Pop Culture

Bowzer fights against musical imposters

As the rubber-faced frontman for Sha Na Na, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman brought doo-wop to the hippies at Woodstock. During the days of disco, he took his ’50s schtick to TV.

Now, nearly 60 years old, Bauman is still championing the golden age of rock-n-roll, this time as point man for a push to keep impostors from ripping off his musical heroes.

He’s been lobbying states on behalf of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame for laws to prevent phonies and fakers from passing themselves off as authentic members of groups like the Platters, the Coasters and the Drifters.

Tennessee’s legislature passed Bauman’s “Truth in Music” bill Thursday, and it now goes to the governor. Nine other states have already enacted the law; two more are also waiting for the governors’ signatures.

Bauman says dozens of acts with no connection to the authentic groups perform under their name, misleading fans and stealing the income and glory due surviving members.

“For the people who made this music to be suffering this indignity at this point in their life when they should be recognized as pioneers is just heartbreaking,” said Bauman, chairman of the hall’s Truth in Music Committee.

The law he helped enact requires that for a group to call itself by a successful name from the past it has to have at least one member of that group and be legally entitled to the name.

Bauman and others have been working on this issue for about 10 years. They first tried changing federal trademark law. When that failed, they approached it from a consumer protection issue, one state at a time.

His interest stems from the music that inspired Sha Na Na to form at Columbia University in 1969. With slicked back hair and a muscle shirt, he became famous mimicking the singers he’s now trying to protect.

“In some ways I think we were more successful than the original artists because of the time. It was later in the game and conditions had improved so much. So many of these people were in a maverick business. They were ripped off by record companies and managers and nobody protected the names properly,” Bauman said.

Doo-wop wasn’t that distant when Sha Na Na performed at Woodstock, but in the musical and social context of the late ’60s, it must have seemed a quaint anachronism.

Singers were often faceless, and vulnerableThe original singers — mostly black men recording songs marketed to white teenagers — were faceless to the public, making them vulnerable to unscrupulous promoters, agents and performers now capitalizing on their name.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Neil P. Mockford / GC Images

    Image: Celebrity Sightings On The Set Of 'A Hundred Streets' - August 8, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

  • Image: Celebrity Sightings On The Set Of 'A Hundred Streets' - August 8, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Idris Elba -

    Actor Idris Elba seen on the set of :A Hundred Streets" on Aug. 8 in London.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of RADiUS-TWC's "The One I Love" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass -

    Actors Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass arrive at the premiere of RADIUS-TWC's "The One I Love" at the Vista Theatre on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of RADiUS-TWC's "The One I Love" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nick Kroll -

    Actor Nick Kroll arrives at the premiere of RADIUS-TWC's "The One I Love" at the Vista Theatre on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Johnson -

    Actors Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson arrive at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Cast member D'Arcy poses at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" in Hollywood

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    James D'Arcy -

    James D'Arcy arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Image: BESTPIX: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Arrivals

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Julianne Hough -

    Actress Julianne Hough arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Arrivals

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Hannah Simone -

    Actress Hannah Simone arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nina Dobrev -

    Actress Nina Dobrev arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nicole Murphy, Brandy Norwood -

    TV personality Nicole Murphy and singer Brandy Norwood attend The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Tara Reid -

    Actress Tara Reid attends The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: "Phoenix" Opening Night

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    James Wirt, Julia Stiles -

    Actors James Wirt and Julia Stiles stand on stage during the opening night curtain call for "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: "Phoenix" Opening Night

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    AnnaSophia Robb -

    Actress AnnaSophia Robb attends the opening night performance of "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Madame Tussauds New York To Unveil New, Never-Before-Seen Selena Gomez Wax Figure

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Selena Gomez -

    A boy gives the wax figure of Selena Gomez a kiss at the unveiling of the new new, never-before-seen Selena Gomez wax figure at Madame Tussauds New York on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Chris Martin Visits "The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Chris Martin -

    Chris Martin of Coldplay performs during the Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show at Z100 Studio on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Apple Store Soho Presents: Meet the Actors: Michael Fassbender And Domhnall Gleeson - "Frank"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Michael Fassbender -

    Actor Michael Fassbender attends "Meet the Actor" at Apple Store Soho on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Mickey Rourke -

    Actor Mickey Rourke is seen at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Jordana Brewster -

    Actress Jordana Brewster waves outisde of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: G. Garvin Live

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Keshia Knight Pulliam -

    Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam attends G. Garvin Live at Buckhead Theatre on Aug. 7 in Atlanta.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Reese Witherspoon -

    Actress Reese Witherspoon is seen on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Miley Cyrus

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Miley Cyrus -

    Singer Miley Cyrus performs in concert at Bridgestone Arena on Aug. 7 in Nashville.

    AP / AP
  • Image: 67th Locarno Film Festival - Day 2

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Melanie Griffith -

    Actress Melanie Griffith attends a press conference during the 67th Locarno Film Festival on Aug. 7 in Locarno, Switzerland.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Lily Allen

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Lily Allen -

    Singer Lily Allen performs in concert at Bridgestone Arena on Aug. 7 in Nashville.

    AP / AP
  • Image: "The Expendables 3" Paris Photocall At Cinema UGC Normandie

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    'Expendables 3' -

    The stars of "Expendables 3," from left, Kellan Lutz, Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes attend "Expendables 3" at Cinema UGC Normandie on Aug. 7 in Paris.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Meet The FilmMakers: "The Rover"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Robert Pattinson -

    Actor Robert Pattinson speaks during the Meet The Filmmakers event for "The Rover" at Apple Store, Regent Street on Aug. 7 in London.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In New York City - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman -

    Actors Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman are spotted filming Bateman's "The Family Fang" in Westchester, New York, on Aug. 7.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Africa: New Partnership Models For Growth

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Akon -

    Grammy-nominated artist Akon, who is the founder of Akon Lighting Africa Project, discusses at the US-Africa Leaders Summit "Africa: New Parnership Models for Growth" news conference, held in Washington, DC, on Aug. 7, the progress that African heads of state have made.

    Getty Images / Getty Images

“It has stopped me from working,” said Herb Reed, founder of the Platters, 1990 inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I used to pick and choose. Now I have to take whatever I can get because they’re out there calling themselves the Platters.”

Reed says the impostors perform for far less than the real groups, diluting the market and hurting his livelihood.

“They don’t have the correct uniforms; they don’t have the correct sound. They’re using our name, using our music. They’ve demeaned everything we worked for,” he said, estimating he’s spent close to $1 million on lawsuits trying to stop them.

Bauman calls it a sophisticated form of identity theft and has spent his time and money fighting it. Between his own performances — he left Sha Na Na in 1983 and does about 75 dates a year as a solo act — and his volunteer work for the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, he’s on the road all the time.

A recent stretch looked like this: New Jersey for a court hearing, California for a show, Florida to meet with lawmakers, Nashville for a legislative hearing, Michigan for another show, then out to Nevada to meet with lawmakers and perform in a show.

On Thursday, moments after the Tennessee House had passed the “Truth in Music” bill unanimously, he was jubilant. He even paused to do the silly deep-voice intro to the old Marcell’s hit “Blue Moon” for a star-struck government official.

“I feel really invigorated and vitalized,” Bauman said. “We are succeeding. And this is something that needs to be done.”

TOP