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FYI

Obituary: Pegi Cecconi Had an Immense Impact on the Canadian Music Industry

This week we also acknowledge the passing of folk and rock drummer Gerry Conway, Australian/Canadian Hoodoo Gurus manager Michael McMartin and Ministry/R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin.

Pegi Cecconi

Pegi Cecconi

Cecconi Family/Deborah Samuel

Pegi (Margaret Anne) Cecconi, a trailblazing Canadian booking agent and record label executive, died on March 28, at age 70. She had been battling PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy).

Her immense impact on the Canadian music industry over almost five decades was rightfully recognized in 2020 when she received the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the Juno Awards, only the third woman to have received that prestigious honour.


Cecconi was born and raised in the tough northern Ontario town of South Porcupine, and she first made a splash in the music industry while still in high school there at the beginning of the 1970’s.

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In an extensive interview with Kerry Doole of FYIMusicNews (now Billboard Canada) in 2016, Cecconi reminisced about this period.

“While I was at Roland Michener Secondary School in South Porcupine, I was booking bands. Ray Danniels [former manager of Rush] was my agent," she recalled. "He used to try to sell me Rush. I’d say ‘no way. I can get a four-piece band for the same price of a trio!’ Besides, if Rush had ever played my high school, the shit would have been beaten out of them!”

As it happened, Danniels and Rush would later become cornerstone figures in Cecconi’s industry career, and she would play crucial roles in the rise of Rush to massive international success.

An obituary posted by Cecconi's family on her Facebook page noted, "As social convenor, Pegi booked bands for school dances, an undertaking that required serious grit when dealing with both performers and patrons. It was a quality that prepared her well for her trailblazing career in the male-dominated entertainment industry where she would thrive for almost 50 years."

Upon moving to Toronto, Cecconi landed a job with Concept 376, run by Tommy and Vic Wilson. “I started there as a booking agent in 1972,” Cecconi told FYI. “I made $60 a week but I was on commission and was suddenly making $400.”

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Female booking agents were rare in that period, and Cecconi certainly faced her share of sexism. “One guy working there would say ‘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 to book, but I did O.K.”

She then reconnected with Ray Danniels when he and Vic Wilson partnered to form SRO Management in early 1973.

"I was there a few years [1973-76] then left for a couple of years, working for Bernie the Attorney [noted Toronto entertainment lawyer Bernie Solomon]," Cecconi recalls. "I got hired as a legal secretary, back in the days of telex machines. I was just typing up these 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 and 80-page agreements like they were hot gossip machines!"

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This skill became a Cecconi signature, as did her fierce commitment to the artists and clients she worked with. A formidable, even at times intimidating, figure, she was definitely a person you wanted on your side.

In May 1977, SRO expanded with the creation of its record label, Anthem Records, with a small roster spearheaded by Rush and Max Webster, alongside Liverpool and A Foot in Coldwater. Prior to Anthem, Rush was on Moon Records, and the three members, Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson, became associate directors of Anthem.

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At SRO/Anthem, Cecconi served as Ray Danniels' indispensable right-hand for a long period (her official job title was Vice President of SRO Management Inc. and Anthem Entertainment Group). She told FYI that at SRO/Anthem, "I did all the business affairs for the publishing and recording and the videos. I have a lot of expertise but it is very limited and specialized. With Rush, I worked with the biggest cult band in the world."

Her Facebook page obituary states that "With a mandate from Ray to do ‘anything she wanted as long as it made money’ she dove deeply into all aspects of the music industry working closely with artists such as Max Webster, Ian Thomas, Larry Gowan, Tea Party and Rush, among others.

"And as SRO’s business expanded into publishing, label operations and content creation, Pegi’s skills and keen business acumen also flourished. Able to ‘rip through business contracts like a Harlequin Romance,’ she could mine a royalty statement for undiscovered fees like a forensic pathologist and soon developed an international reputation as a fierce negotiator and passionate champion of artist rights."

In an FYI2020 profile, Nick Krewen wrote that "Cecconi dove into the minutia on a great number of corporate fronts – record label negotiations, publishing and merchandising – to strike favourable deals for her charges. She also executive produced Rush's accomplished run of concert DVDs, earning her Juno Awards for Rush In Rio and the acclaimed documentary Beyond The Lighted Stage."

In her interview with Kerry Doole, Cecconi explained, "I executive produce the Rush videos because I found the money. 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 won’t tell the Rush video director how to shoot it, but don’t tell me how to cut a deal! I know what I’m good at and I’m just not very creative."

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Decades of work with Rush is a clear highlight of Cecconi's CV. On learning of Cecconi's death, Rush frontman Geddy Lee posted this salute to Cecconi on Instagram: " Pegi Cecconi – whose laugh could be heard the moment she entered any venue. Thanks Peg, for 50 years of having our backs… wherever you’re headed they ain’t ready for ya!"

