Bob Merlis, among many other stellar aspects, is one of the best-dressed men in show biz. His name is synonymous with Warner Bros. Records, where he became SVP-Worldwide Corporate Communications. Now he heads up Merlis For Hire, a small, independent PR company with a very select client roster (ZZ Top, John Mellencamp, Percy Sledge, and others). He is da man.
While a student at Columbia University in NYC, Merlis booked artists to play on campus, including The Byrds, Mitch Ryder, Martha & The Vandellas, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Youngbloods, Simon & Garfunkel, and, most memorably, the Grateful Dead. He then spent thirty years with Warners, from his 20s to his 50s, working for legends like Stan Cornyn, Lenny Waronker, and Mo Ostin. He will tell you it was an amazing time.
His MO was to put people square-up in the spotlight. He resisted joining in the photos himself. And so, over the years he gained the respect of artists, managers, press people, and talent bookers. He also serves as Exhibits Development Director for the Petersen Automotive Museum, where he was curator for the original The Cars and Guitars of Rock 'n Roll exhibit. He co-founded Memphis International Records (an inde blues and roots-oriented label) and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee. He's also co-author of HEART & SOUL (a celebration of black music style from 1930 - 1975), which was a nominee for the Ralph J. Gleason Award for Best Music Book of 1998.
Merlis is a car guy. A Studebaker guy, actually. As an automotive journalist, he's a frequent contributor to Automobile Magazine. In January, you'll read about ROCKIN' in Automobile, in editor Jean Jenning's closing column--one more example of Bob setting up something for his client (in this case, me), and then standing away from the klieg lights. Merlis also arranged, then shepherded, my photo-op with Jay Leno.
Early on, when Motorbooks hired Bob to handle key publicity for ROCKIN' (the year before he'd handled that work for Billy F Gibbons' book ROCK & ROLL GEARHEAD), I met with Bob in his Los Angeles office. He looked at me across his desk, sweetly but sternly and said, "Y'know, I should have written this book." That was a high compliment indeed. In the end, I don't think he'd have wanted to, because it took nearly two and a half years to accomplish. A great experience to be sure, but no question a very big dig.
One of Bob's most endearing qualities is his tremendous curiosity as a industry professional--underscoring the ambition he brings to his work--and as a journalist. My favorite snapshot I took of him is when he spontaneously discovered a most unusual vehicle, a sort of post-office-like van, perched unexpectedly atop a car-trailer, around the corner from his office.