Former Wild Cherry Member Chooses Funky Career Path
IP Law & Business - May 25, 2006
By John Bringardner

At an age when most aspiring attorneys are cramming for their 1L exams, Mark Avsec, now a 51-year-old associate at Cleveland's Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, was part of a one-hit wonder.

Avsec played keyboards for Wild Cherry, a rock band best known for the 1976 hit "Play That Funky Music." The song launched Avsec's music career -- he went on to win an American Music Award and received two Grammy nominations for other work. It also made headlines in 1990, when Avsec's former band filed a copyright suit against rapper Vanilla Ice for sampling the chorus.

But it was an earlier copyright suit, filed in 1980, after Wild Cherry had shriveled up, that changed the course of Avsec's career. Avsec and his new bandmate Donnie Iris scored a hit that year with "Ah! Leah!" It reached No. 29 on the Billboard charts before a disgruntled musician claimed that the song's background vocals ripped him off.

"The suit was completely frivolous, but to my surprise, the thing was moving ahead," Avsec recalls. After more than three years of litigation and a last-minute change of counsel, a jury in federal district court in Detroit ruled in favor of Avsec and Iris.

Winning didn't wash away the cynicism.

"I was very bitter after the suit," Avsec says. Most of the money his hit song earned went into legal fees.

"It was a real unfortunate circumstance," says Richard Rassel, a partner at Detroit's Butzel Long who defended Avsec. "We were brought in four or five months before the trial, and it was a full-blown trial with experts, the whole nine yards."

The ordeal prompted Avsec to get into the law business. But first he had to finish college: Avsec became a 32-year-old freshman at Cleveland State University, where he went on to earn his law degree.

Now, at Benesch Friedlander, about 40 percent of Avsec's work is music-related, representing Sony Records and Wild Cherry's own BEMA Music. He also handles copyright, trademark and licensing work, and still finds time to play about a dozen shows a year with Iris.

Avsec has put his recording studio skills to use, producing his firm's legal podcast. Each week a Benesch attorney is interviewed for the podcast, available on the firm's Web site and iTunes. Avsec also wrote the theme music.

His latest work might not win him a Grammy, but Avsec's just hoping for a few clients.