A Few Frames Of Public Access Art
"The copyright and the publishing were combined, so the only money I was getting were my BMI (songwriter) performance royalties, because BMI won't allow you to sell your songwriter's share. When you sell a song outright, you sell the rights you control, but you can't sell your songwriter's rights, because BMI is who pays the writer for performances. It can't go to the publisher or whoever. And we didn't get any publishing anyway, because the record company also owned the publishing company. I have a publishing company now, but it's after thirty-some years of learning this business."
Berry came to own the song again. In the mid-1980s, California Coolers spearheaded the winecooler craze, and their commercials featured surfing scenes with new recordings of oldies. They wanted to use "Louie Louie" and found out they needed Berry's permission. They located him through Artists' Rights Enforcement Corporation, run by Chuck Rubin, a former agent who started AR as a way to get unrepresented recording artists money and rights to which they were entitled. When Rubin got in touch, Berry was on welfare and living in his mother's house in Inglewood. When AR got through untangling the legal issues in 1985, Berry regained ownership of "Louie Louie" and continued to live in his mother's house, albeit much more happily. He died of heart failure on January 23, 1997. The interview from Poker Party was the only comprehensive one he ever gave on camera.
For my money, the greatest ever 30 minutes of Poker Party happened in 1988, when Dion guested. Dion is as great a white blues singer as has ever been, including Jimmie Rodgers. Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, and it is safe to say no artist has ever been more authentic. But he's rarely told his own story in a way that points up not only to his intellect, but his considerable musical curiosity. On November 8, 1988, he was on PP. It's one of the show's finest half hours, and, as Dion interviews go, it is rivaled only by his October 17, 2000 appearance on Terry Gross' NPR show Fresh Air. That the Poker Party interview happens on camera might give it the edge. I'm choosing this as the YouTube clip because it shows precisely what PP did that no other show even dreamt of doingit showed you music, who made it, how, who loved it, and why.
Changes in the cable TV regulations ended public access in 2008, so Art packed up his card game. He has a YouTube channel that functions as a greatest hits archive, including yours truly playing with Wanda Jackson. Art has been digitizing the shows for an eventual documentary, and I've been writing a book about it. That it happened at all is interesting. That it lasted so long and stayed good for two dozen years is miraculous.