Here is the continuation of my conversation with Ron Ryan, which I began in my previous post. In Part One, we discussed his early involvement with Dave Clark and how he began writing songs for the band. In Part Two he expands on his claim that Clark went back on his word and failed to give Ryan credit or compensation for his songs. A lesson in protecting intellectual property!
Me: Initially Clark gave you his word that you would be given songwriting credit on the songs you wrote for The Dave Clark Five, yes? And later you say he reneged on it?
RR: We had an agreement that I would write the songs and give Dave 50% of them (which was his idea). I said at the time that it was a deal that not many songwriters would go ahead with, but as we were friends, and I am not a greedy man, I said OK. I thought that 50% of something was better than 100% of nothing. If you look at some early DC5 songs you will see they are credited to “Clark/Ryan” like “Sometimes” that Oliver Reed recorded. But when the band got famous Dave wanted to drop my name as his ego was growing by the day, and he said he wanted him and Mike Smith to be seen as the John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the DC5. I did not like the idea, as they were my songs!
Me: But you didn’t fight back?
RR: As Dave made clear to me, I was in no position to argue, which was true because up to that point I had not received one penny and was married with a baby on the way. I was living in a damp flat that had mushrooms growing in the bathroom. I had my back to the wall, so I went along with it with a heavy heart.
At one time I had not received a penny in my promised 50% royalties on my songs, but Dave said if I went along with him and Mike putting their names on my songs he would also give me 50% of the records’ “mechanical rights” [the royalties for record sales paid to the artist]. It was only a small amount per record, but on a million-selling record it was well worth picking up. But sadly I did not get this either.
Me: I’ve read that you initially didn’t want to sue Clark because the band members were close friends of yours, who were salaried by Clark as paid sidemen. So any legal action you took could effectively keep the band off the road for a time and financially hit them pretty hard. But Clark found out about your complaint and brought the matter to a head. Is that the sequence of events?
RR: No, I started a case against Dave with a Solicitor. But I was “persuaded” to settle out of court for a smaller amount than what I was entitled to. I’ll say no more about that.
Me: How much income do you think you’ve given up in lost royalties? “Because” was an international best seller, which has been rerecorded by many artists.
RR: I dread to think how much, but suffice it to say it was a lot of money. It did do one good thing. A lot of song writers at the time like Ray Davies from the Kinks and Raymond Froggatt—who wrote the DC5 UK hit, “The Red Balloon”—knew about what happened to me, and it put them on their guard so they did not get cheated the same way.
Me: Glad to hear that the word got around about your situation. Are you out of legal options by now?
RR: I don't know, but I don't have the money to do anything.
Me: Pardon the obvious question, but do you wish you had made a written agreement with Dave Clark early on? This is a “business lesson from rock” that I want all my readers to learn no matter what kind of intellectual property they may be involved in.
RR: Yes, I wished that I had a contract, but these were the early days in British Rock and Pop, and everything was new. I knew that managers and agents would rip off young people whose main interest was in making music and records, and we all expected to be taken advantage of to some extent. But Dave Clark was a friend and I trusted him. And where we came from in North London a handshake and somebody’s word was their bond.
Me: I’ve read that Clark forbade band members to have anything to do with you after you confronted him for not keeping his word. But after the band broke up, I assume you resumed a relationship with some of them?
RR: No, Dave forbade them to contact me in any way, or else!! And he had some very powerful friends. I was upset that none did. After all, they knew that I had written songs that had got them on the charts and kept their weekly wages going. But many years later I heard Mike was in a bad way in the hospital and perhaps had not long to live. Also, he did not have many visitors. I was told he would be very glad to see me. So although it was a long way to go and I was still getting over a bad accident where I broke my leg, I visited him a few times. I also took my guitar because although Mike could not sing anymore—he could only speak in a whisper—he loved hearing me sing and play his favorite songs.
Me: I’ve heard that just before Mike Smith did a solo tour of America, Clark refused to let him use his association with The Dave Clark Five as part of his tour promotion. John Briggs, the DC5 guru who ran the fan club and edited the fanzine, said he was with Smith when he got the call from Clark telling Smith he’d sue him if he mentioned the DC5 in his publicity. Can you confirm that too?
RR: I was not there so I can't comment on it, apart from saying I heard the same thing.
Me: If true, that’s certainly not unprecedented as a business move, yet Mike was still a close friend of Dave’s then, wasn’t he? And this was Mike’s opportunity to finally build a following for his own career, right?
RR: Since Mike was getting his name on the songs—many of them my songs, by the way—as co-writer with Clark and getting 50% of the royalties, he was getting to be quite wealthy. So I presume he felt that it was best to go along with Dave.
Me: Did you know that John Briggs confirms just about everything you’ve said about the band and your involvement in the songs? He says he has a book on the way, co-authored with DC5 guitarist Len Davidson, which will blow up the Dave Clark mythology.
