Battle of the band names: Are all the good ones gone?

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comDecember 9, 2012 

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If the letters were to be believed, some retail store from Minnesota had a problem with the name that Brian Raehm and his friends had chosen for themselves while still a fledgling garage band in Utica, N.Y., more than 15 years earlier -- Target.

Or at least, the store's attorneys did.

"The letters were semi-threatening," said Raehm, who now lives and still plays with Target on Hilton Head Island. "'Did you know you were in violation of copyright and trademark law?' We got ahold of some records showing that we had been playing with that name since 1973, sent that to them, and we never heard from Target, the store, again."

Though nothing came of their brief legal spat with the retail giant with whom they share a name, Target's dilemma illustrates a problem still plaguing up-and-coming bands today: How to find a name that hasn't already been taken.

Within the last two years alone, 180,743 artists and bands released a full-length album or EP, according to a spokesman for Rovi Corp., which licenses editorial content to Apple's iTunes and other music services.

Given those statistics, there is bound to be some overlap -- as one Hilton Head band knows better than most.

When John Cranford, Eric Reid, Phillip Sirmans and Randy Rockalotta first took the stage as Cranford & Sons about a year ago, the platinum-selling English folk rock quartet with a name similar to their own didn't immediately come to mind.

"It was more of a take on (the television show) 'Sanford & Son' than anything to do with Mumford & Sons," Cranford said.

"We don't sound anything like those guys. We're doing our own thing, and I think people get that once they hear us. Honestly, we didn't get the Mumford & Sons thing as much as I thought we would," Cranford said.

But as the band's popularity grows and area music fans pack island bars to see them, Cranford and his bandmates have had to grapple with whether to change their name -- the name under which they released a full-length album in June and that is printed on T-shirts and other merchandise -- to avoid further confusion.

That, Cranford said, is precisely why the band is sticking with its name -- for now.

"We have invested a lot of time and money and hard work in this name," he said. "I don't foresee us changing it."

They aren't alone. More than 30 bands in Rovi's database are using the suffix "and Sons," according to the company's spokesman.

The name game hasn't just posed problems to local or up-and-coming bands.

The band fun., the Grammy-nominated trio responsible for hit songs "We Are Young" and "Some Nights," was forced to add that peculiar period to the end of its name after a band already performing as Fun complained.

"They emailed us ... told us that that was their name, and asked us to change it up subtly," frontman Nate Reuss told a San Francisco TV station earlier this year. "I don't know ... I was worried, when we first decided that this was going to be the band name, about all the negative puns that would happen like, 'This is no fun. at all.'"

In the early 1990s, Britpop innovators, The Suede, a band briefly managed by comedian Ricky Gervais, were forced to perform in the U.S. as The London Suede after they were sued by an obscure lounge singer named Suede. The band, massively popular in their native England, never enjoyed similar success in the States.

Cranford said his band has never been contacted by representatives of Mumford & Sons but, if they are, they likely would comply and change their name -- though, not without first having a little fun.

"If that did happen, I think it could be a good marketing tool," Cranford said. "We would let our fans go on Facebook and help us pick a new name or something like that. But for the time being, we're more than happy with the name we've got."

RELATED CONTENT

Target ... The Band

Cranford & Sons

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBGPatrick.

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