It’s the fourth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. So of course there’s a lawsuit. Richard Arons, Joe Jackson’s original partner and lawyer, has sued Sony Music. Arons managed Michael Jackson with his father, Joseph, signing the last of his management agreements in 1976. Now Arons is 75 years old and says he’s not getting paid for the pre-“Thriller” albums. It’s an 87 page complaint filed in Los Angeles by a Century City law firm. The lawsuit goes back to the beginning of the Jackson 5, and the subsequent move from Motown to Columbia Records, followed by Michael’s solo career with “Off the Wall.”
Does Arons have a case? Could be. During the days of Walter Yetnikoff’s reign at Columbia-Sony, the music business was like the Wild West. More importantly, the Jacksons have never been particularly loyal to the people who helped them in the early days. I will never forget my visits with Bill Bray, the trusted security guy and surrogate father to Michael, on his death bed in 2005. The Jacksons simply ignored him. That same year, Michael had also unceremoniously dumped Bob Jones, his long time — lifelong, actually– p.r. man, who’d covered up Michael’s many odd episodes.
Arons signed a settlement agreement with the Jacksons in 1978, but it was breached. The agreement was reaffirmed in 1981, giving Arons 7.5% on all Jackson master recordings at Columbia, then CBS Records. The company was supposed to pay him from Michael’s royalties. In 1990, Michael cut Arons off. A new Settlement Agreement was arrived at, with Arons getting his 7.5% on all Michael Jackson releases at CBS-Sony through and including “Thriller.” But he says that Sony–which inherited the deal after it bought Columbia Records– stopped paying him in 2011.
Now Arons wants his money. His lawsuit has all the agreements attached as exhibits, and they have all the Jackson signatures including Michael’s. What’s kind of interesting is that the 1981 agreement only covered the Jacksons’ CBS recordings and “Off the Wall.” By 1990, the new agreement included “Thriller.” Michael was represented in that agreement by Lavely and Singer, not John Branca, his once and future attorney and now executor. Lavely and Singer are supposed to be real sharks. But they gave Arons a stake in Michael’s biggest moneymaker for all time.