It Starts at the Beginning – Childhood, Europe, & entering the Reggae business – All Based around Music!
January 29, 2008 – Miami, Florida
Greetings and welcome to my blog. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the first Reggae Report was printed. In 1983, Michael “Mikey Zappow” Williams and I decided it was time to spread the word–and music. So a one-page newsletter, filled with local and JA news and upcoming and past events, was hand-delivered to Reggae record shops and West Indian restaurants throughout Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. Oh, we got the looks…Mikey-famous as the band leader and bass player of Zap Pow and writer and performer of “This is Reggae Music,” and me, a nice Italian girl from Ohio (via Miami and Europe) who worked for Marley’s manager Don Taylor and producer Joe Gibbs, fresh from directing a major 4-day Reggae festival with my good friend and mentor Clint O’Neil, armed with a tape recorder, camera, and tenacity — and people looked at us like we had two heads… well, actually we did… two smiling, happy heads working together for one goal, one objective — to tell the world about Reggae music. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. Next time, I’ll start at the beginning…the first time I ever heard the one drop, the bass thump, and the message music that touched my soul and heart forever. Irie!
March 14, 2008 – Miami, Florida
Growing up in a musical family, I was surrounded by music. I thought it was quite normal to have a live band playing in the dining room every week. My father, a musician since youth, had been playing music with his father and brothers for many years, until World War II separated them, and then everything changed. Fast forward to his return, getting married, having kids, working in the steel mill, but his love for music and performing never changed. He formed a band with some friends, playing guitar and mandolin, did some singing, and it really was the only time I would see him happy. I found it made me happy too. So I always hung around, watching, learning, and discovering that music was a source of happiness…not only for me, but for those guys who played, and for the people who listened and danced. I never had the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, but I knew I was a musician at heart…and soul.
Upon moving to Miami, I soon found friends who enjoyed music as much as I did. Musicians were everywhere in Coconut Grove in the ’70s, and I once again felt the joy of live music. I had a drummer boyfriend, John, and I soon was back hanging around ‘the band.’ Practice was like school and the live gigs were great. John asked if I wanted to go to Europe with him in the summer of ’74. The band had plans of touring as their American ‘southern rock’ sound was quite popular ‘over there.’ Being young and adventurous, off I went with John, the guys, and 27 pieces of luggage and equipment, to spread our music around, beginning in Paris. We stayed with a musician, of course, who introduced us to the very cool European way of life, and helped us buy our orange VW van. The music scene was awesome in Paris, but the urge to move on led us to pack up the van and we headed for Amsterdam. Can’t really describe A’dam in a few paragraphs, let’s just say, I never saw any place like it before — or since. The musicians there were great, too. The band performed at all the hot clubs — the city had many — and they became quite popular. After a year, it was time to move on again, to where the opportunity to work steadily and earn in US dollars (it was worth something in those days) was calling. Nurnberg, Germany became our destination. Military bases were everywhere and they all had GI clubs. It was during this period that my German friends introduced me to a new kind of music — Reggae. It sounded even cooler when you rolled the r-r-r-r-r’s like my German pals did.
At Eva and Ushi’s flat, in the center of Nurnberg’s old town, a group of girls and musicians were drinking wine and … well, let’s just leave it at that. They put on a record, yea, a record, and there it was (sing along) “You can get it if you really want it, but you must try, try and try, you’ll succeed at last.” I was drawn to the beat and dance floor by the groovin’ Germans who told me this was music ‘from where I was from.’ What? I said…it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. They pulled out the Atlas, and since Miami is in close proximity to Jamaica, they insisted it was ‘from where I was from.’ Okay…I then took up the album cover and said hello to my new friend, Jimmy Cliff. It was love at first sight — and sound — and the love affair continues today. (However, the affair with John had ended.) Later I will tell you how and when Jimmy Cliff came into my life – live and direct – and played a prominent role in the development of my career and my magazine, Reggae Report. Bob Marley & the Wailers were touring Europe in the mid to late 70s, drawing huge numbers — like 100,000 fans in the Milano football stadium (more than the pope who ‘played’ there just a short time before) and some 70,000 fans in Frankfurt. A Reggae convert, I had a feeling that this was the music that could – and would – change the world. One drop at a time.
