Death of a Salesman : Party animal Charlie Minor was a star in the shadowy world of record promotion, pushing many artists to the top. He was shot to death in March, just as he was trying to slow his hectic lifestyle.
Every Saturday night for years, rock ‘n’ roll blared from the outdoor speakers on the balcony of Charlie Minor’s rented Malibu beach house.
Until the frosty hours of the next morning, scores of beautiful bikini-clad women, music executives and celebrities checked in to enjoy Minor’s food, drinks and hospitality, their limos swallowing up dozens of parking spots along Pacific Coast Highway.
And when an angry neighbor complained, Minor, the flamboyant and gregarious record promoter, responded, “What’s the problem?” as if everybody had the perpetual party attitude of “Good Time” Charlie Minor.
Suave, extravagant and fun-loving, Minor was the king of the record industry’s night life, and his beachfront retreat was his castle. He would party all night--usually with an attractive woman on each arm--and get up fresh the next morning to schmooze another record onto the Top 40 list.
But the good life ended for Minor on the second floor of that Malibu home, where he was shot to death March 19, allegedly by a spurned lover, one of the many young, attractive girlfriends with whom he shared his fast-paced lifestyle.
Suzette McClure, a 27-year-old stripper who friends said was deeply infatuated with Minor, was arrested. Investigators believe it was a classic crime of passion: By their account, she showed up at the Malibu home unannounced, found Minor with another woman and killed him after he made it clear that he didn’t want to see her again.
McClure’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court. If found guilty, she could face the death penalty. She has pleaded not guilty and has been held without bail since her arrest on the day of the killing. Her lawyer, public defender Vera A. Brown, would not say what strategy she planned to use to mount McClure’s defense.
Minor may not have been a household name, but many top artists credited him for helping put their music at the top of the charts: Janet Jackson, Sting, Amy Grant and Bryan Adams, to name a few.
His success came from being one of the best players in the sometimes shadowy game of record promotion. In the 1980s it truly was a game, according to record industry insiders, that often meant plying radio programmers with money, drugs and prostitutes in exchange for airplay of a label’s newest record.
What is clear about Minor is that he was a smooth talker, a man who was often seen charming radio programmers with an expensive meal, some fine wine and a slap on the back. The classic Minor story told by record industry associates goes like this:
Minor called a radio programmer back in 1975 to talk up “Love Hurts,” the single by the rock group Nazareth. The programmer sounded depressed. His fiancee, he explained, died only hours earlier in a plane crash.
“Don’t you see, it’s true, love hurts,” Minor responded. “That is why you’ve got to play this song.”
As shameless as the pitch was, it worked. Weeks later the song was on the station’s playlist.
“To say that he was the best at what he did was not enough to describe his brilliance,” said Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M; Records and chairman and president of Almo Sounds.
But toward the end of his life, Minor had begun to re-evaluate his nonstop lifestyle. In the past five years, he had quit the drugs that are so common in the industry, cut down on drinking and put the brakes on the late-night partying.
At 47, handsome but graying at the temples, Minor had many reasons to re-examine his ways. His seven-year marriage had failed, and his position in the industry had dropped from promotion chief at A&M; Records to a promotions executive at Hits, a music industry magazine.
And although he had quit most of his vices, Minor still seemed addicted to women.
“Charlie was a womanizer, no doubt about it,” one friend said. “But you could also say he was a ‘personizer’ because he did it to everybody.”
Minor was a playboy and a socialite who flaunted his Rolls-Royce, Armani suits and lunches at Le Dome as symbols of his success in an industry notorious for its extremes and extravagances.
“I’m not going to defend Charlie, because he wasn’t a saint,” said his longtime friend John Fagot, senior vice president of promotions for Hollywood Records. “But he enjoyed life better than anyone I’ve ever known.”
But Minor was also a skilled and hard-working promoter who put in long hours entertaining radio programmers in expensive restaurants and trendy nightclubs.
“Charles was a natural PR guy,” said Harold Childs, who hired Minor for A&M; in 1970 from an Atlanta music publishing business. “He had that people thing. I’m not sure if I hired him or he hired me.”
Those who worked with Minor describe the intense, get-it-done attitude he brought to an office. He would work three or four phone lines at once, bouncing from one call to the other without missing a beat. A&M; co-founder Herb Albert nicknamed him “Jaws” for such talents.
