw him I’d ask what the hell is wrong with you.
January 14, 2013 @ 4:34 pm
Mike Curb’s ancestors must have been plantation owners who passed down lessons about the “virtues” of forced labor…
January 14, 2013 @ 4:37 pm
“Hank had signed a non-defamation clause”
This type of contract needs to be banned, period. It’s a blatant violation of free speech.
January 14, 2013 @ 4:41 pm
Curb was the lieutenant governor of California???
Thankfully, someone like him would never get elected in California today.
January 14, 2013 @ 4:59 pm
Someone mentioned in the comments about a young lady signing with Curb and during the interview they had their manager with them so he didnt ask any questions about Curb. I understand why star struck teenagers see Curb and the money and sign on the dotted line on a terrible contract. What I dont understand is why none of the managers/lawyers that the artist have is not speaking up and saying how terrible it is/how much a crook he is etc. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps Curb still operates in the same way that labels did in the late 80s and 90s where you got huge cash advances and large contracts opposed to now a days where little money is passed between label and artist.
January 19, 2013 @ 3:07 pm
THe managers only make money when the artists make money. When an artist gets an advance from the label, the manager gets 10-15% of that money. THat’s the most likely reason they aren’t saying anything.
I didn’t know about some of this stuff. It’s shameful that Curb’s name is on the school of music over at Belmont University considering all the terrible things he’s done to people. But I guess that’s the nature of being rich. You can be a robber baron but give money to charity and it makes it all okay.
January 14, 2013 @ 5:20 pm
Just saw this, published today, right after this article.
Tim McGraw: Curb Records ‘Hurt My Career’
They hurt my career,” Tim tells Billboard magazine. “I felt like I was at the top of my game, and to not be able to get to the places I wanted to be … it was really hard to sit back, with me being competitive. Nothing against any other artists — I love success for anybody. I always say, ‘I want everybody to do great. I just want to do better.’ Just watching all the things that are going on and to have to sit on the sidelines, it’s been tough.”
January 14, 2013 @ 6:10 pm
Aren’t crooked record execs pretty much the norm? Artists have been getting hosed by the industry since the days of Ralph Peer and the shakedown he did on the likes of Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter family.
The changes in distribution and marketing are brought on by the interweb are weakening their grip. In time they will go the way of the old studio system in Hollywood.
January 14, 2013 @ 6:20 pm
Re: “How Do I Live,” I always thought it was funny that Yearwood’s recording ended up beating Rimes’ version for the Female Country Vocal Grammy despite the pop-crossover success of the latter; but yeah, Curb’s treatment of Rimes (among many others) was ultimately pretty shameful. :\
January 15, 2013 @ 1:27 am
I’m putting my money on Rodney Atkins being the last to leave! 😉
He actually seems to like it there (he renewed his contract last year with them). Assuming a Colt .45 wasn’t pointed at his head upon signing the documents, he really has sold his entire soul to the devil! Oh well! He could have ran when he had the chance! =P
January 15, 2013 @ 10:01 am
I remember the Rodney Atkins re-signing was curiously close to the release of info that his wife had filed domestic abuse charges against him. In fairness to Rodney, they were later dropped, but it’s hard to not think the two might have been related. I do agree he seems to be one of the few that likes it there. It may be because he was smart enough to structure his contract so he wouldn’t have to deal with some of Curb’s bad practices.
January 17, 2013 @ 11:39 pm
Excellent writeup Trigger. It gives new meaning to getting “kicked to the curb”.
April 30, 2013 @ 4:49 pm
Never understood how Curb is able to sign artists. No deal is better than a deal with this guy who seems to specialize in not releasing records or releasing stuff the artist doesn’t want released.
But if I was a lawyer, hell yes I’d want an exclusive deal.
May 13, 2013 @ 10:45 pm
Mike Curb birthed his career along with Davie Allan’s wonderful guitar work but his all business and no friendship contracts only made his dreams a reality while the sign on the dotted line robbed Davie Allan & The Arrows from being super stardom and any deserved money that was due them. What did Davie Allan ever get from Mike Curb in return for his long associated friendship and loyalty? Legal contracts that keep him from mentioning anything about Mike Curb or he gets sued and no monetary rewards for his decades of available service and dedication. Forgiveness is an even harder lesson to graduate from when it’s a one way dead end street. No one can do it naturally. It has to be done in the supernatural. To gain it all and then to lose in the soulish realm is a high price to pay. Some people find it easy to be hard. Woe to the offender.
October 5, 2013 @ 8:15 am
The crooks make money off the talent of others. Buck even did it to Merle
November 6, 2013 @ 9:10 am
Pride comes before the fall. This reminds me of the Godfather trilogy.
Review – Mo Pitney Brings Back Traditional Sounds with “Country” | Country Perspective
January 12, 2015 @ 11:00 am
[…] from Pitney is released. It”™s worth noting that Pitney is signed to Curb Records, so let”™s all hope Mike Curb doesn”™t treat Pitney poorly and that we”™re given some more music soon. As for “Country” we”™ll just have to look past […]
The unfortunate one
February 26, 2015 @ 11:12 am
You have only reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mike Curb. He is a dirty filthy man. x
September 18, 2016 @ 8:48 am
I don’t know about any of this. Some of what was written as “dirty” dealing, does not seem like “dirty” to me. The job is to promote the artist, not some artist on another label. But even if some of this stuff is true, the one thing that can never be taken away from Mike Curb is all the wonderful music he has promoted over the years. You could count one hand the men who have a track record matching it.
June 15, 2021 @ 8:44 am
An entire book could be written about the contract mike curb had Leanne rimes sign when she was 12 years old that worked her to death for years. Her father saw dollar signs and nobody cared if that was healthy for Leanne. Leanne deserves more credit than she gets for the spitfire album. She put her heart in to it knowing curb wasn’t going to promote it.
September 21, 2021 @ 7:26 pm
What is with all this trashing of Mike Curb and alleged “transgressions”? I have seen him in documentaries on The Carpenters and he comes across as a decent human being – he was in a relationship with the late Karen Carpenter during The Carpenters’ heyday.
The publication of Mike firing artists from MGM whom he felt glamourized drugs in their music didn’t happen until November 1970. Frank Zappa wasn’t even on the label anymore when this happened, so he could not have been fired by Mike, and as is stated, he did not promote drugs in his music nor was he ever a drug user himself; sadly, Lowell George, who played in The Mothers of Invention and founded Little Feat, was a drug user and he paid the price for it when he died in 1979.
The Velvet Underground were actually long gone from MGM by November 1970 and had a new album out on Atlantic Records called “Loaded”. Lou Reed himself acknowledged that he didn’t believe that The Velvets were kicked off MGM for promoting drugs in their music or any drug associations, but he did say that they wanted to get out of here.