The art of the deal. That is one Pegi Cecconi has practiced over her many decades in the Canadian music business, and few do it better. It is also her favourite role, as she explained over a beer in a recent interview with FYI near the Cabbagetown Toronto HQ of SRO Management/Anthem Entertainment Group, the company for which Cecconi has worked as Vice President for the bulk of her career.
“I’m not creative at all except when it comes to deal-making. I can be creative and I can find money, that is my skill. I’m not artsy, I’m not a musician. I like the money. I don’t like public relations and I don’t really like management. I like managing Rush, though, ‘cos they are very easy to manage. But new groups, phoning up and whining?”
“I love the art of the deal. Ed Glinert once taught me that you have to think outside the box. I don’t ever want to do a deal where someone loses money, ‘cos I don’t want to deal with someone that stupid or that unhappy, or they will steal. My favourite part is business affairs, dealing with the record companies.”
As the long-time right hand for [SRO/Anthem President) Ray Danniels, Cecconi has had a pivotal role in the rise of Rush to the title of ‘world’s biggest cult band.’ For instance, she executive produced the longform DVDs that have become a major revenue stream for the band (and SRO/Anthem).
The fiercely loyal and feisty Cecconi is exactly the kind of business person any artist would love in their corner. She notes that “Rush are as big as they are because of Ray Danniels’ total loyalty. I was brought under that wing. When I fight for fuckin Rush, as far as I’m concerned they’re the Beatles, there’s nothing else. You sit there with people having big stars, and we’d be the pain in the ass- ‘you’re not getting this or that.’ That part was fun. Ray’s thing was I want more so you’d figure out what more you could give them.”
As we lured the reluctant interviewee down memory lane, we got a chuckle out of her anecdote about her first dealings with Ray Danniels and Rush. “I met Ray when I was booking bands at my high school, Roland Michener Secondary School in South Porcupine, Ontario. He was my agent and he used to try to sell me Rush. I'd say’ no way. I can get a four-piece band for the same price as a trio. If Rush had ever played my high school the shit would have been beaten out of them!’
“I started with Ray but he wouldn’t give me a job. My first job was as an agent with Tommy and Vic Wilson, who had the Concept 376 agency. At the time it was on 57 Spadina in Toronto. I had a job working with Cliff Hunt there. I made 60$ a week but I was on commission and I was suddenly making $400. That was good money for 1972.”
I do remember one guy there who’d go ‘women can’t manage bands.’ He’d go through my books and steal my clients. I’d get all the shit schools and the shit bars, but I did OK.”
When Ray Danniels and Vic Wilson partnered to establish SRO in March 1973, Cecconi joined them. “I was there a couple of years, then left for a couple of years,” she explains. “I went to work for Bernie the Attorney [well-known entertainment lawyer Bernie Solomon]. I got hired as a legal secretary and I couldn’t type! Iin those days there were telex machines, and for two years I was just typing up these industry agreements and I had no idea what they meant. They could just as well have been in Greek."
"But after I went back to SRO, I went through all the files in the back room and suddenly a lightbulb went off. I understood sub-publishing and royalties. It was embedded in the brain and I could see the practical purpose of it. I wasn’t very intellectual at all but I could read recording contracts like they were hot gossip magazines. There was a time I could read an 80 page agreement, but now I can’t be bothered with that shit!”
Back in the ‘70s, SRO was one of the first entertainment companies to come up with the concept of the 360 deal. “The first time we did it was in 1974, with Rush,” says Cecconi. “Rush was signed to a 360 deal, covering publishing, management, recording, and merchandising. Our first agreement in 1974 was getting the record company to pay for the artwork, but their right to use it were limited to the record and the marketing of the record. We could use it for everything else.”
Cecconi was a key member of the SRO team when the Anthem record label was launched, April 1, 1977. Prior to that, SRO’s main client Rush was on the company’s Moon Records imprint, while sister label Taurus Records had a roster that included Max Webster, Mendelson Joe and Mainline.
“Anthem started with five or six records, including a couple each from Rush and Max Webster,” Cecconi recalls. “Anthem Records became a label, then Moon, Taurus and Anthem Entertainment became a production house, one that would produce records.”
Tom Berry ran the Anthem label, before leaving to set up his own label, Alert. “Tom got his BMW and Kim Mitchell,” says Cecconi. “That was fine. Tom was really good but he wanted to run his own place and Ray wanted to run his own place. Ray let me run it because I’m not a threat. I’d rather run someone else’s company.”
