ANNAPOLIS – The next time you buy concert tickets, make sure you’re seeing the band you’re paying for.
That’s the advice Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, formerly of Sha Na Na, is giving out as he tours state legislatures across the country. Bauman is pushing a bill to crack down on impostor groups without any connection to the original artists, usually doo-wop groups from the ’50s or ’60s.
Bill supporters say it’s a form of identity theft that cheats music legends out of their legacies and dupes paying audiences.
In the past two weeks, Bauman, chair of the Truth In Music Committee of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, has visited lawmakers in Colorado, Vermont, Indiana and Rhode Island, often breaking out into song in the process.
He visited a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday, amusing lawmakers with a cappella riffs and piquing interest in the bill.
The bill is law in 18 states and has been introduced in 12 others, said Sen. Mike Lenett, D-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor.
“Maryland is at the top of our list right now,” said Bauman, who claims doo-wop music is especially popular on the Eastern Seaboard.
It was uncommon to see doo-wop performers’ faces during the genre’s peak, which is why impostor bands can get away with mimicking “old timers,” Bauman said.
He added that more modern artists like Frankie Goes to Hollywood are struggling with the problem as well.
Bauman said some performers, including Herb Reed of the Platters, have spent millions trying to stop impostors.
“It hurts,” said Charlie Thomas, formerly of the Drifters. “It’s simple as that, it hurts.”
The Drifters were a ’50s doo-wop band with a fractured history. Several members have left the group since its inception.
Thomas joined the group in 1958 after the previous Drifters were fired and claims to be the only original Drifter currently performing the band’s songs.
He tours worldwide with Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, a name he uses to distinguish his group from impostors.
“I’m not in a singing mood,” Thomas said, choking up as he explained how the fakes can steal jobs from original artists.
He eventually let up and belted out a few lines, to the delight of committee members present, none of whom challenged the bill.
Bauman said the laws have been highly effective in other states. Although many groups get shut down, Bauman said acts can be redubbed as tributes and are completely acceptable and legal under the bill, which proposes fines of $5,000 to $15,000 in Maryland.
“The deterrent effect of the bill itself has been really gratifying,” Bauman said.
Groups with at least one original member would not be affected by the bill.
A handful of fans gathered around Bauman and Thomas for autographs after the hearing, but the subject can be incredibly painful for artists trying to make a living.
“This is my life,” said Thomas. “I’m an entertainer, and I’m a Drifter.”