Friday, November 11, 2011

Springfield’s Jaxx Rock Club Sues Gunnar Nelson, Alleging Slander

(By Tom Jackman, Washington Post, August 31, 2011)

When it comes to heavy metal and hair bands, you just can’t top Jaxx, the Springfield club that has hosted more ear-bending, mind-warping hard rock shows than any other in the D.C. area. Owner Jay Nedry is the longtime owner, he loves the music, and he brings in bands like Jackyl, Kix and Nelson even when they don’t make big money, just to keep the rock rockin’. He’s also been a longtime supporter of local headbangers.  So Nedry was mighty shocked when he read on last year that Gunnar Nelson, half of the brother act Nelson, had slammed the daylights out of Nedry for a show two years earlier. “Jaxx was probably the low point of my career,” Nelson told writer Kimberly Reed, and he proceeded to claim that Nedry didn’t pay the band, ran out the back door with the proceeds, and is known for ripping off bands.

Nedry has responded with a defamation suit against Nelson and Reed, filed Aug. 18 in Fairfax County Circuit Court. He filed documents from Nelson’s own records that show he did pay the band $4,000; Nedry’s attorney notes that no band gets on stage without being paid first; and Nelson never made any subsequent demand for any unpaid fees.  Nelson, both the band and the singer-songwriter Gunnar, are not backing down from Gunnar’s remarks, such as, “Jaxx has gotten into a habit of booking national bands who don’t know any better, they might not come back again but he gets to rip them off once”and that Nedry “didn’t pay us.”

“That’s just an outright lie,” said William B. Crockett, Nedry’s attorney and longtime friend from Northern Virginia.  Jaxx, in the basement of a Rolling Road strip mall next to an excellent Afghan kabob place, has been banging heads since Bad Company opened it up in 1994. John Entwistle from the Who, John Paul Jones from Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat, Warrant, Peter Frampton, Twisted Sister, Molly Hatchet — the list of rock’s greats and once-greats fill up its history. Great White was scheduled to play there the night after their fireworks torched a Rhode Island club, killing 100 people. The gig was canceled.

The Nelson twins — sons of Ricky Nelson, grandsons of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson — had played Jaxx many times, and Nedry had become friends with them. They were lined up again to play in September 2008, for a fee of $7,500, and here’s where a crucial event did or didn’t happen.  Ten days before the Nelson gig, according to Nedry, only 16 tickets had been sold. Nedry claims he called the band’s tour manager, Obi Steinman, and that Steinman “agreed to reduce the contract price to $4,000.”  Steinman now says that never happened. In a sworn statement filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, where Nedry first sued, Steinman states, “At no time did I agree to reduce the price for Nelson’s performance.”

Nedry’s suit states that he paid the Nelson brothers $2,000 in cash and then gave them a $2,000 check. Nelson’s own records, produced in the lawsuit, confirm this. Nedry believed all was well, though only 75 people showed up for the concert. He never heard any complaints from Nelson or got any bill for unpaid fees.  Then came the August 2010 article on by Reed, the “D.C. Concerts Examiner.” is not the same as the Washington Examiner or other publications of the Clarity Digital Group empire. It is an opportunity for local citizens to post articles in their area of passion or expertise.  Justin Jimenez, a senior director of marketing for, said the local Examiners are carefully selected after an in-depth selection process, a review of their writing samples and a background check. But after that, their articles are “written and posted solely by the authors themselves.”

So Reed did a telephone interview with Gunnar Nelson and opened her article with the hypothetical, “Imagine your boss ran out the door with your paycheck. Imagine that happened two years ago and you are still owed that money.”  But Reed never called Nedry to see if the claim was true, which is what actual journalists do. She is a defendant in the lawsuit, and declined comment.  Reed proceeded to misspell Nedry’s name in every reference, after a quick visit to the Jaxx Web site, and then quoted Nelson’s lengthy blast. “Jaxx was a nightmare,” Nelson said. “I highly recommend that no one goes to Jaxx, ever. That club owner still owes me 8 grand. . . . Jay Nedrey ducked out the back door with the bar til under his arm while we were on stage. . . . and he didn’t pay us. I actually got ripped off playing Jaxx on my birthday. Jaxx was probably the lowpoint of my career. . . . I would rather play a community fair for free . . . than get ripped off playing another club like Jaxx.”

Nedry was flabbergasted. His attorney sent a letter to Reed, who pulled down the story and replaced it with a note which said the article was “retracted completely and unqualified.”  Nedry sued Nelson and Reed in Los Angeles earlier this year, but it was dismissed because Nelson doesn’t live in Los Angeles and there was no jurisdiction there. So the suit was refiled recently in Fairfax.  Crockett pointed out that if Nelson didn’t get paid, they would never have taken the stage. There’s an old show business saying, “No dough, no show,” he said, but Nelson played their Jaxx show. He also pointed out that Nelson never claimed they weren’t paid until the Examiner article.

Vicki Greco, Nelson’s Los Angeles attorney, said the band played because “they took it upon Mr. Nedry’s good word that they would get paid. There was no reason to believe he wouldn’t be good for his word.”  She said there was no subsequent demand for payment because the band wasn’t interested in the trouble of going to small-claims court for $3,500. Greco acknowledged that the claim that they weren’t paid at all isn’t exactly accurate but that there was a debt outstanding and that Nelson’s statements are true. (Nelson said in his sworn declaration that Reed misquoted him about the “8 grand.”)

Crockett said Nelson’s statements about Nedry were still defamatory, whether the band was playing for $7,500 or $4,000. And if Nedry had a reputation of ripping bands off, Crockett said, why did Nelson agree to play in the first place?  “You wonder why he would say that,” Crockett said of Nelson’s diatribe, which ended a longtime friendship between Nedry and the twins. “Jay will stand up and tell anybody, ‘If I don’t have my good name, I don’t have anything.’ ”  And to preserve his good name, he is going to court.

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