Harold Winley sang "Love Potion No. 9" and other hits with the R&B group The Clovers in the 1950s, but now the 80-year-old says another group is trying to keep him from performing using the band's name.
Winley says he was in his teens when he and four other singers started performing as The Clovers in the Washington area. The R&B group played at Washington's Apollo Theater, eventually signed with Atlantic Records and celebrated when "Love Potion No. 9" became their biggest hit in 1959.
"It was great," said Winley, who now lives in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. "We didn't make no money but we had a lot of fun."
The group's success fell off in the 1960s, however. And that's when things got more complicated, leading to a lawsuit filed earlier this year in federal court in Washington.
Winley and another band mate, Harold Lucas, went on to perform with separate musical groups that called themselves The Clovers, and Harold Lucas' group eventually trademarked the name in the 1980s. Lucas died in 1994, but two of the men he trademarked the group's name with continue to use it when performing.
Winley says the group has threatened venues who have booked him when he's used The Clovers' name, forcing organizers to cancel his shows at least twice. That's why he filed his lawsuit.
"It is our position that when people come to see The Clovers they expect that they are going to see Harold Winley or another original member of The Clovers," said Winley's lawyer, Brad Newberg.
Winley says his bass voice is still strong and he'd like to perform as much as possible. But if he goes on stage, he said, "I want to go on stage as The Clovers." He recently tried filing a trademark application for "The Original Clovers featuring Harold Winley" but was denied.
A lawyer representing the two men who hold The Clovers trademark did not return several telephone calls and an e-mail requesting comment. The attorney previously filed a court document asking that the lawsuit be dismissed.
The song "Love Potion No. 9" was written and composed by Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber, the duo behind many of Elvis Presley's biggest hits. The lighthearted song is about a man looking for love who visits a gypsy, who says "what you need is Love Potion Number Nine." He starts "kissing everything in sight" until he kisses a police officer, who the singer explains "broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine."
After The Clovers' version rocketed up the charts in 1959, the song was covered by various groups and singers, most notably England's The Searchers, who had a hit version of it a few years later. The Clovers' version was later featured in George Lucas' iconic 1973 film "American Graffiti." It was later the title of a 1992 Sandra Bullock romantic comedy.
Charles Stevens, one of the group members from Lucas' Clovers, called the lawsuit "frivolous." Stevens, who lives in Washington, said Winley is not an "original Clover" because he didn't start with the group until the late 1940s. Lucas and three others were performing as the Four Clovers before Winley joined.
"All of a sudden he wants to come back and be The Clovers again," Stevens said, adding that his group has had the trademark for decades and now performs two or three times a year.
He says he doesn't mind if Winley uses the name "The Clovers," but he has a problem with the word "original." Stevens says his group had a former agent who may have called venues that booked Winley, but Stevens says he never personally blocked Winley from booking shows.
Both sides have agreed to mediation and will meet Monday to see if they can work things out.
Said Stevens: "We really do want to get this behind us."