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Charity Record Brings Warmth And Lawsuit

November 30, 1987

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ ″A Very Special Christmas″ should represent the best of pop music and the holiday spirit, with stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Sting, Run-D.M.C. and John Cougar Mellencamp singing to benefit the mentally handicapped.

But there’s an ugly flip side to the charity project. Two aspiring record producers have filed lawsuits here and in Indianapolis seeking $10 million, claiming their ideas were stolen to produce the LP.

The album is likely to be a million-seller and is already on Billboard’s Top 100 list. It is the latest in a series of charity records to hit the charts in recent years, including the Grammy winners ″We Are the World″ in 1985 for the hungry, and ″That’s What Friends Are For″ in 1986 for AIDS research.

Profits will go to the Special Olympics, which promotes opportunities for the mentally handicapped through athletic events. The Washington-based organization is overseen by former Peace Corps chief R. Sargent Shriver and his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

″Everybody who did a song took a day off from the record business to make this,″ said A&M Records producer Jimmy Iovine, who donated five months to the project.

But Jon Lyons and M. Scott Sotebeer allege in lawsuits filed in August and October that they had their own creative and marketing ideas for an all-star Special Olympics album and they were stolen by A&M and Special Olympics officials.

The two further allege that Special Olympics officials sabotaged an agreement to produce their song, ″A Time for Heroes,″ as the official theme of the Summer Special Olympics, held last August in South Bend, Ind.

Frank Blundo, an attorney for the pair, said a federal court suit in Los Angeles alleging unair competition, unlawful interference and slander may be combined with a similar federal lawsuit filed in Indiana.

Defendants are still being served with a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleging breach of implied contract, breach of confidence and conspiracy. Among those named in the suits are A&M, Special Olympics Records, Sargent Shriver, Robert Shriver III, Milt Olin and Jimmy and Vicki Iovine.

Diana Baron, a spokeswoman for A&M said the record company had not been served and had no comment. Shriver would not discuss the lawsuit.

″A Time for Heroes,″ recorded by Meat Loaf, was released on Lyons’ and Sotebeer’s Orpheum Records label after receiving endorsement from the local Special Summer Olympics Committee in Indiana.

However, Special Olympics officials in Washington ordered the song replaced with ″We’re Looking Good″ by composer John Williams, who conducts the Boston Pops.

″It’s true they came to some agreement with the Indiana group, but they had to seek our approval, and they never did,″ said Ted Beitchman of the Special Olympics International in Washington.

″I don’t care if we are painted as the heavies. I think in the long term we will be vindicated,″ said Lyons, a former member of the music group Tommy Tutone.

Sotebeer denied allegations by Special Olympics officials that the two only wanted to make money. ″There was no way we were going to get filthy rich off this,″ he said.

Lyons and Sotebeer concede they expected a career boost if they managed to pull together an all-star charity album. And they acknowledge support for such a project would have necessitated using 30 percent of Orpheum’s revenues from ″A Time for Heroes,″ had it succeeded.

A&M officials say there was nothing unique about the duo’s ideas, which included seeking unreleased or original recordings for a theme LP and asking for donations or discounts from manufacturers and artists.

The 15 artists appearing on ″A Very Special Christmas″ largely donated their talents and royalties on the drawing power of the highly respected Iovine, who has produced such hot groups as the Pretenders and U2.

His wife, attorney Vicki Iovine, has been a past volunteer for the California Special Olympics and is a longtime friend of Robert Shriver III, son of Sargent and Eunice Shriver. Robert Shriver formed Special Olympics Productions as the label for ″Special Christmas.″

″It’s got nothing to do with this album,″ Iovine said of the lawsuit. ″It’s got nothing to do with me.″

Sargent Shriver said he learned of a proposal for a Christmas charity album when he met Iovine for the first time last year in California.

″The truth is, I hadn’t heard about it until he told it to me, and it sounded like a fantastically original idea,″ Shriver recalled. ″I don’t know much about rock ‘n’ roll music, but I’m not so dumb that I couldn’t recognize a good idea.″

Lyons and Sotebeer said they decided in March 1986 to approach A&M Records with a proposal to distribute and market ″A Time for Heroes.″ They also wanted A&M to enter a joint venture for the superstar album project.

A&M chief Herb Alpert was enthusiastic, and the two met with Alpert and A&M vice president of business development Milt Olin in November 1986, resulting in a request from Olin for a deal memorandum, according to their lawsuit. The two men now claim Olin conveyed their marketing plans to Iovine, A&M production chief.

Sotebeer and Lyons heard rumors of the Iovine project and tried with their attorney to meet with Shriver in late November 1986, but Shriver walked out of the meeting and said he would not recognize their agreements, the lawsuit claims.

On Dec. 4, according to the suit, Shriver allegedly called Alpert to discredit Lyons and Sotebeer. Lyons said Shriver referred to him and Sotebeer as ″thieves and carpetbaggers.″ The A&M deal with Orpheum fell through.

Lyons and Sotebeer said it was then that Special Olympics in Washington shut out ″A Time for Heroes″ from any part of the Summer Games ceremony.