I hadn’t seen him in several years, and I knew he was way older than he looked, and sure enough Ren Grevatt was 94 when he died Saturday—though I didn’t find out until yesterday, and no one else seemed to know either. Ren was an ironically soft-spoken, quiet guy even when he was in his prime as a music publicist, but when word of his death finally did come out, he made a lot of noise among the many writers, clients and staffers whose lives he touched, personally and professionally, in his many years in the biz.
It was mainly because of the kind of guy he was, in addition to the job he did.
“The man behind the scenes sometimes made the scenes happen—and got the word out when they did,” wrote Nitty Gritty Dirt Bander John McEuen via email. “Cordially, smoothly, always the pro, Ren–or as Steve Martin called him, Reverend Grevell–brought the press to many acts that would have been ignored otherwise, and to many they might not have otherwise reached. You always felt like you were his most important client, and he was excited about things that got done. A fine skier, cordial host, friendly guy everyone liked and proud loving father, music lover Ren was always good to see, whether working for you or just coming to hang out.”
Ren handled the Dirt Band and many, many other acts and companies over the years, notably including the Grateful Dead, Linda Ronstadt, Alice Cooper and Irving Plaza—and I’m forever grateful that he got me a VIP card that enabled me instant entrance there any time. I also felt a kinship with him in that we both worked for Billboard, though he was there long before me—whether or not he looked it.
Bob Merlis, himself a music business publicity legend, at Warner Bros. Records and independently, recalls: “He was one of the first indie publicists I got to know. Very kind, even-tempered guy who made me realize you don’t have to look or act ‘hip’ or be like the artists you rep to be effective. One’s credibility might, in fact, be proportional to how different your affect is from that of your client’s. He was on retainer from Warner Bros. Records before they established their own New York-based publicity department and, as such, handled the Grateful Dead and invited me to a reception for the band at Max’s Kansas City where I got to spend some quality time with Jerry Garcia. He was a dignified guy in an undignified business.”
Indeed, Ren was a good, decent person, qualities that were reflected in his staff, many of whom went on to great things in and out of the business. A role model, for sure.