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Warren native helped Devo get record deal

In addition to his contributions to film and television as founder and president of Modern Props Inc., John Zabrucky has another claim to fame in pop culture — he helped Devo get a record deal.

The Warren native has been best friends with Gerry Casale of Devo since 1966, when both were students at Kent State University. When Zabrucky taught art at Kent in the early ’70s, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh was one of his students.

After Zabrucky moved to California in the mid ’70s, Casale sent him one of the experimental electronic band’s first singles.

“I tried to get them a (record) deal in my own ignorant way,” Zabrucky said.

A connection he made at legendary rock club The Troubadour didn’t pan out. According to Zabrucky, the contact seemed more interested in a meeting in his bedroom than listening to Devo’s music.

A second attempt was more fruitful. An executive at A&M Records gave him $2,000 to send to Casale and the band in Ohio so they could come to California and play a weeklong showcase at the Starwood in West Hollywood.

“They came out and played the Starwood and were a big hit,” Zabrucky said. “The kids loved them. I went to a few of the shows.”

The A&M exec thought the band was too much like the theatrical rock act The Tubes, which already was signed to A&M, and didn’t sign Devo. However, the band was drawing big enough crowds that the Starwood asked Devo to stay for another week.

“That’s when the fellow from Warner Bros. shows up and saw them and actually signed the band,” Zabrucky said. “So I was somewhat instrumental in helping them get a deal after a series of misadventures.”

In an essay on Zabrucky’s website, Casale calls him “a lifelong friend and creative collaborator,” and Zabrucky handled casting and art direction for Devo’s video for “Whip It,” its biggest commercial success.

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