Don George... a tribute
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I always thought I had the coolest uncle. When I was a kid, my Uncle Don would pick me up in his 1967 Pontiac convertible that had a full-size record player mounted under the passenger dashboard. I was in that very car the first time I heard “Stairway to Heaven” on the radio. Uncle Don would also take me to his Mercury Records office on Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland. He would get a shipment of promotional albums and I would help him slide the large boxes down wood planks to the musty old basement.
In 1978 Uncle Don took me to Richfield Coliseum in Ohio to see Kiss. It was one of the biggest snowstorms in Ohio history and yet the coliseum was packed. He took me backstage (pre-Kiss-makeup) to meet Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. And there they stood… Long, black hair. Long, leather coats. And platform shoes. They looked like rock gods to this 16-year-old wanna be guitar player. What an epic moment! The next day at school all my friends wanted to know the details and now, I was a rock god to my friends. Around this same time, Uncle Don gave my older sister, Caroline Kruse, 7th row-center seat tickets to see Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody Tour” with Thin Lizzy as the opening act.
October 1981: Don was a record rep for I.R.S. Records. The Go-Go’s were on that label and had their first gig in Cleveland at the Agora rock club on 1730 E. 24th Street. He invited my sister, Caroline, Jacquie Chakirelis, Pat Moner, and me. Afterward, Don was throwing a private party in the basement of the Agora in a Punk club called the Pop Shop. We hung out and had drinks with the Go-Go’s as well as Karla DeVito, singer with Meatloaf.
In the 80s, Don became the mid-west promotional manager for MCA Records, working out of their Cleveland office located on Rockwell Avenue. I was in college at the time and my uncle hired me to work for him two days a week to call radio stations around the country and get their air-play rotation. Then put together packets of 10-20 new promotional albums and ship them to the stations.
While working at MCA, I was playing guitar in a band called ‘Separate Checks.’ The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was looking for a home with Cleveland being in the running. We initiated a petition drive to make that happen. Within the next couple of years, I began touring as a stand-up comedian around the country and I was amazed at how many radio interviews I did where the DJ’s not only knew my uncle but loved him as well.
September 2, 1995: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame had their grand opening day -Cleveland’s biggest celebration ever! Our family was there for the event and met up with Uncle Don. It seemed like there were thousands of remote-radio stations from around the world lined up and down the streets of Cleveland. As we stopped at one station after another, they were all excited to see Don George. We spent the rest of the day and night bar hopping. Practically every club in downtown Cleveland had a famous artist performing, including Parliament-Funkadelic in a small venue.
2019: I was with a friend in Los Angeles who was interviewing Steve Resnik, former VP of Promotion for A&M Records. Steve’s entire home is literally a rock museum. I knew my uncle worked for A&M at one point, so I called him and asked if he knew Steve. He replied, “Does he still have a rock museum in his house? I was there in the 80s for an A&M dinner party.”
Over the years my Uncle Don came out to see me perform stand-up comedy and was always supportive. I will never forget his promotional wisdom…“It’s not who you know, but who knows YOU!” Uncle Don was a massive contribution to the music industry. He was also wonderful to his family, extended family, and friends.
In February 2021, Don passed away from a health battle. Condolences were pouring in from around the country on his social media site. I was not surprised to hear all the wonderful words like: “He was like a brother to me… mentor… magnetic personality… gregarious… a true treasure to be around.”
Don was always the coolest cat in the room. Whenever I hear a song that he promoted, I think of him. And always will. Uncle Don, you will be greatly missed.