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October 1, 2014

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A thunderstruck John Payne takes ‘Rock Vault’ to court

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

John Payne and Robin McAuley perform with other band members during rehearsal for “Raiding the Rock Vault” in the LVH Theater at LVH on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

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As predictable as a rock fan shouting “Free Bird!” at a Skynyrd show, the dispute between John Payne and his former mates at “Raiding the Rock Vault” has wound up in court.

Payne has filed a lawsuit, dated July 1, in Clark County District Court against the current producers of the musical he helped conceive. Also named in the complaint is LVH and Westgate Resorts, which on July 1 took over ownership of the hotel in which the production is showcased.

That Payne sought a legal avenue in the wake of his departure from the show was of little surprise to anyone involved with the production; the first published report surfaced Wednesday in The Hollywood Reporter.

The 16-page complaint identifies 11 claims against LVH, Westgate and the production. The document does not specify a single monetary figure sought by Payne, but even the very lowest estimation would exceed $100,000. He is seeking legal fees in addition to compensation.

The complaint states Payne and Grammy Award-winning producer David Kirshenbaum are the co-writers of the show, having drafted the storyline in 2011 and copyrighted the script in February 2013. The show has been playing regularly at LVH (and now Westgate) since March 2013. Payne was suspended in May and fired in June by the show’s producer “Sir” Harry Cowell. The two were the chief spokesmen for the show from its arrival in Las Vegas and, before the suspension, had been friends for two decades.

The complaint does outline what seems to be the event that led to Payne’s ouster, as he says that he had been directed to sign over his ownership interest in the production and his royalties. His claim is that he signed that agreement under duress and that the agreement was not enough to keep him in the show.

Payne is seeking compensation in the form of continuing royalties related to the show. The “Rock Vault” managing company, Rock Vault Tours, and he had agreed that Payne would receive 2.5 percent of box office revenue until operating costs for the show were recouped. That percentage was to increase to 3.5 percent after those costs were met.

Payne was paid royalties as the show’s co-director, which were 2 percent of net profits until the show’s costs were recouped and 3 percent after. Payne says he has never received a royalty payment from “Rock Vault” and also claims copyright infringement stemming from the rights he originally secured just before the show opened.

Payne also is claiming the defendants breached the provision in the contract that paid him $1,000 for every “Rock Vault” show at LVH, including those that have been performed since he was terminated. Payne played bass and was one of the band’s lead singers, along with its de facto frontman. The show has since replaced Payne with Hugh McDonald, one-time bassist for Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.

The complaint asks for compensation related to the alleged use of Payne’s image in signage and promotional material after he had been terminated. He also is suing for slander, targeting statements (not listed) by Cowell, who Payne says has misrepresented the reason for Payne’s termination.

In the meantime, the show has continued to perform its regular schedule under the new Westgate ownership. Long the darling of Trip Advisor (where it is always highly ranked and often No. 1 among Las Vegas productions), the show’s race through rock history through the 1950s to the end of the '80s has been given a vote of confidence by new owner David Siegel.

The Westgate overlord concedes that he is not a rock ’n’ roll fan, favoring Liberace over Led Zeppelin, and said that he recognized just one song when he first saw the show this year, “The ‘Rocky’ song ‘Eye of the Tiger,’" Siegel said the day he took over the show. “It’s not my music, but I understand why people like the show.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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