In November 2015, Anthem was acquired by Ole Media Management, then, in June 2019, Ole rebranded as Anthem. The Ole takeover saw a major reduction in Cecconi's workload, though she was retained as a consultant.

Over her long career, Cecconi took prominent roles in some of the Canadian music industry's major trade organizations. She had long stints on the board of directors of both the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) and The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings (FACTOR), also serving as Chair and Treasurer at the latter. She also served on the Board of MMF Canada, receiving its Brian Chater Pioneers Award in 2015, and held positions with the Independent Digital Licensing Agency (IDLA) and the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA).

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Equally important was her invaluable role as a mentor and role model for women wanting to succeed in the male-dominated world of the Canadian music business. Effusive tributes to Cecconi on social media posts in the wake of her passing certainly testify to that.

Denise Donlon (MuchMusic, Sony Music Canada) offered this on Facebook: "We lost a brave and beloved friend this morning. Marvel, mentor, champion of artist rights, a fierce negotiator with a heart of gold. We miss you already Peg, but am pretty sure we'll be hearing your laughter from here. Power on sister."

Evelyn Cream on Facebook: "We’ve lost a music industry icon, a legend, and my former boss. Her contribution to the development of the Canadian music industry and her support for artists was enormous and she was not afraid to take on any issue or any person. However, it was always done for the benefit of the artist or her employer. Pegi was one of the first women in an executive position in the music industry and opened the doors for many others, including me. She did all this with a big smile, humour, fun, while caring for people around her. I learned so much working with Pegi for five years - publishing, royalties, contracts, negotiations, and copyright. Skills used throughout my career. Pegi was always there if I had questions or needed advice. Very grateful she was part of my life."

Susan de Cartier, President of Starfish Entertainment, on Facebook: "To the one and only Pegi Cecconi. Wickedly funny and smart, you were always generous with your advice and support. Thank you for being fabulous and fearless, and encouraging the rest of us to be the same. There won’t be another like you Pegi, we were lucky to have you. And yes, you really are the Queen of Fucking Everything. Rest in Peace Pegi, heaven just got a lot more fun."

Joanne Setterington (Indoor Recess) on Facebook: "Pegi, thank you for envisioning a path where there wasn’t one, for boldly carving the path with your strength and determination, and for graciously lighting the path for us all to follow. Rest in peace."

Veteran music publicist Joanne Smale, on Facebook: "Pegi, we pay tribute to you with our favourite memories. She was and is a force to reckon with. She brought us along with a music industry know-how, she left an impact on shoe shopping in countries around the world, and her sharp-wittedness was unmatchable.Today we carry great sadness in our hearts and we shall always miss her. A standing ovation for a great icon who was a dear and true friend to many."

Close friend Rhonda Ross offered this tribute to Billboard Canada: "Pegi, a fierce, fun and loyal friend for decades. We sometimes had 'Too much fun.' A phrase coined by her daughter Toni @ age 2. Never one to mince words, she brought us all much joy, with her sharp wit, and humour, whatever the situation. In the last few years, we spent time in Crete, and I had the privilege of travelling with 'The Cecconi Sisters' on two memorable road trips around Italy & Sicily. We are ‘la famiglia’. Peg would often jokingly refer to my last 'work' phone number being on a 'Rolodex.' Apparently it made me the 'smartest one of us all,' in her opinion. Peg fought a heroic & difficult battle with PSP, and vigorously participated in PSP Research. She has left us all, with a rich inventory of memories. Her laughter, once heard, is infinite."

Cecconi's sister Elaine forwarded to Billboard Canada these anecdotes from Pegi's two daughters Toni and Kate: "Peg had a great sense of humour, which was reflected in her choice of TV and film. The family watched The Simpsons religiously. She loved the Austin Powers trilogy, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Coronation Street (a loyal follower for over 50 years and who considered it a ‘comedy’) and Judge Judy from whom she often quoted ‘don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.’ Despite working in the industry, she never professed to have an ‘ear’ for music. Her passion was in the ‘deal’. So her musical tastes were firmly planted in her youth: Steely Dan, The Eagles and that one Eminem album. Toni and Kate grew up thinking the Beatles were nursery rhymes. Peg was thrilled when their tastes shifted to the Spice Girls; no more Raffi in the house."

On Facebook, veteran Canadian rock photographer Pat Harbron posted, "My association with SRO/Anthem goes way, way back and Pegi was always there making things happen. She was a force who cut her own path, clearing the way for others. It has been said that there will not be another like her anytime soon. RIP Pegi, show them how it’s done."

