April 22, 2010 / 7:01 AM / 10 years ago

Patti Smith rescued from penury by song royalties

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Not every rock ‘n’ roll icon is awash in cash. Some, like rock poetess Patti Smith, have endured hard times fairly recently in their careers.

U.S. rock singer Patti Smith is seen at a book signing event in Melbourne October 10, 2008. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

Smith, receiving a lifetime achievement award in Hollywood on Wednesday from songwriting royalties group ASCAP, recalled how the 1994 death of her husband, punk rocker Fred “Sonic” Smith, left her a widowed mother of two young children.

“I was actually down on my luck,” she said.

“And what helped bail me out and helped me get back to my feet were the ASCAP checks that I got for ‘Because the Night,’” Smith said, referring to her best-known song.

ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, collects royalties on behalf of its member songwriters and copyright holders from public performances, such as on the radio and TV, and in bars, restaurants and concert halls.

Songwriters benefit especially when their songs are covered by other artists. In the case of Smith, whose renown overshadows her record sales, versions of “Because the Night” by co-writer Bruce Springsteen and by folk group 10,000 Maniacs are the gifts that keep on giving.

She said that when she released her first album, “Horses,” in 1975, she knew nothing about royalties.

“I just thought you did your record and that was it. And the first time I got these checks, I said, ‘I already got paid for that song.’ So I’m grateful in good times, and I was very grateful in hard times.”

Smith, who steadfastly denies categorization and especially disdains the sobriquet “Godmother of Punk,” received the Founders Award at ASCAP’s 27th annual pop music awards dinner honoring the writers and publishers of last year’s most-performed songs.

She also sang four songs with her band, including fiery versions of “Because the Night” and “People Have the Power.”

The songwriter of the year award went to Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, who co-wrote five of ASCAP’s biggest hits last year: Britney Spears’ “Circus,” Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold,” Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You,” Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA,” and Flo Rida’s “Right Round.”

Perry thanked Gottwald “for making me rich.”

Jason Mraz won the song of the year award for his ballad “I’m Yours,” which he performed, while rock band the Killers won the Vanguard Award for their work in helping “shape the future of American music.”

Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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