If 6 was 9Rick Carter vs Jimi Hendrix over the future of Telluride

One of my favorite games is the Band Name Game. If you’ve ever attempted to name a band or if you’re a semi-obsessive listener, you’ve at least had a band name moment. The kind where suddenly an arbitrary sequence of words rings that bell in your skull and you think, “That’s a great band name!” It’s a joyful moment. I’ve named a few bands in my day (Dick Richard, Bright Henry), and the name selection was always preceded by a glorious torrent of ludicrous names thrown into the ring by every band member as well as acquaintances and even passersby. Some of my favorites: Tragic Moose, The Slag Buggies and Stink Fist. My point is, thinking of band names is fun, which is one of the reasons why not choosing an original name was Jimi Hendrix’s first mistake.


Birmingham band Telluride in 1977. Clockwise from top left: Moose Harrell, Roger Bailey, Jim Liner, Rick Carter and Robert Churchill.

Jimi and his friends were in a band called Dixie Twister, and they were about to make it big time. They were in negotiations with a label, and the only problem was that the name of the band had to go. But rather than come up with a new name that was more palatable to record brass, Hendrix and company left it to their fans to choose for them. Not surprisingly, the fans chose poorly.

I should clarify something here, so that people don’t throw rocks at me. The Jimi Hendrix I am referring to is NOT the guitar legend of yore. He is the very much alive bass player—and yes, Jimi Hendrix is his real name—for the new and fan-improved Telluride, an up-and-coming Nashville band whose PR copy wants me to get excited because they “are formally trained musicians and each plays on the entire album.” Really? I can’t wait.

The problem with the name Telluride, as many of you probably know, is that it’s been taken for a long time by one of Birmingham’s most beloved and long-lasting bands. Rick Carter, who co-founded Telluride in 1977 and holds the federal trademark for the name, has now been forced to fight for his right to use his own band name.

“They have petitioned the government to overturn my federal trademark because they said we abandoned the name, which we didn’t,” Carter says. “We play every year, we have proof of that. But unfortunately the way our legal system works, until you can get that in front of a judge then we can’t make them quit using the name. We used that name for 33 years and counting, and we’re listed as musical achievers in the Alabama Hall of Fame.”

When I question the relevance of fighting for band names in a post-MySpace world where there can be many bands sharing identical or similar names online, Carter corrects me. “What’s relevant is the fact that we can’t put our music on iTunes because they already have their music up there under the name Telluride,” Carter says. “That’s what first set me off. Why shouldn’t our fans be able to acquire our music that was recorded under the name of Telluride before these members of this other band named Telluride were even born?”

I’m tempted to pass all this off as a simple misunderstanding, but Carter clues me in to a few unsavory details. “It used to be you could look up Telluride, and the first thing that would come up would be on Wikipedia, and it would say a small mining town, a derivative of fools gold, or a Birmingham-based band started in 1977 by Rick Carter,” he says. “As soon as we started this litigation, somehow mysteriously, that disappeared.”

Sure enough, shortly after Rick Carter filed for his trademark and began litigation, a Wikipedia user named TenPoundHammer who was well connected in the Nashville music scene removed all mention of both Rick Carter’s and the new Jimi Hendrix’s Tellurides from the Wikipedia entry.

“This band represented a lot of people in this town, and it was gone,” Carter. “There are so many people that met at a Telluride show and then got married. We did two governor’s inaugurations. I mean, there’s a lot of musical history that transcends actual musical performance. That’s another thing we’re fighting for. If and when we move past musical achiever status at The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and were actually inducted what would they say, “The band formerly known as Telluride until some young kids came and stole it?”

What can you do to help keep Telluride a Birmingham tradition? The record label for the new Telluride is heaping Carter in extensions, court filings and extra proceedings in an attempt to keep this case from ever seeing a judge. Carter’s band has set up the Telluride Defense Fund at Regions Bank, and you can donate there or contact the band via rick@rickcartermusic.com.

Sam George writes about popular music and other topics for Birmingham Weekly. He is also an editor at the music web site bham.fm. Send your comments to editor@bhamweekly.com.

Originally printed in Birm­ing­ham Weekly on April 15, 2010.

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