Dead Kennedys Singer Drops Lawsuit

By | July 14, 2004 at 12:00 AM

The Dead Kennedys have finally buried the hatchet.

Jello Biafra, the former frontman for the ’80s punk outfit, has decided to drop his final complaint in a lawsuit against the other three members over control of the group’s legacy.

Biafra and the other Dead Kennedys have been feuding since May 2000, when a San Francisco jury ruled the singer and his record owed onetime mates East Bay Ray, Klaus Fouride and D.H. Peligro $220,000 in a breach-of-contract suit.

Biafra appealed the verdict, but a state appeals court eventually ruled against him.

In an opinion rendered in June 2003, the three-judge panel agreed that Biafra and his record company, Alternative Tentacles, intentionally shut the other band members out of $76,000 in royalties for Dead Kennedy hits from the late 1970s and early 1980s, including such seminal punk anthems as “Holiday in Cambodia,” “California Uber Alles” and “Kill the Poor.”

The appeals court also overturned a lower court decision that ruled that the partnership should be dissolved and its assets sold and divvied up, instead finding that a four-way partnership existed between the Kennedys when it came to the band’s catalog.

In dropping his suit on June 30, Biafra concurred with the notion that breaking up the punk band’s assets was not in the best interests of the four rockers, as it would end up substantially devaluing their catalog.

The move represents a big change of heart for Biafra. The vocalist had claimed the only reason he was being sued was because he refused to let his mates sell the Kennedy track “Holiday in Cambodia” for a Levi’s ad. His attorney also previously stated that should all four members control the Kennedys’ legacy, it wouldn’t exactly be democratic, since the other three could effectively impose their will on Biafra and override his vote on any future decisions.

The Dead Kennedy emerged from San Francisco in 1978 and helped give birth to a hardcore punk scene, blending Biafra’s revolutionary politics with a sense of humor that took their cues from such British bands as the Sex Pistols and the Clash. The Kennedys rise in the early ’80s was fueled in part as a reaction to the synth-dominated New Wave sound that began to dominate the charts.

But by 1986, the band was targeted by prosecutors in an obscenity case, which ended in a hung jury. The damage was done, though, and the quartet disbanded after their last official release, Bedtime for Democracy.

Following the band’s demise, Biafra released several spoken word albums and focused on political action groups. The three other members have since regrouped sans Biafra and play under the Dead Kennedys moniker.

A publicist for Biafra could not be reached for comment. The Dead Kennedys rep, Josh Mills, was also unavailable.

Related Content