Rush is a Band

A blog devoted to RUSH:
Neil Peart, Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson

Thu, Nov 21, 2019

Rush history 101: Donna Halper, Cleveland and WMMS

Thu, Nov 13, 2008@10:04AM | comments

This past weekend Rush fan, photographer and artist John Kane hosted a Rush-themed art exhibit at The Front Street Coffee House in Salem, MA titled Workin' Them Angels: Rush through the Camera Eye. Several members of this site were lucky enough to attend and by all accounts it was a huge success. Outside of the incredible photographs and artwork, the highlight of the evening was the speech given by Donna Halper - the woman credited with discovering Rush. She discussed her career in radio and how she discovered Rush as well as describing her special relationship with the band with whom she is still close to this day. She included some cryptic remarks about the band having a surprise in store for us but did not go into any details. This goes along with the rumor I'd been hearing that the band is working as well as considering a 2009 tour. Hopefully we'll get some concrete information from the band in the coming weeks. Donna also decided to become a member of RIAB and even left a fewcomments in a couple of recent posts including this one:

First, if we can get RushCon to Cleveland, I'd be delighted to help in any way. I have some unfinished business in Cleveland-- a certain former boss of mine had some very unfair things to say about me and about the band way back when... and it would be kind of amusing to go back and take part in a celebration of all things Rush. I am not comfortable discussing the incident on a blog, but sometime, we'll chat and I'll tell you the inside story of how the RRHOF got to be located in Cleveland, and other stuff like that...

Don't get me wrong-- I am not bitter, I have no scores to settle, but I do have some memories-- among the parting words from the manager of the station I worked at (WMMS) when he found that I was leaving to work in New York was that I would never succeed in broadcasting, and this person basically tried to take credit for Rush's success!!! Rush found out about it, and they stood up for me -- they said that it was me, not any other person-- and in fact, they did a concert at the Agora (I have a tape of it) where they made a point of doing a shout-out to me and thanking me for what I had done!!! I never asked them to do that-- they just did it. That is the kind of loyalty these guys have, and that is why I will be loyal to them to the end.

#22 - Posted 11/10/08 @9:31PM by donnahalper

Regarding RushCon, she's referring to how we learned late last week that the folks at RushCon are considering alternate locations for the convention this coming year. Since its inception it's been held in Rush's hometown of Toronto, but this year they are considering Cleveland, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles as alternate venues. The issue is up for a vote on the RushCon website and Cleveland is currently way out in the lead with nearly one third of the votes to the bewilderment of many it would seem. Personally I think it would be only fitting for Cleveland to be the chosen location because of its important role in the history of Rush, so I'm not surprised at all that it's winning. But after reading several comments on the various messageboards and on this blog, I've become aware that a lot of Rush fans have no idea who Donna Halper is and how she and Cleveland rock fans played such an important role in the annals of Rush history. A lot of folks are asking the question Why RushCon in Cleveland? Well, to put it simply it would not be a stretch to say that - outside of Toronto - there is no city more important in the history of Rush than Cleveland. To make my argument and set the record straight, here's an abbreviated bit of Rush history for you (taken mostly from Donna's own account).

Back in 1974 Donna Halper became the music director for Cleveland's groundbreaking FM radio station WMMS. While working in Boston Donna had developed a good relationship with several record promoters as she loved to play music from unknown bands and for some reason she had a particular affinity for Canadian bands. So Canadian record promoters would often send her recordings. One day Donna got a package from Bob Roper of A&M Records of Canada. In the package was an album from a Toronto band (put out on their own label Moon Records) named Rush that no Canadian labels seemed to be interested in but that Roper thought had promise. Donna listened to the album and was particularly struck by the songs Working Man and Finding My Way although didn't think much of the single In the Mood. Like many who first listened to Rush back then, Donna could hear a lot of similarities to Led Zeppelin - especially with the singer Geddy Lee. WMMS DJ Denny Sanders agreed with Donna that this band definitely had something so he played the track Working Man. This was the first airplay Rush ever received in the US. Almost immediately the phones lit up with people asking when the new Led Zeppelin album was coming out! Denny was forced to explain that it was not Led Zeppelin but a Canadian band called Rush. Everybody wanted to know how they could get a copy of the album. Over the next few days the popularity of Working Man in Cleveland skyrocketed so WMMS added Finding My Way, Here Again and even In the Mood to their playlist. Requests from record stores regarding how they could get copies of the album began to pour in. So Donna contacted Rush's management - Ray Daniels and Vic Wilson who formed Anthem Records in 1977 - to see if they could get some copies of the album to these stores. The big import record store in Cleveland at the time was Record Revolution (it's still around too - just a couple of miles from my house) and they sold out their supply quickly. While all this was going on, local concert promoter Jules Belkin couldn't help but notice all the buzz the band was getting. Donna put him in touch with the band's management and before you knew it Donna became the conduit for getting Rush music into the stores and getting the band to come to Cleveland for a concert. So on August 26, 1974 Rush played a show at the historic Cleveland Agora that was recorded for FM broadcast. Donna introduced the band at this show and Rush acknowledged her role in jumpstarting their career and thanked her for believing in them. This was not Rush's first show in the US but it probably was their first major headlining show (the picture at the top of this post is from one of their 1974 Agora shows). Bootlegs of this show are the stuff of legend these days and highly sought after by traders. Donna went on to befriend the guys in the band, becoming a self-described big sister of sorts and remains friends with them to this day. The rest is history as they say. Rush dedicated their first 2 albums to Donna which tells you how much respect they have for her and her role in them getting their big break.

So basically without Donna Halper, WMMS and Cleveland rock fans, Rush may have been delegated to the Toronto club concert circuit for the remainder of their career rather than selling 35-million-plus albums worldwide and becoming an international rock icon. As a Clevelander I'm extremely proud of the city's role in Rush history and eternally grateful to Donna Halper for giving them their break. Thanks Donna!