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Cher, Dolly Parton, and hundreds more also lose tapes in label fire

The plot thickens

Last week several artists including Hole, Tupac, Tom Petty, and Soundgarden filed a lawsuit against Universal Music Group (UMG) over the loss of original master recordings in a 2008 fire at the record company’s storage vaults. Now the New York Times has revealed that a further 700 artists also lost masters in the blaze.

Cher, Dolly Parton, Weezer, and Neil Young have now been named among those affected along with several hundred more including The Who, Crosby & Nash, Peter Frampton, The Damned, The Wallflowers, Busta Rhymes, and Limp Bizkit. Canadian rock star Bryan Adams, who recently contacted the record label to discuss a re-release of his 80s album Reckless, told the Times that UMG had almost none of the original recordings. “If you were doing an archaeological dig there,” he said, “you would have concluded that it was almost as if none of it had ever happened.”

Courtney Love spoke of the uncertainty among artists this week, saying: “no one knows for sure yet, specifically what is gone from their estate, their catalog. But for once in a horrible way people believe me about the state of the music business which I would not wish on my worst enemy. Our culture has been devastated, meanwhile UMG is online with cookie recipes and pop, as if nothing happened. It’s so horrible.” In response to the incident, UMG’s senior director of vault operations at the time of the fire, Randy Aronson, said that “decades of slapdash inventory practices,” and a failure to invest in adequate recording procedures had resulted in a bewildering “discographical puzzle”. 

“UMG knew what labels’ masters had been stored in the vault,” Aronson added, “they know, broadly, which artists’ recordings had been on the shelves. But the knowledge got fuzzier when it came down to individual albums or songs, especially given the presence in the vault of an indeterminate number of masters containing outtakes, demos and other recordings that were never commercially released.”

An investigation to retrieve backups of the lost recordings, dubbed Project Phoenix, is thought to have successfully recovered a fifth of the lost material. A second investigation is now underway for those that remain lost.