Musician turned industry notable Brian Allen posted on Facebook that "Pegi’s tentacles spanned the globe. She was bold, loud, confident, a storied negotiator bursting with the joy of living, and incredibly competent. For someone who labeled herself a Misfit, she was a fabulous fit for the music business. Everybody loved her, including me. Thank you, Pegi."

Peter Cardinali, head of ALMA Records, sent Billboard Canada this tribute: "Pegi Cecconi was feared by some, mostly on the other side of the negotiating table, but loved by everyone. With her infectious and unmistakable laugh, she was a Canadian icon, and proud friend of many music professionals around the world. We had many great years of legendary 'road trips' to MIDEM, picking somewhere in Italy to start, then eating our way to France. Hard to imagine a world without Pegi. Our hearts are aching."

Toronto publicist/music promoter Richard Flohil often hung out with Cecconi at the annual MIDEM trade conference in Cannes. In his Substack tribute, he writes that, "Pegi also had the best laugh you ever heard, and I recall the many times at MIDEM (the annual music business convention in the south of France) when she would rent a van — christened Le Pig Noir — and a sober driver; four or five of us would drive to dine and drink at an Italian restaurant across the border in Ventimiglia."

On his Facebook page, renowned singer/songwriter Ian Thomas posted a lengthy and eloquent tribute to Cecconi. Here is one excerpt: "Pegi was the head of SRO/ Anthem publishing and had managed the publishing end of my song catalogue around the world from the late '70s until recently. She was a trailblazer for women in the patriarchy of the music business and the winner of multiple industry awards. Most importantly to me, she was a dear friend. Pegi was a big soul full of life, love and values, not only espoused … but also lived. She once said she was a feminist, but she really didn’t believe in equality. She believed women were better than men. From what I have witnessed in the music industry, I agree."

Canadian music industry orgs were also quick to pay homage. In its post entitled A Salute To Pegi Cecconi, CIMA referenced her famed self-description, "The Queen Of Fuckin' Everything," noting that "In 2023, CIMA launched the inaugural Queen of Fucking Everything Award at Make It Music to forever acknowledge her achievements – often as the first and only woman at the table, where she made sure to invite others."

The tribute also stated that Cecconi was "Not only an unstoppable force in the Canadian music industry, but her profound impact and revolutionary ideas have crossed every bridge and barrier possible. Her vision and audacity guided SRO-Anthem and the career of Rush to legendary heights reserved for only a few. CIMA is fiercely proud to have had the privilege of her leadership on our Board of Directors for more than 25 years, where she donated her highly sought-after time and expertise to make sure Canada’s independent music sector was duly empowered and respected as the force that it is."

Tim Potocic (Sonic Unyon Records), Chair of CIMA’s Board, states that "Pegi paved the way for not only scrappy independent record labels in Canada, but for us to become global music companies who do business on our own terms, and by our own design. She will be deeply missed, but her contributions will impact generations to come.”

The CIMA post ends in colorfully eloquent fashion: "A booming cackle for the ages, CIMA salutes our Queen of Fucking Everything (QOFE), Pegi Cecconi. We have lost a legend and a treasure."

In its blog post, The Juno Awards offered this tribute: "As we bid farewell to a luminary and true character in our industry, let us take solace in the knowledge that Pegi Cecconi’s legacy will endure through the countless lives she touched and the everlasting imprint she left on Canadian music. May her spirit continue to inspire and uplift us all as we carry forward her remarkable legacy with pride and gratitude."

“Pegi worked five decades in the music business and evolved with it, defending the artists, writers,and creators every step of the way. Her impact was felt globally as we all have a legendary Pegi Cecconi story, whether we witnessed it first-hand or not,” said FACTOR President & CEO Meg Symsyk. “That is a testament to her work ethic and daily ethos. Her unique quality was that she made you want to do business with her – even if it usually ended up on her terms. As her terms were always fair and she never made it about her. She was persuasive, tenacious and a comedian – as long as you didn’t put her in front of a microphone. Her impact, hilarious stories, and ‘Peg-isms’ will live on. Thank you, Pegi; I would not be where I am today without the guidance and mentorship from you.”

No funeral was held, but her family would appreciate donations to PSP here.

Michael McMartin, the Canadian-born, Australian-based manager of Hoodoo Gurus, died on on April 31, of cancer, at age 79.

Michael announced his sudden departure as manager of Hoodoo Gurus in February, citing “health issues” for his retirement. He managed that top rock band for 41 years.

In a statement in February, Hoodoo Gurus said that "Michael and the Hoodoo Gurus have been joined at the hip for over four incredible decades. Michael signed their first record deal in 1982 and commenced managing the band in 1985."