I decided to return to the US when I had the opportunity to work with David Crosby. However, I never made it out to San Francisco in 1980. Instead, after six+ years in Europe, I stayed in Miami, in Coconut Grove, and settled back in to the once familiar lifestyle. Looking for work in 1981, I discovered a job in the paper that said “Music Business, Assistant Manger” – I read ‘fun, music, travel!’ I called and asked, “So, who do you manage?” When the young lady I was about to replace said “Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff…oh, and Gregory Isaacs,” I told her I’d be right down. So I put on my ‘going to get the job clothes’… and guess what? They worked! More next time on my first day, May 11, 1981, and the course it had set me on. Irie!
April 8, 2008 – Miami, Florida
My new job was set to begin at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 11, 1981. During the week leading up to that day, I had a couple meetings with Don Taylor, the manager of Marley, Cliff and Isaacs. A smooth talker in a silk shirt and sandals, the casual music business pro later played hard ball over salary negotiations. First, he questioned how and why a nice Italian girl from Ohio would want to be in “this crazy business… working with Jamaicans.” I reminded him I was Italian, so crazy was easy, I grew up with musicians, so that was no problem, and I was drawn by my passion for the music…period. I had a business background, good with numbers, knew my way around an office, and really really wanted this job. The street-smart Taylor, a self-made millionaire who grew up in a Kingston ghetto, and Quattro, the little Italian girl from Ohio who fought for her pay, finally came to an agreement. I was set to begin on Monday, May 11.
Don was out of town a lot in those days before I was hired. We sealed our deal while he was in L.A. At that time, Bob Marley was very ill, undergoing treatment for cancer in a German treatment clinic, and preparing to return home. I so wanted to meet Bob; I prayed that he would get well and I would get my wish. As God and life would have it, it didn’t work out that way.
Bob was returning to Miami, on his way home to Jamaica, when he was admitted into Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, near downtown Miami. Our office was south of there, in Kendall, about 20-30 minutes away, and Bob’s mother, Cedella Booker, lived even further south, another 20 minutes or so. Don and I spoke over the weekend and he said he was looking forward to working with me and that I should be prepared because the week ahead was going to be very busy. Not only was Bob ill and in the hospital, but Jimmy Cliff was coming to town on Wednesday, May 13, for business and to record a TV show (it turned out Jimmy didn’t know that part and wasn’t very happy when he found out!)
I looked forward to Monday and getting started. I was excited when I went into the office. Don wasn’t in yet, but I did get to meet his personal assistant, Herman Plasencia. I began to set up my new office.There were posters and pictures, magazines and albums everywhere! A real treasure trove for a Reggae lover. I didn’t like the harsh fluorescent lighting so I brought in table lamps. I hung pictures of Bob and Jimmy and Gregory, I hung gold records (and believe me, that was a thrill), and looked over the files and folders to see what I was facing.
Around 11 a.m. or so, Don came into the office. Distracted and uneasy, he sat down to discuss what I would be doing that day and in the days to come. He was an experienced manager, with a background in R&B and soul music. He had been working with Bob Marley since the mid-70s, and the two got along very well. They had their moments, according to Don, but after the licks and tricks, they still worked well together. So much so, all the accounts set up in the US and the Caribbean were under Don Taylor’s control. And I had the check books to prove it.
Shortly after arriving and giving instructions, the phone rang. I answered, “Don Taylor Artist Management, may i help you?” A very anxious voice asked for Don. It was Rita Marley. I handed him the phone, and he looked as if the world was about to end. He hung up and dashed out the door. “It’s Bob,” was the last I heard.
Now I was uneasy. Not quite sure what to do now, I continued to organize my office and straighten up the outer office area. I never touched Don’s office. He knew where things were, and that was fine with me. It was about 11:45 a.m. when I received a call from Don. “If anyone calls, you don’t know anything,” was all he said.
But I knew… and my heart sank with sadness. Wow, I thought. Wow…my first day on the job and he’s gone. Wow. Well, I’m here now…and here I’m gonna stay. Everything happens for a reason, I said to myself. And I waited.