Minor, the son of a government worker in Marietta, Ga., had “that people thing” as a youth at the University of Georgia, where he made extra cash booking bands for frat parties.
In Los Angeles, Minor excelled in the record industry because it thrives just as much on the salesmanship as it does on the music.
“The record industry is driven by promotion,” said Fredric Dannen, author of the acclaimed “Hit Men,” a portrait of the pop music industry and its wild and ambitious characters.
To generate high record sales, a record company generally must get airplay on the nation’s biggest Top 40 stations. Even with the advent of MTV, Top 40 radio stations have a huge influence on whether a record is a hit or a dud. Yet radio programmers are reluctant to debut a record unless it is already a hit, thus creating a frustrating Catch-22 for record labels.
That’s where promoters like Minor come in, the people who practice the art of getting new songs on the air. They are the backbone of every major record company’s well-financed promotion unit. Dannen’s book describes how two promoters once cornered a radio programmer in a public bathroom and forced him to listen to their songs on a portable stereo.
But in the late 1980s, the industry’s seamier side came to light when federal investigators launched a probe into independent record promoters who offered drugs, prostitutes and hard cash to persuade radio programmers to play their records.
The so-called payola scandal that ensued resulted in only a few convictions, but it put the industry on notice. Even so, record industry insiders say, it did not eliminate the practices entirely.
Minor himself was known to send radio programmers and their spouses pricey gifts on special occasions. According to a close associate, Minor’s office Rolodex included the number of Heidi Fleiss, the so-called Hollywood madam.
But his friends reject speculation that Minor ever broke the law with gifts or paid-for prostitutes. “He did favors for people along the way because it was generally what he wanted to do,” said one longtime friend.
Instead, Minor’s friends attribute his success to raw talent and hard work.
“Nobody worked harder than Charlie,” Childs said. “He would simply go the extra mile.”
Sometimes Minor entertained radio programmers at strip bars, which is where he met McClure, a petite brunette with dark, sad eyes.
The two met last year through a mutual friend who patronized the now-defunct Bailey’s 20/20 Gentlemen’s Club, a dark, mirrored Westside spot where McClure danced topless for a clientele that tended to include lawyers, executives and other high-paying patrons.
She did not become a stripper by choice but by necessity, her friends say. She is a college graduate and former aerospace worker who worked at smoky strip bars to make ends meet when post-Cold War downsizing ended her career.
“She had bills to pay,” said Cynthia Hore, a fellow stripper and close friend. (McClure has declined to talk for this story.)
Whatever Minor felt about McClure, he never mentioned her to his friends and family, leading them to believe he considered her to be just one of his many flings. They were rarely seen together at his trendy hangouts. Mostly, the relationship was played out in after-dark rendezvous at his house, friends said.
Nonetheless, McClure told friends she was in love and wanted someday to marry Minor, whom she saw as her white knight. But she was naive to Minor’s Casanova ways.
“She always saw the best in people,” Hore said. “I tried to warn her, but she wouldn’t listen.”
But McClure was also vengeful, according to Minor’s friends and neighbors, who said she once rammed her car into the garage of Minor’s Beverly Hills home when he refused to let her in.
Her final act of vengeance, according to police, came on March 19, when Minor shattered her dreams of a permanent relationship. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Frank Merriman, the top investigator on the case, called it an “ageless crime” of betrayal and vengeance.
McClure allegedly entered Minor’s home from an unlocked door to the deck facing the beach and confronted him and his newest girlfriend, Dorothy Sowell, in the bedroom, according to investigators. After an exchange, McClure left the bedroom, heading back downstairs, where she hid in a closet until she could get Minor alone, sheriff’s investigators said.
Sowell cleared away some dishes and also left the bedroom. But as she descended the stairs, Sowell crossed paths with McClure, who was heading back upstairs, saying she wanted to speak to Minor alone, investigators said.
Moments later, more than half a dozen gunshots rang out.
Minor was found face down in a pool of blood wearing only paisley pajama bottoms. He was shot nine times in the head, neck and arms, an autopsy report said. McClure was gone, but investigators found her fanny pack in the room, containing some makeup, personal items and her driver’s license.
