“The Man who Whipped It for Devo” — R.I.P. Kal Rudman

When Devo migrated from Akron, Ohio to Los Angeles, 2400 miles was the distance between two planets. On planet Akron, reputations were crushed by one bribe of an unreported business lunch with an expensive bottle of French wine. However, on planet LA, we were regaled with unsolicited tales of how songs became hits. Lawyers, managers, and agents with Cheshire Cat grins oozed out details of promoters and radio DJs being wooed with prostitutes, cocaine, and tropical island vacations by executives with creative accounting accomplices who kept their dark schemes off the books. When an artist is in that transition period from innocence to experience, such stories seem apocryphal and deeply disturbing. I can only laugh at myself then, now. As our band’s manager once said in a mocking tone: “Jerry, your problem is you think doing good work matters in terms of who succeeds in this town.” Ha ha. He was correct. 

So, what does that preamble have to do with Kal Rudman? Since Devo was never an act that was anointed by our label with suh advantages (drugs and prostitutes, etc.), we had to resort to high hopin’ that someone inside the music machine would resonate with that thing we did. Well, Kal Rudman was that guy. He was inside, and played the game well, but he actually had ‘ears,’ as they say. In 1980, our label pushed the single “Girl U Want” from our Freedom of Choice LP to radio across the USA as ‘the single,’ but it swiftly bit the dust. After that, it seemed Warner Bros. Records decided they would cast their nets elsewhere and let Devo drift out to sea. But meanwhile, down in Florida, Kal Rudman had listened to the rest of the album that the label had dropped on him. “Whip It” pricked up his ears. On his own steam, he pushed the song in his ‘Friday Morning Quarterback’ trade magazine. Using his juice, he drove “Whip It" airplay from the Southeastern US up to Philadelphia and NYC where the song exploded at FM radio, eventually going nationwide to the heights of the Billboard charts.

Kal Rudman passed away on December 1st, 2021, at age 91. Posthumously, on behalf of the band, I want to thank Kal Rudman for snatching Devo from the cut-out bins of history and propelling us into becoming an iconic fixture of the ‘80s; we were what was arguably “new” about New Wave. And he did it on the merits of the song! Go figure.  

—Gerald V. Casale for Devo