Former Band drummer takes on Cingular ad

Levon Helm, former drummer for the Band, is suing a Manhattan advertising firm over the use of the band’s signature song, “The Weight,” in a television commercial.

In a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in December, Helm asks for information about BBDO Worldwide’s profits from the commercial for Cingular cell phone service and for financial compensation for the use of his performance.

Helm’s attorney, Michael Pinsky, said state law prohibits the use of a celebrity’s voice or likeness for profit without his prior written permission.

Pinsky said Helm received a royalty payment from the use of “The Weight” in the commercial, but doesn’t feel he has been adequately compensated.

According to an annual royalty statement from EMI Records, which owns Capitol Records, the Band’s record label, Helm took home one-fifth of half of the licensing fee that BBDO paid to Capitol for the right to use the song, Pinsky said.

A BBDO spokesman declined comment.

“It was just a complete, damn sellout of the Band — its reputation, its music; just as much disrespect as you could pour on Richard and Rick’s tombstones,” said Helm, 66.

Richard Manuel, vocalist and piano player for the Band, died in 1986. Rick Danko, who played bass, died in 1999.

The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

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