She was arrested soon after at her Santa Monica condominium, where police later found a .25-caliber automatic--the gun the Sheriff’s Department believes was used in the murder.
McClure faces the death penalty because prosecutors allege she was lying in wait when she hid in a closet.
At the McClure family home in San Dimas, the sorry turn her life had taken was shrouded in secrecy until she was arrested.
In fact, her father, Jack McClure, a barrel-chested former aerospace worker, said he only learned the dark details of his daughter’s life after watching the evening news report on her arrest March 19.
McClure said he was dumbfounded. His daughter “was a perfect kid” who had an “average family life” and graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, majoring in math and chemistry, he said. After college, she got a job in the payroll department at the Hughes Aircraft plant in Long Beach but was laid off after a three-year stint because of the aerospace downsizing.
Suzette McClure told her father that she worked as a cocktail waitress to make ends meet. But she never mentioned stripping or Minor.
“I wish I had known all about that part of her life,” her father said as he sat in a worn reclining chair in his living room, wringing his hands. “I guess she was embarrassed about it.”
Three days after the shooting, a crowd of about 2,000, including record moguls and musicians, spilled out of the A&M; Records lot for a memorial to the slain music executive.
Drinks were flowing. Photos of Minor and his celebrity friends flashed on television screens throughout the huge tent that covered the parking lot. Eulogies praised Minor as a fun-loving friend. Women in skintight skirts wept. Even in death, Minor was the center of the party.
The irony was that Minor, a legendary party animal, had died as he was trying to slow down the pace of his hectic life.
In the last few months, he even replaced his notorious late-night parties with more sedate afternoon barbecues. Minor took up jogging and regularly worked out at the ritzy Four Seasons gym, wearing top-of-the-line exercise garb.
There are several theories as to why Minor initiated this change. Some friends suggested Minor simply reached a midlife crisis and, like many men his age, began to re-evaluate things. They said the rich meals, late-night parties and alcohol were taking their toll on the energetic executive who was already legendary for putting in long hours at work.
“I think it just got to him,” said a longtime associate. “I think Charlie worked and played hard and there was no separation.”
Others suggested that the change was prompted by his 6-year-old daughter Austin, the product of his 1983 marriage to Danica Perez, then a part-time actress.
“Austin became the focal point of his life,” Perez said in a telephone interview from the South of France, where she retreated after Minor’s death.
His failed marriage may have also forced Minor to attempt to put his life in perspective.
Minor and Perez tried for months to salvage the marriage, according to court records, but in 1990 the two filed for divorce, claiming irreconcilable differences. After Minor’s death, Perez said being married to him had been difficult because “he was so popular and everybody wanted a piece of him.”
As his marriage fell apart, Minor’s career also appeared in trouble.
In 1991, Minor ended his 17-year stint at A&M; after working his way up to vice president for promotion, a highly coveted position that earned him a $500,000-a-year salary and many perks. But he was disappointed after being passed over for president several times, according to divorce records.
Minor told friends that after PolyGram bought A&M; in 1989, the record label had too much of a “corporate” feel and had lost its fun atmosphere. He quit A&M; to become president of Giant Records, a smaller label owned by record mogul Irving Azoff, a man Minor greatly admired.
He worked just two years at Giant, leaving for reasons that neither Azoff nor Minor were willing to discuss. Minor’s tenure at Giant, however, was shaken by rumors that he was caught having sex with a young woman in his office. He left six months after the incident.
Soon after, Minor began his own company, Minor Promotion and Marketing, and Giant was his first client. But in 1993, he again changed jobs, becoming president of the new-business division for Sherman Oaks-based Hits Magazine, a widely read weekly industry trade publication.
Although it appeared his career had taken a dive, Minor was happy at Hits, Perez said, because he was out from under the corporate world of A&M; and was doing what he did best: schmoozing and gabbing with radio programmers and deejays.
“I think he was happy,” she said.
Now, Perez is trying to make sense of the shooting.
“We are devastated,” she said. “My daughter cries every night.”
Perhaps, she said, Minor was a victim of his own popularity.
“Charlie Minor was like a rock ‘n’ roll star, and these people wanted to be a part of him. I think this was his ‘fatal attraction.’ ”