McMartin was born on Vancouver Island in Canada. He gained his BA (Political Science) at Loyola College in Montrea, then moved to Australia in 1971. He and producer Charles Fisher started Trafalgar Records, an independent recording and publishing entity that had a big impact on the Australian music scene. In 1985 he formed Melody Management and signed as his first clients the Hoodoo Gurus.

McMartin was a founding member of the Music Managers’ Forum in Australia, and he also served as Chairman and then Executive Director of the International Music Managers’ Forum (IMMF), the umbrella organisation for managers from some 24 countries.

Australian music news site Noise11wrote that "Michael was one of the most liked and respected people in the Australian music industry. His passing is a loss to his family and friends and a true loss for the music industry."

McMartin made many Canadian friends over his career. In a Facebook post, former music writer Kevin Wynne offered this reminiscence: "I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon and evening with Michael in the course of attending SXSW in the ‘90s. The evening consisted of attending an outdoor Posies gig as part of a patio barbeque in downtown Austin, so it was a doubly amazing day. Easily one of the sweetest most self-effacing individuals I ever encountered - anywhere - in the music business. Great Hoodoo Gurus stories mixed with serious insights and opinions on various aspects of the music biz at the time."

Toronto industry veteran Brian Hetherman posted this tribute on Facebook: "Micheal McMartin was a great friend to me, and I know he had many friends here in Canada, being both an Expat and a huge supporter of Canadian Music and its people. I am still to saddened from this news, but I have many wonderful memories of my friendship and travels with Michael over the years."

On Facebook, former label publicist Karen Gordon recalled that "I had the pleasure of working with Michael McMartin on a number of occasions. He was an incredibly sweet and kind man, and in our talks I got to feel that he knew how to live life in such appreciation for everything around him. A really special person. He always acknowledged Bernie Finkelstein as a mentor. RIP Michael. "

McMartin received the 2007 APRA Ted Albert Award for his lifetime contribution to Australian Music and was elected to the ARIA Hall of Fame as part of the induction of the Hoodoo Gurus in 2009. In 2015 he was awarded the Medal of the Order Of Australia (OAM) for ‘services to the performing arts, especially music.’

Read an extensive profile here and the official obituary from the McMartin family here.

Gerry (Gerald) Conway, an English folk and rock drummer and percussionist, died on March 29, at age 76. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2022

He performed extensively with Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention, among others, and was a prominent session musician.

Early in his career, he worked with Alexis Korner and alongside Sandy Denny in Fotheringay.

In the '70s, he toured and recorded as a member of Cat Stevens' band for six years and was a consistent member of the close-knit backing band, including on the albums Teaser and the Firecat and Catch Bull at Four. Other credits in the '70s included work with Steeleye Span, John Cale, Jim Capaldi and Joan Armatrading.

During the 1980s, Conway also toured and recorded with Kate & Anna McGarrigle, played with Richard Thompson, and had a spell as a member of Jethro Tull.

Conway played drums in Fairport Convention from 1998 to 2022, taking over from Dave Mattacks, and occasionally played for Pentangle (he was married to that group's singer, Jacqui McShee). After 2006, Davies re-joined with Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam.

In a Facebook post, Yusuf/Cat Stevens said, "Sadly my great old drummer, Gerry Conway just passed away. What a lad, and what ingenuity and style. May God grant him the beautiful reward of peace everlasting."

Bill (William Frederick) Rieflin, a versatile American drummer who played with Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M., King Crimson, Revolding Cocks, KMFDDM, Pigface Swans, amongst others, died on March 24, of cancer, at age 59.

In a Billboard obituary, his family confirms that Rieflin died after an eight-year battle with cancer. The statement praised "his refined manner, brilliant mind, eye for the ironic and legendary sense of humor defined him as a man of discerning taste, palate, and company. We will miss him terribly.”

The drummer played with a variety of local bands in Seattle before teaming up with industrial standard bearer Al Jourgensen in Revolting Cocks, and appearing on the landmark third album from Jourgensen’s Ministry, 1988’s The Land of Rape and Honey. His work with KMFDM included vocals and keyboards.

Read the full Billboard obituary here

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This week we also acknowledge the passing of Stealers Wheel member Joe Egan, U.S. label exec Eddie Rosenblatt, dance music producer Tomcraft, folk music veteran Happy Traum, songwriter Jerry Fuller and kora player Toumani Diabaté.

Rick Rose (Maiuri), a veteran rock and country singer-songwriter, died on July 14, at age 64, of cancer.

The Niagara Falls-based Rose first gained attention by fronting the rock bands Lennex and Perfect Affair, followed by The Rick Rose Band. As a songwriter, he had stints as a staff songwriter for Sony Music in Nashville and Warner Tamerlane.

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