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MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, PART 9: WHAT MADE CHARLIE GREAT?

When lists are made of the greatest promotion executives of all time, Charlie Minor’s name invariably appears in the uppermost echelon. The recent boom of NBA GOAT conversations would never omit Michael Jordan or Kareem or Magic; there’s a similar constancy to promo talk. Polly Anthony, Don Ienner, Richard Palmese and Charlie Minor should all make the list, without question. But who was the GOAT?

Let’s examine the case for Charlie Minor. 

Some great promo players are military-level strategists; some are cunning, devious manipulators; some are downright intimidating. But a select few have derived their strength purely from the power of personality—which may be why Charlie’s legend just keeps growing nearly three decades after his death. Just as countless raucous, unforgettable nights swirled around his outsize appeal, many spirited evenings since he’s been gone have begun with the reeling off of stories about him.

Charlie’s giant perch stood on the legs of his boundless charisma, inclusivity and confidence. With Elvis-level charm, he captivated anyone in his sights. He loved to bring people into the fold and give them a seat at the table—he was like Willy Wonka handing out golden tickets. And his abundant personal warmth was tethered to an unshakable confidence; he would start a conversation with anyone, anywhere, fearlessly. He charged into every encounter with an irresistible, indomitable twinkle in his eye.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear from some people who worked closely with the man.

“Charlie Minor ruled during the golden age of the music business,” says Irving Azoff, industry leader and founder of Giant Records, who hired Charlie after he left A&M (and is a difficult man to impress). “No one did it with more style and flair.  Every movie that depicts the era has to cast a Charlie.  He was simply the quintessential record promo man. All those after him were made in his image.”

“To say that he was the best at what he did is not enough to describe his brilliance,” A&M Co-Founder Jerry Moss, for whom Charlie worked from 1970-1991, told the L.A. TimesHugo Martin in 1995.

Harold Childs, longtime A&M promotion leader and an all-time great himself, brought Charlie to the label. “Charles was a natural PR guy who had that special people thing,” Harold told the Times. “He would work three or four phone lines at once, bouncing from one call to the other without missing a beat.  I’m not sure if I hired him or he hired me.”

 “Charlie’s magic was his natural ability to make friends wherever he went,” remembers Steve Bartels, a promo legend in his own right, longtime power exec and scion of the Charlie Minor promotion tree. “When I was a young Southeast local, Charlie said he was coming to my market, and told me to set up a Neville Brothers dinner at Commanders Palace in New Orleans for a handful of key PDs and consultants. When I went to pick him up at the airport that day, I knew I was in trouble. Charlie walked off the plane with the entire first-class cabin, pilots and attendants all in tow. “Buddy,” he said, “I think you’ll be needing to add a few people to the reservation!” By dinner, we had close to 100 people, all magically now “friends of Charlie!”  He could immediately turn strangers into friends, created a community of camaraderie and fun wherever he went. You always wanted to be at Charlie’s table.” 

“In 1987 I went to Anchorage to visit radio with Charlie,” recalls longtime promotion guru and proud Minor protégé Lori Anderson. “It was still the wild west then. The programmers—male and female—took us to the local titty bar and the local club’s pool hall. Charlie was wearing a beautiful suit and velvet slippers.  The crowd was rough around the edges, oil pipeline guys who thought they were going to roll the city slicker. But of course, in his inimitable, disarming way, Charlie made friends with the Anchorage hustlers and had them all drinking and playing pool together. Charlie never met anyone who wasn’t a friend in the making.  He made me crazy, and I loved him. We made a great team. There was no one like him.”

“It was early December,  and the A&M lot was twinkling with holiday lights,” reminisces Hollywood promo domo Scot Finck, another proud offshoot of the Minor family tree. “Some strands also stretched around the quarter-moon shaped romo office on the second floor. Charlie and I were there late one night; he was naturally still banging the phones. I saw his elegant ex-wife Danica walk in with their beautiful, warmly bundled toddler, Austin. Charlie hung up, leapt from his chair, swept Austin into his arms and began to waltz with her around the office. We all just watched and smiled at them dancing, laughing, full of love. Later that night, I watched him once again effortlessly become the center of attention at Le Dome, arms around Brigitte Nielsen, then Billy Idol and even Ben Stein, as well as an array of industry friends. That day, he taught me the best life lesson—that life should be love of work, family and friends. Just never anything less than love. I’ve done my best to live up to that.”

“I worked with Charlie at A&M in the late ’80s,” relates Jim Guerinot, A&M marketing guru and supermanager of the subsequent three decades. “It was my first and only label job. Trying to integrate and get to know people was a challenge, I lacked the record-biz shorthand and it felt pretty daunting. I met Charlie during a company convention but already knew who he was. This evening he had some disagreement with artist Toni Childs, and they were literally wrestling on the floor of her dressing room. ‘Welcome to A&M,’ a friend said. ‘That’s Charlie.’”

“At the time he’d really chilled out on the partying and begun a new, healthy lifestyle,” Guerinot continues. “One morning, I ran into him at the hotel gym at the Gavin Convention. We worked out and he invited me to dinner.  I thought, “Check me out, hanging with Charlie Minor at a radio event. What I didn’t know is that he extended that same invitation to everyone he encountered. So when you arrived at Le Dome or any restaurant in any city thinking you were having dinner with Charlie, you were joined by God knows how many more people. He was just phenomenally inclusive. Whether you were a PD in some P17 market with no listeners or a new hire at a label, he always made you feel a part of the show, of his big, wonderful world. He was such a lovely man.”

During the final two years of his life, Charlie and ex-radio star and promotion executive Scott (Shadow Steele) Wright joined in a venture with Dennis Lavinthal and myself. And while, there are endless stories to tell, there are two in the front of my mind that show his qualities of confidence and charm, that live with me to this day. 

One Tuesday afternoon, about 20 minutes before the all-important Radio and Records reporting deadline, Charlie, Dennis and I were sitting in my office doing a wrap-up of the week. Charlie’s assistant walked in and said the three most important PDs, who hadn’t yet submitted their weekly adds, were all calling him at the same time. I wondered what I would do in a similar dilemma—maybe grab one, ask one to hold and call the third back if there still was time. Instead, Charlie said, “Tell them I’m talking to Dennis and Lenny and I’ll call back.” He knew they’d wait for him, knew they’d jump off any other call to get his priorities on time—and he knew he’d reach all three. And so he did. His confidence was staggering.

Charlie and I were traveling home from NYC and sitting together in first class. It was one of those planes with a 2-1-2 arrangement and as we walked on the plane, Charlie stopped, put his arm on my shoulder. “Who is that actress?” I told him that was Sandra Bullock in the single seat, and answered his second question by listing her biggest movies. He paused to figure out an angle of approach. Then he flashed on it, and said “Sly,” referring to his friend Sylvester Stallone. He handed me his carry-on, went right over to Sandra, knelt down and began a conversation.  A few minutes later, he returned and asked me if I minded taking the single seat, as he and Sandra were talking and wanted to sit together. I saw them again together in the baggage claim and as I walked over; Charlie was inviting her to his beach house for the weekend party. He invited me too. His charm was also astounding, as was his never-ending inclusiveness. 

His life ended tragically and way too soon. But we have our Charlie stories, those powerful memories. Some are good, some not quite so endearing. But everyone wants to hear those stories.

And so the great promotion question lingers: Is he the Greatest of All Time? Indisputably, he was in league of his own.

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