Danniels' Grace Under Pressure

Rush, VH Manager Maintains Rock Focus

By Larry LeBlanc, Billboard, October 26, 1996, transcribed by pwrwindows

TORONTO-lf managing the fast-paced careers of Rush, Van Halen, King's X, Tea Party, and ex-Extreme members Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt can be overwhelming at times, the reticent Ray Danniels would be the last to acknowledge it.

"Despite what has happened in the past couple of weeks with David Lee Roth being in [Van Halen] and [then] not being in the band, I can't imagine being in a better situation right now, career-wise," says the Toronto-based veteran manager. "[With Rush and Van Halen] I've got two of the last veteran rock acts which still do good [concert] business and reach the top five each time they release a new record."

Confirming widespread industry speculation that the 34-year-old ex-Extreme singer Cherone is, in fact, Van Halen's new permanent front man, replacing Sammy Hagar who left the band in June, Danniels predicts that the move will result in a further decade long chart run for Van Halen. Danniels expects that Van Halen's first studio album featuring Cherone will be released in the spring.

On Tuesday (22), Warner Bros. will issue Van Halen's "Best Of Volume 1" worldwide. The album features 17 tracks divided between Roth, who left the band in 1985, and his replacement Hagar. The package contains two recently recorded tracks with Roth, "Me Wise Magic" and "Can't Get This Stuff No More." The sassy "Me Wise Magic" is at No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

"As a pure singer; Gary is a natural talent," says Danniels. "He has the swagger that Roth has, and he's a great lyricist. We're as confident as we can get."

Danniels believes that the retooled Van Halen will also be able to increase its international impact. "With [the 1995 album] 'Balance,' we took a band that on their two previous records had sold less than a half-million records out-side of America and [got them to sell] 2 million records," he says. "The next [studio] album is going to do that and more, because Gary Cherone is a much bigger name than either Sammy Hagar or David Lee Roth in most [foreign] territories. Extreme has been a big band in Europe and Asia."

Former Extreme guitarist Bettencourt, billed just as Nuno, will release his debut solo album, "Schizophrenic," in the US, on A&M Records Jan 14.

With a staff of nine, Danniels heads a Toronto-based operation that includes his holding company (Two Minutes for Holding), a management company (Standing Room Only [SRO] Management Inc.), a label (Anthem Records), and a publishing and production outlet (Anthem Entertainment).

Unquestionably, Danniels' greatest Management feat has been Rush, which he has handled for more than two decades. The Canadian trio has sold 35 million albums worldwide, according to Pegi Cecconi, VP of SRO/Anthem.

"Rush proved to people, not only in Canada, but in the United States as well, that [as a group] you didn't have to move to New York or Los Angeles [to be successful]," says Danniels. "They also proved you didn't have to be trendy or have the right haircut.

"After working with other groups, I new have even more respect for how how easy [the members of] Rush are to get along with," continues Danniels. "Twenty years with these guys, and they have never disappointed me. They have never canceled a show. They have never been anything less than good to their word."

"Ray is the best negotiator l've ever negotiated against and with," says Val Azzoli, president of Atlantic Records, who worked for Danniels from 1978 to 1989. "Ray is so meticulous in his negotiation; he knows exactly where everything is, and he has a great way of putting [a deal] together."

Says veteran Canadian manager Bruce Allen (Bryan Adams, Martina McBride), "It's an amazing feat that Ray has kept Rush together for so many years. He's kept them selling records and being a viable concert attraction with no [chart] hits."

After a three-year layoff, Rush released its 16th studio album, "Test For Echo," on Atlantic Records Sept. 10. The title track is at No. 2 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, while the album is No. 55 on The Billboard 200. The album has sold 213,000 units in the U.S., according to SoundScan. In Canada, the album is No. 43 on the Record's retail album chart, while the title track is No. 9 on the trade's contemporary album radio chart.

Starting Oct. 18 in Albany, N.Y., Rush began touring behind its current album and will play 35 major-market dates in the U.S. until mid-December. The band will hit the road April through June for an additional 35 dates throughout North America.

Danniels says that he was asked to manage Van Halen 10 years ago, but, due to commitments to Rush, which was touring more at the time, and family considerations, he turned the job down. Recalling his decisions within the past three years to pick up Van Halen, King's X, Extreme, and Tea Party, Danniels says, "At that point, all my kids were in school, and my wife was supportive of doing it. [If I hadn't expanded] I would have had to cut some people [at the company] who had been here for a long time. It wasn't a hard decision."

Rush drummer Neil Peart says the band hasn't been jealous of the other groups Danniels manages. "There's no doubt in our minds that what's foremost in Ray's mind is that he is Rush's manager. Frankly we don't work enough to keep him busy; so why shouldn't he work at the highest level he can elsewhere?"

The son of a die-casting executive, Danniels was running a small, non-union booking agency at the age of 16 when he met Rush at the Coffin, a youth drop-in center in the basement of a local Anglican church in the late '60s. First, as a hooking agent, then as a manager, Danniels began finding Rush work at local high schools, colleges, and bars. The band then consisted of guitarist Alex Zivojinovich (aka Alex Lifeson), singer/bassist Gary Weinrib (Geddy Lee), and drummer John Rutsey.

In 1973, Danniels teamed up with Vic Wilson, then president of Concept 376, to form Standing Room Productions to manage Rush. Frustrated by the band's failure to attract a recording deal, Danniels sold his booking agency Music Shoppe International, and, with Wilson, set up Moon Records.

The band's eponymous debut album came out in Canada in March 1974 on Moon with Canadian distribution initially being handled by London Records. Despite little Canadian radio airplay and few reviews, the album soon sold 5,000 copies, mostly in southern Ontario. After Donna Halper, PD at album rock WMMS Cleveland, started playing the album track "Working Man," 7,000 exported copies were sold in the Cleveland area. The U.S. sales prompted Mercury Records to sign the band and to back a tour of America.

However, two weeks before Rush was due to launch its first U.S. tour; Rutsey left the band and was replaced by Peart.

Rush's international profile soared with its tremendously passionate concept work "2112" in 1976. The album reached No. 61 on The Billboard 200. "2112' was the pivotal album for Rush," says Danniels. "That album stands up really well today."

Danniels and Wilson (who left SRO/Anthem in 1980) established Anthem Records and Anthem Entertainment in 1977 as vehicles to protect Rush's independence and to give themselves the flexibility to record and publish acts on their own.

"Ray understood the value of copyrights, while other managers weren't much better than agents that just overcharged," says Cecconi. "I remember Ray being offered an obscene amount of money in 1981 to sell the [Rush] catalog to Warner Bros, Publishing. He didn't take the deal. He said to me, 'What would we have left?'"

Peart says that both Anthem Records and Anthem Entertainment provide Rush with a sizeable amount of independence. While Atlantic issues Rush's recordings worldwide, excluding Canada, they are licensed from Anthem Records. "We just complete a record, do the artwork, master it, and then present [Anthem Records] with a finished work rather than kibitzing [with label executives] all the way along from the demos. We just tell Ray our silly idea, and he makes it work."

Adds Danniels, "I'm not good at taking no for an answer."