Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Year, and the Concert, that Changed My Life

I was sorry, but not surprised, to hear that Cleveland's Record Revolution (or Record Rev, as we used to call it) was closing. If you are a Rush fan, that store is part of the history of how the band became famous in Cleveland, and went on to become famous in other cities. As many of you know, I was the music director at WMMS-FM in the spring of 1974, and a music industry friend of mine (Canadian record promoter Bob Roper) sent me a copy of an album (they were all vinyl albums back then) by a Toronto-based band called Rush. It was on their own label, Moon Records, and Roper told me his label wasn't going to sign them. But he thought they had potential. I listened to their album, fell in love with the song "Working Man," and ran downstairs (my office was upstairs) to tell the deejay on the air to play it. 

I'd be lying if said I knew at that moment that Rush would become famous. To be honest, I was concerned that listeners would be confused by their name. At that time, there was also Mahogany Rush, a Montreal-based band whose new album, "Child of the Novelty," was getting a lot of airplay at WMMS. No, they didn't sound similar (in fact, listeners thought Rush sounded like Led Zeppelin), but the audience knew Mahogany Rush and they didn't know anything about these three guys from Toronto. Neither did I. And when WMMS started getting requests for "Working Man" (a song I thought would resonate with the Cleveland audience), listeners soon wanted to buy the album, especially once we began playing other tracks, like "Finding My Way" and "Here Again."

The store in Cleveland that was known for carrying records from other countries, or "imports," was Record Revolution. I contacted Rush's management-- they were shocked to find that someone in Cleveland had championed Rush's album, especially since they weren't getting much airplay in their home city of Toronto. We arranged to get some copies of that Moon import down to Record Revolution, and chances are, if you lived in the Cleveland area and still have one of those original copies, you bought it there.  (I still have mine, but it's the one that Bob Roper sent me. And it will always be special to me.)

John Rutsey was still with the band when Rush first played a gig in Cleveland. He and I didn't speak much, as I recall; in fact, the guys were all quite shy-- and probably still amazed that they had fans in Cleveland. But then, in mid-August, Neil joined the band, and Rush got a contract with Mercury Records. This now-well known August 1974 photo shows me, holding that first Rush album which was hurried re-issued on Mercury. (I still have the dress, and I still have the Mercury album-- I was absolutely stunned to find the band had dedicated it to me.) Some folks have commented that the guys in Rush looked very serious, but actually, they were exhausted (and somewhat unaccustomed to having photos taken for the trade publications). From left to right, Matt the Cat (one of the deejays). Neil, Geddy, Alex, me, my boss John Gorman, and Mercury Records local promoter Don George.

Not long afterward, on August 26, 1974, Rush performed at the Agora Ballroom, on East 24th Street in Cleveland, for a WMMS Monday Night Concert. (Tickets were $3.00 in advance, and $3.50 at the door; those were the days!) The guys returned to the Agora again in mid-December to perform again, and they introduced a couple of the new tunes they were working on, now that Neil was beginning to take on some of the songwriting duties. But in late August, they were mostly doing the material they had performed with John Rutsey. Neil, being a great drummer even then, made some of those songs his own, complete with a drum solo when they played "Working Man."

It was a very enthusiastic crowd, as I recall. And I was so proud of Rush. But here is something else I didn't expect: before launching into "Working Man," Geddy paused, looked in my direction, and gave me a shout-out. I know why he did it. There had been some rumors flying that someone else had really been the one to champion the band. The guys, who were famously loyal even back then, wanted to let everyone know that they gave me the credit, not anyone else. And for years after, they made sure I was acknowledged (and thanked) whenever they were interviewed about how their career took off in the States.

1974 was a difficult year for me in many ways. I was very lonely in Cleveland, I didn't fit in well with most of my colleagues, and I was seriously underpaid (the men on the staff made much more than the women, as was the custom back then, sad to say). But when I became friendly with Rush, it led to so many other changes, including my being hired by Mercury Records in New York (briefly) as a talent scout in 1975. But most importantly, it led to a friendship that endures even now. I've seen many Rush concerts over the years, in many cities. But I will never forget the first time I saw them play when Neil had joined the band, the first time it became apparent that Rush was going to become a major force in Cleveland... and soon in other cities. 

I am sorry that Record Revolution is closing, as I said, and I am sorry that I am no longer in radio-- I miss being on the air every day of my life. But I am grateful that I am still in touch with Bob Roper, and with Geddy (and his sister), and with Alex. No, we don't talk as often as we once did, but we are still in touch, and I am also still in touch with several of the folks in their management, as well as with several close friends of Neil (who I also miss every day of my life). It has been a remarkable journey, from Cleveland to New York to Washington DC back home to Boston, and many other cities along the way. I've met so many wonderful fans, and I have so many wonderful memories. And it all started with a Canadian record promoter doing a good deed in April 1974, during a year that changed my life.     

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Donna! Thanks so much for your recollections during that time. One interesting tidbit that I picked from that summer was that Record Revolution had the band down to the store to sign records during a meet and greet. They even signed that wall as was the tradition when bands came through the store. Do you happen to recall when Rush came down to Coventry to do the signing?