Cecconi explains “I’m often asked how often Ray is around. I tell you if he was in every day I’d quit, ‘cos when he does come in he micro-manages. In the meantime he gives me complete free reign, though.”
She describes the management relationship with Rush as both easy and efficient. “They had complete faith in the way we would do the business. Geddy [Lee] will say ‘call the office. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Geddy is very smart though. Alex [Lifeson] is way too nice. I remember one time calling him and going ‘Alex, I’m reading whatever magazine it was, and you have three exclusive ads for different amplifiers. You can’t do that! Send them to me.'”
“In terms of the machine they created to go on the road, that is very much the band. No-one quite knows how it works, but somebody has the key and it gets turned and it is one of the most efficient crews around. Ray hired very good people that would babysit them on the road, like Val Azzoli, Kim Garner, and most recently Meghan Symsyk. She has moved to eOne but is still on retainer with Rush. eOne is lucky to have her.”
Cecconi acknowledges that “Rush won’t be onstage for ever.” Similarly, her own role and workload with the company has changed significantly with ole’s takeover of Anthem Entertainment Group in late 2015. “We sold my job, and I’m a consultant to ole now. I go in once a week there.
“I have a lot of knowledge, but they’re like a giant company and we’re like a cottage industry. It is definitely a reduced workload. I have one more year and if Rush goes out again I have another year.
“I can always consult elsewhere, though I don’t know who can afford my services. I’ve worked for one of the biggest bands in the world. I have a lot of expertise but it is very limited and specialized.”
As well as her deep commitment to Rush, Cecconi worked with the other artists on the SRO/Anthem roster. She has fond memories of her part in the phenomenal success of the Bob and Doug McKenzie album Great White North.
“I remember it was my decision to go with that one. It was 1981, and we were doing so well. I think the album budget came in at 35k. I didn’t think it’d sell anything, but I said to Ray, ‘let’s do it, so I can hang out with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas for a couple of weeks. We can afford it.' And the thing went fuckin crazy. No-one could have foreseen that. It even sold a million copies in the States.
We followed it up with the Wankers Guide to Canada album, which sold nothing in the States and nothing here!”
Cecconi’s passionate support of her artists leads her to be typically outspoken on the subject of the illegal downloading that caused such havoc in the record business. “The digital age threw us all in a tizzy,” she says. “I used to fight all the time with my nieces and nephews – ‘oh CDs are too expensive.’ Well, so is a Mercedes but I’m not allowed to fuckin steal one! They didn’t care.”
It was rich kids who thought music was too expensive. They had all the toys you needed to download. Poor kids weren’t the ones doing it. My kids have never downloaded. They’d have got killed! They still to this day buy the services. Music has a value to them.
"I could never understand the value of live concerts. CDs were 10- $15 bucks and people go ‘I’ll just steal it,’ but they’ll go spend 200 bucks on a live ticket.”
Over her long career, Cecconi has racked up serious international air miles, and is grateful for that opportunity. “The more you travel, the more you grow, the more educated you get. I’m very comfortable just about anywhere in the world.
“The first time I went to Japan was in 1980. That wasn’t with Rush but a Canadian contingent contingent that included Brian Chater, Gerry Lacoursiere, Al Mair, Vic Wilson and Sam and Jason Sniderman.’
She has long been an annual attendee at MIDEM, and in recent years has integrated that with a culinary adventure. “Peter Cardinali and his wife and my sister and I fly to Italy and eat our way to France!”
One memorable trip was to Rio as executive producer of the best-selling 2003 Rush In Rio live DVD. “Video shoots are the worst – hurry up and wait- but live video is pretty exciting,” she explains. “Rush played this huge football stadium [ Maracanã Stadium]. I saw fireworks going on outside and I thought ‘this is amazing. I didn’t realize quite how big Rush were in Brazil.’
It turns out the fireworks are for when the drugs land, ‘cos not everyone had cellphones in Rio! You don’t have to wait for Jose to call you. That was so wild."
Pegi Cecconi has earned deserved respect from her industry peers, as shown by her receiving the Brian Chater Pioneer Award from the Music Managers Forum (MMF) last year. She also sits on the board of directors for CIMA, IDLA, and CMRRA.