Charlie Comer, Marley publicistFriday, May 07, 2021
BY ROGER STEFFENS
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the 30th in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.
CHARLIE Comer was one of those behind-the-scenes persons whose role in Bob Marley's enormous success could not be underestimated. A pugnacious, florid-faced Liverpool Irishman, he had worked as a publicist for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Bee Gees, The Who, The Chieftains, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, and Peter Tosh.
Writer Garry Steckles recalled that “he'd call a journalist anywhere in the world — his phone bills were astronomical — and talk, non-stop, for as long as it took to get a commitment to either review or assign a feature story on one of his clients who happened to be scheduled to perform in their city or town. It's safe to say that while Peter Tosh was a musical giant and Bob Marley a musical genius, without Charles Comer working feverishly to bring them to the attention of newspaper and magazine readers and television audiences throughout the world, neither would have achieved the degree of international fame they did.”
Comer joined with Marley in the mid-70s working out of Island Records' New York office, getting Marley major coverage in Rolling Stone, Melody Maker, The Village Voice, even the New York Times. Comer's skills, and integrity, were under tremendous pressure when Bob was shot in December 1976. Rumours were rampant that the assassination attempt was undertaken because of a horse race scam that Bob was involved in.
Charlie dispelled the claims, instead insisting that it was a political hit, burnishing Bob's reputation as a rebel willing to take a bullet for his beliefs. When Bob returned to the Jamaican stage 16 months later, Comer, on Island Records' dime, flew several important journalists down and guaranteed major international coverage. He promoted it as Bob's triumphant arrival back home, despite eight hours of previous performances by many of Jamaica's most popular artistes celebrating a peace truce in the ghettoes, and an incendiary set by Tosh, his former partner in The Wailers.
Charlie can be seen in many documentaries about Marley, standing by his side in New York's Waldorf-Astoria as Bob collects his United Nations Peace Medal, and in Toronto as a brash young female reporter accosts Bob with the charge that, “Rastas are involved in drug dealing,” to which Bob responds, “Rasta is involved in progress!”.
He (Comer) became a very close friend of mine, a true early mentor, who treated me when I was just a novice reggae writer as if I were some big shot working for Time Magazine instead of the broadsheet Reggae News. He spent the penultimate week of his life with me in Los Angeles, after his doctor told him he had to get out of wintertime New York and go to a warmer climate. We picked oranges off our trees for breakfast each morning, and he called his sister in Scotland to rave about it.
Comer set up countless interviews for others, but always refused to let anyone interview him.
“My clients wouldn't work with me if they thought I would talk to others about them,” he said.
But, knowing the end was so near, he agreed in the hours before boarding a flight back to New York to let me film an hour-long talk about his amazing life — his relationship with Frank Sinatra and the mob; running below-deck gambling operations as a teenager working on the Cunard line; and telling me how he invented a story about the death of the original Queen Mary, which had actually been decommissioned years earlier, drawing reporters from all the major outlets.
I asked him then how he would like to be remembered and he replied, “For my honesty.”
In my latest book, So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley, Comer reveals the advice he gave to his clients.
“I always told Bob and Peter if we were doing press conferences, this is what you should try to tell people — something you want to tell them. And I told them when you're doing a TV show, don't give a f---- what the question is, you just say what you're on there for. A new record, a new movie, a new TV show or a new video. And I said no interviewer can stop you from saying what you're going to say. They've got to actually go on a different track and pretend that they've been asking that question, otherwise they look idiotic,” he said.
Charlie Comer died from diabetes in February 2011 at age 64.
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