RR: John Briggs knows more about the DC5 than any person outside the band, including me. He knows where all the bodies are buried and he’s as honest as the day is long. John is fearless. He did a long interview with me in an American magazine called Ugly Things (Issue #29). When it hit the streets Dave went mad. I thought he would come after me, and I was ready, but for some reason he went after John instead.
Me: Do you have any insight into why Clark was so reluctant to make the DC5 music catalog available for decades? It makes no sense that as a savvy businessman he would kiss off a fortune by sitting on those masters so long.
RR: Not a clue. You would have to ask Dave that.
Me: Dave Clark seems to be a man of many secrets. Any comment on that?
RR: No comment.
Me: How did you feel when you saw or heard about the DC5’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
RR: I was happy for them. Mike [who had died a few months earlier] deserved to be there. Not so sure about Dave himself.
Me: Have you come to any personal peace about this whole process—including both the financial loss and the lack of acknowledgment for your artistry—55 years later?
RR: It was bad at the time, but one great strength I have is that I don't worry about things I can't do anything about. I helped someone I thought was a friend and got stabbed in the back. I'm not the first to be treated like that and not the last. I don't hate Dave Clark. Ok, he made £millions, but what a way to make money. I wonder how he sleeps at night? Meanwhile, I have had a great life and I’m happy. I wonder if he feels the same.
Me: So would it be accurate to say you feel ripped off by Dave but not totally embittered by it? You don’t seem consumed by it like other people I’ve spoken to about intellectual property loss. You have even defended Clark on occasion, regarding his musicianship for example.
RR: I have seen too many people in this business and outside in other businesses consumed by what was done to them. The way I look at it is I was young and I trusted someone I regarded as a friend, someone who I helped get his band off the ground. I am not the first and certainly not the last to be treated like that. But do I lay awake at night worrying about it? Never have, never will. What's done is done and cannot be undone. Yesterday an old friend came to see me who knows my history with Dave, and said, “You must really hate him.” I said no, but you reap what you sow. You come into this world with nothing and go out the same way, so I am not bitter.
Me: Assuming Clark did everything you say he did—and cheated you out of millions in the process—how do you think he justified it in his own mind? For instance, he would obviously have known you wrote “Because” by yourself, while he refused to include your name even in the song credits. And you say he promised you monetary compensation that he didn’t deliver. I’ve never heard him accused of being a sociopath, so he had to rationalize it SOME way. I know this would be speculation on your part, but how do you think he justified it?
RR: Who knows what goes on in people’s heads? What I do know is “being economical with the truth” came very easy to Dave. He lied about his age (he was born in 1939) and he always boasted that before he got famous he worked as a “stuntman” in films. Actually he worked sometimes as an Extra. The lies just constantly tripped off his tongue. I think he believed what he said, and as the band got more and more famous his ego grew in leaps and bounds.
Me: Anything you would like to say to Dave Clark now, if you met him?
RR: If I met up with Dave now, I don't know what I would say. I think I would listen to what he said first. He just might want to unload some guilt like Mike did when I visited him in hospital shortly before he passed.
Me: What did Mike say to you at that time? Sounds like he had regrets.
RR: I will say that yes, Mike had some regrets just like we all have regrets in retrospect. But personal subjects he broached I will keep to myself. I am glad I got some time to spend with him before he passed. While laying in bed most of the days for years he had some musical ideas in his head, but because he could only move his left arm a little and could only speak in a whisper, I promised him that when he got out of hospital I would gladly be his hands (to play piano) and voice (to sing the songs) so he could get them down—which made him very happy. Sadly he passed shortly after leaving hospital, so that was not to be.
Me: I don’t want this to sound like Dave Clark bashing, so we should remind the reader that Clark was a brilliant businessman in many ways, which was a rare quality for a musician of that era. I have heard he scored a better royalty rate on his records than The Beatles did on theirs and maintained ownership of the DC5 recordings throughout—which was no small achievement. He was also a capable drummer. And he fronted one of the top British Invasion bands to hit America and beyond in the mid-60s. They were a terrific live show, and they never mailed it in. You and I are both fans of their music. So is there anything you want to say in conclusion about them? Like what you most admired about the group?
RR: There were some great players in the band in the persons of Mike [Smith], Len [Davidson], and Den [Payton]. And they recorded some great ground-breaking songs. I am pleased to say some of them were mine.
There you have it. If you’ve read the entire interview, are you now persuaded that Ron Ryan was the composer of many DC5 songs, including “Bits and Pieces,” “Because,” and “Anyway You Want It”? Let us know in the Comment thread.
Dave Clark, if you’re out there and would like to respond, I’d be delighted to post your side of the story too. I was a big fan of your band when you were touring the world and burning up the charts. I believe that it’s always worth hearing the other side of a dispute. So far I don’t believe you’ve publicly responded to the claims of your former friend, who’s been making these assertions for 55 years and counting.