By Ray Waddell, Nashville
A Nashville judge has ruled in favor of Tim McGraw and against Curb Records in an ongoing legal dispute between the two, according to the Nashville Tennessean.
McGraw is now free to record for another label-or on his own-without Curb, which has been his only label home throughout his career. A trial for the damage portion of the suit is set for July. The status of “Emotional Traffic,” the latest McGraw album delivered to Curb that the artist presumed to be his final one of the label, is unclear.
On May 13, Curb Records filed a breach of contract suit in Davidson County Chancery Court against McGraw in relation to McGraw’s recording agreement with label. McGraw filed a counter suit against Curb Records on May 24 seeking advance payment and recording-fund reimbursement, unspecified damages, and a jury trial.
The counter-suit also asked that McGraw’s “Emotional Traffic” record be deemed McGraw’s last album due the label and for McGraw to be “free to begin recording for himself or any other party as of July 23, 2011.”
Curb alleged in the May 13 complaint that McGraw’s “Traffic” tracks were recorded too early prior to its delivery “in a transparent tactic to attempt to fulfill his contractual recording commitment to Curb prematurely in breach of the recording agreement.”
Curb’s position in the suit was that McGraw’s recordings should be “topical and new” and that the artist had agreed that each new album be recorded “no earlier than 12 months and no later than 18 months” following the delivery of the previous album. The suit alleged McGraw began recording “Emotional Traffic” tracks “in 2008 or before,” prior to the allowable period under contract, according to Curb. Curb’s suit sought undisclosed damages and a sixth “option period” record, as well as “injunctive relief preventing him from agreeing to provide, or providing, his personal services as a recording artist for the benefit of parties other than Curb Records until he has fulfilled his duties and obligations under the Recording Agreement.”
In McGraw’s expansive response, the artist stated that the material for “Traffic” was recorded and mastered in early 2009-2010 and Curb was holding the album “hostage from country music fans for the purpose of compelling Tim McGraw to serve perpetually under a contract that he has already fully and faithfully completed.” The suit added that Curb’s “repeated serial releases of what it characterizes as greatest hits albums is obviously a naked attempt to create a perpetual recording contract, forcing Tim McGraw into a repressive environment of indefinite duration.”
Between 2006 and 2010, Curb put out six compilations or variations on hits packages, the latest being “Number One Hits” last November. Curb has released a total of seven compilations on McGraw.
Amid numerous charges of “bad faith,” McGraw’s response stated that since 1997 Curb has never rejected any of the 108-plus master recordings McGraw has delivered, and that Curb’s release of compilations extends the allowable delivery period to 24 months. The counter-suit also broke down in detail why the artist believes “Traffic” to be his final album due the label under contract. Among the allegations are that Curb “enticed agents for Mr. McGraw to present the unfinished rough mixes [of “Traffic”] under false pretenses … to avoid paying [McGraw] the advance” for delivering the album. In addition to the breach of contract charges, the counter-suit charges intentional interference with business relationships, including with “various entities regarding his “Emotional Traffic” tour” and “created a void” of McGraw’s music at radio.
Curb attorney Jay Bowen of Nashville-based firm Bowen Unger did not immediately respond to a request for comment. McGraw was represented by attorney William Ramsey, who also could not be immediately reached.
Curb has been the only label home for McGraw, who released his first album “Tim McGraw” in April of 1993; his first single “Welcome to the Club” came in ’92. In recent years, McGraw has made known his frustration with his label deal and his belief that he owed the label only one more record after his most recent studio album, “Southern Voice,” released on Oct. 20 of 2009.
McGraw told Billboard in an interview around the time “Southern Voice” was released that it was recorded in the fall of 2007. Asked about the delay in releasing “Southern Voice”, McGraw told Billboard, “You’re from Nashville, you know about Curb Records. They had three greatest-hits records out or something like that [between 2007’s “Let It Go” and “Southern Voice”]. I thought [“Voice”] was coming out a lot quicker than it did, then the greatest-hits records kept dropping. I’ve got one record left on this label, and I can’t help but think that it was a stall tactic to add another year to my contract.”
In a keynote QA at the Billboard Country Summit in June of 2010, McGraw thanked Curb for signing him and jump-starting his career, but reiterated his thoughts that his next album, which he said at that time he’d already recorded but not mixed, would be his last for Curb. “I’ve had a great career,” he said, but added, “it’s time for a change. I think I’ve earned that.” He also weighed in again on the plethora of “Hits” packages from Curb: “It’s sort of taking advantage of people,” he said.