STEVE RILEY Defends His Right To Use L.A. GUNS Name For New Band: 'I Never Quit'
May 17, 2020
Steve Riley's version of L.A. GUNS recently released its debut single, "Crawl". The track is taken from the band's first album, "Renegades", which will arrive in late summer or early fall via Golden Robot Records.
Riley's version of L.A. GUNS is not to be confused with the band led by guitarist Tracii Guns and vocalist Phil Lewis, which issued two well-received albums, "The Missing Peace" and "The Devil You Know", plus the live release "Made In Milan", under the L.A. GUNS name over the last three years.
Riley's version of L.A. GUNS made its live debut last May at the M3 Rock Festival. The drummer is joined in the group by Orlando, Florida-based guitarist/vocalist Kurt Frohlich, bassist Kelly Nickels (a member of L.A. GUNS' "classic" incarnation) and guitarist Scott Griffin (who played bass for the band from 2007 until 2009, and then again from 2011 to 2014).
During a recent appearance on "The Classic Metal Show", Riley was asked if he was concerned about creating confusion in the marketplace by starting another version of L.A. GUNS with Nickels. He responded (hear audio below): "No, not at all, because I was already tempered to it. If you remember correctly, Tracii quit in 2002 and Phil Lewis and I had carried on the band for, like, 15 years on our own, doing four albums — maybe five; I think it was four — we continued on, and there was Tracii taking out another L.A. GUNS. So, no, I was already used to it. And when two people own the mark and the name, then you can do that, and I never contested Tracii doing that, even though Phil was with me for those 15 years while [Tracii] was out of the band. So I was already tempered to it, and I already knew that when he originally did that back in the 2000s that he created confusion immediately, and I believe that's when Phil went off on him for a number of years in the press, on Eddie Trunk's TV show, he went off on Tracii non-stop; he didn't like him and he didn't like what he was doing by creating the confusion. So it's something I'm already used to.
"I never quit L.A. GUNS," he continued. "I never intended to stop working in L.A. GUNS. It's just a matter of people leaving the band. The confusion thing, it was already there — it was already happening because Tracii started that confusion back in 2006, I believe, [or] 2005, after he did BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION and a couple of other projects. He started his own L.A. GUNS while Phil and I were working and recording with [producer] Andy Johns and doing four albums with Andy Johns and a live album. We just continued working on. So that confusion has already been there."
Riley also talked about the fact that Lewis and Guns are the most recognizable members of L.A. GUNS and how it affects people's perception of the two versions of the band.
"When you talk about L.A. GUNS and you talk about the singer and guitar player, the fact of it is that the biggest song L.A. GUNS had was written by Kelly Nickels; he wrote 'The Ballad Of Jayne'," Steve said. "And so the deal is that most of our publishing starts off with 'The Ballad Of Jayne'; that's pretty much our big heavyweight in our publishing. He wrote that, and he wrote a number of other songs. He actually wrote 'Crawl' too, the new single. But he's a prolific songwriter; he contributed so much to the songwriting in the early years, as I did too. But the fact of it is he brought the biggest song in that we're recognized for — 'The Ballad Of Jayne'. That's a Kelly Nickels composition.
"So I don't know how you weigh one against the other," he added. "It's something that I've faced off for a number of years. All the guys have quit at one time or another. I just kept L.A. GUNS — the real L.A. GUNS, the original L.A. GUNS I kept going. I've been running the business all of this time, since 1988, and striking up record deals and world tours and what have you, and all kinds of concerts, and the deal is that I never really stopped.
"If Tracii wanted to take out another L.A. GUNS, there's nothing I can do about it; I can't contest it. So it is a problem with a lot of legacy bands, and it's something that you can't avoid... With this band, I pretty much begged everybody from the classic lineup not to quit, at one point or another. And when they wanted to leave, I tried to talk them out of it and say, 'Come on. Hang on. This is a good thing we have. It's something that we can do pretty much forever.' And so I tried to talk everybody out of it, and a lot of times it wasn't successful, and a lot of times I was successful , like in getting Phil back into the band with me, and Tracii. But it doesn't always work out the way you want it, especially in this business."
This past January, Riley was sued by Guns and Lewis in California District Court. Joining Riley as defendants in the case are the three musicians who perform in his recently launched rival version of L.A. GUNS; that group's manager, booking agent and merchandiser; and Golden Robot Records.
The complaint, which requests a trial by jury, alleges that Riley's version of L.A. GUNS (referred to in the case docket as "the infringing L.A. GUNS") is creating "unfair competition" through its unauthorized usage of the L.A. GUNS trademark. In addition, Guns and Lewis are seeking relief from and/or against false advertising, breach of contract and unauthorized usage of their likenesses.
At its core, Guns and Lewis's complaint calls into question Riley's claim of partial ownership of the L.A. GUNS name and logo and alleges that his usage of both has been unauthorized. In addition, Guns and Lewis claim — as Guns has done publicly in the past — that Riley has embezzled much of the group's publishing proceeds over the past two decades.
Despite leaving the band soon after the release of 2002's "Waking The Dead" to focus on BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION (his short-lived supergroup with MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx),Guns "is the owner of common law trademark righs" for the L.A. GUNS name and logo, the complaint claims. It notes that Guns founded the band in 1983, four years before Riley joined, and that Riley did not perform on the group's 1984 debut EP and contributed to just a single track on their 1987 self-titled full-length debut.
According to the complaint, Guns "has been injured by Defendants' unfair competition," while he and Lewis have "suffered harm including damages and and irreparable injury to their goodwill." It also claims that Riley's L.A. GUNS was formed "with the intent of tricking and confusing consumers into believing that the infringing L.A. GUNS band is the original [Tracii] Guns version" of the group.
In addition to actual and punitive damages, Guns and Lewis are seeking a "permanent injunction" that restrains all of the named defendants from using the L.A. GUNS name, logo and likeness, as well as "a declaration that Guns is the sole owner of the common law trademark rights" for the L.A. GUNS moniker "and any related design marks."
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