Cowboys have to deal with the hazards of subduing charging bulls, getting their spurs caught in their lassos and keeping cold bottles of beer from exploding during especially rigorous horse rides. Some, like Kid Rock, also have to contend with copyright infringement lawsuits.
Relatively unknown songwriters Brian Chatton, Nico Ramsden, Nick Richards and Jeff Seopardi, who recorded under the name Boys Don’t Cry, are suing the maverick rocker over his 1998 song “Cowboy,” contending that it plagiarizes their 1986 synth-pop track “I Wanna Be a Cowboy,” which reached #12 on the Billboard singles chart.
On April 17, Microhits Music Corp., which represents the songwriters, filed the case against Rock in United States District Court, Central District of California. Co-defendants in the suit are Rock’s co-writers John Travis, Matthew Shafer and James Trombly, and the suit also names Lava Records, Atlantic Records, Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., Squamosal Music, Cradle the Ba-s, Gaje Music, Inc. and Thirty-Two Mile Music.
The song “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” features the drawled chorus, “I wanna be a cowboy and you can be my cowgirl.” Rock’s “Cowboy” includes the refrain, “I wanna be a cowboy, baby,” delivered in a vaguely similar laid-back cowboy voice.
The suit contends that “substantial portions of the original composition” were ripped off by Rock, who is alleged to have played the track when he was working as a DJ. Before filing the case, Microhits hired musicologist Gerald Eskelin, who assisted the Isley Brothers in their $5.4 million victory against Michael Bolton, who was accused of ripping off their ’60s song “Love Is a Wonderful Thing” with his 1991 hit of the same name.
Eskelin plans to argue that the chorus vocals, basslines, production, vocal effects and EQ changes on Rock’s song are stolen straight from the Boys Don’t Cry tune. “The similarities between the bassline and title hook especially are just overwhelming,” Microhits Chairman Anthony Barlow said.
When Rock’s “Cowboy” came out in 1998, the members of Boys Don’t Cry received numerous phone calls from friends and business associates who commented on the similarities, but Microhits didn’t decide to file suit until “Cowboy” was used in the 2000 flick “Coyote Ugly.”
“A music supervisor called and said, ‘Hey, your song is in the movie,’ Barlow said. “That was the last straw.”
Microhits is asking for a jury trial and seeking unspecified damages, though Barlow said he compares the case to the Isley Brothers suit and is hoping for similar results.
Kid Rock’s management was not available for comment.