It was about 2 p.m. when the door swung open and in walked Don and Rita Marley. It was the first time I ever set eyes on her. She had a strange look on her face as she silently strolled into my office where I awaited instructions. She slowly looked around, at my newly hung Bob Marley pictures and gold records, and without a word, she calmly turned and walked out. As she and Don did whatever it was they were doing, Chris Blackwell, head of Island Records, arrived, soon followed by David Steinberg – the Philadelphia lawyer, and Marvin Zolt – the New York accountant. Later they were joined by Brenda Andrews, representing the music publisher, who just flew in from Los Angeles. As the meeting went on, I was asked to type this and find that. Quickly admonished for asking questions about the documents I was typing, I didn’t know until many years later what exactly had gone in Don’s office. In those few hours, the future of Bob Marley’s legacy was decided. More next time… Irie!
May 28, 2008 – Miami, Florida
I was amazed at the speed that Bob’s finances were being juggled about. While the family at Ms. B’s house was dealing with the loss of their son, father, brother, and friend, the manager, lawyer, accountant, record label owner, and music publisher were wheelin’and dealin’ with Bob’s estate. Behind closed doors, the many off-shore accounts in various names were being changed and readied for the ensuing chaos that was sure to follow. Bob died without a will, so according to Jamaica law, the wife and the children split 50/50. Fair enough. Or was it? Everyone wanted their share of the pie and it would be weeks, months, years, before it was sorted out. Bob Marley Music went to Rita Marley Music that day, aided by Rita being so good at signing Bob’s name. That’s no secret. Bob said it, Don T. said it…and many years later, Rita said it. She acknowledged signing her late husband’s name, but only, she claims, at the prodding of the lawyer, accountant, et all.
Later in the afternoon Don and Chris wanted to go to the Marley/Booker house. I drove Don’s Rolls Royce the few miles there, witness to the casual conversation between two moguls. One part that sticks in my mind was when Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” came on the radio. The talk turned to the now-famous hand-clap sound effect. Chris thought out loud, something to the effect that Marvin Gaye was over, and who wants to listen to him. In a knee-jerk reaction I raised my hand from the steering wheel, looked at him through the rear view mirror and said, I do. “Sexual Healing” went on to be a major hit song for Marvin Gaye, and the hand-clap sound effect was the beginning of the synthesizer revolution.
The house Marley bought for his mother was on about two acres of land. Large gates with the Lion of Judah opened as the Rolls pulled up. Inside was much activity, sounds of sadness and grief, and lots of people. I first met Stephen there, he was about 9 at the time, and eldest Ziggy, who was 13 years old. Rita was moving about, still with that strange look on her face I noticed earlier, like her mind was somewhere else. The atmosphere was heavy with uncertainty, as the leader of the family, the Reggae king, was gone and the question was, what do we do now?
After leaving the house, taking my observations and own questions with me, I drove to the office, and then home. I called a friend to go to Key Biscayne and have dinner with me. I wanted to talk about my first day in the Reggae business, how sad the day was, about the powerful pack that descended on the office in a flurry of legal documents and phone calls. Although our leader was gone, the story of Bob Marley was far from over.
When leaving the restaurant, I became frustrated with a red light that just refused to change from red to green! What is this, I thought out loud. After dutifully waiting a few non-changes, I proceeded to just go. Only to be stopped seconds later by a nice African-American Key Biscayne cop. I started to bellow about how the darn light wouldn’t turn green, and how I just wanted to go home. Then I blurted out, “And Bob Marley died today!” and how it was my first day on the job. The cop looked genuinely stunned by the news, became sympathetic to the pain of our shared loss, and let me go.
The next few weeks were a blur. Plans for the family’s memorial were paramount, and coinciding with that was the plan for the Jamaica farewell. Everyone had an opinion about how it should go, it seemed. Turned out if would be a state funeral, hosted by the Jamaican government Bob brought together years before, and who posthumously awarded him the Order of Merit. The debate over where and who, Rasta or Orthodox, the plans for the plastic covered casket, all ran together. Don was a master at handling these things, and I watched in awe and did what I was instructed. Flight arrangements were being made, as well as the arrangements for the film crew. Yes, the final Bob Marley production became the movie, The Land of Look Behind, as it followed Bob’s final journey home to Nine Mile, St. Ann, the parish of his birth and final resting place.
Don returned from Jamaica exhausted. Before continuing with the dissemination of the Marley assets, he went to spend some quiet time at his place in Nassau. Herman and I held down the fort while he was in Jamaica and the Bahamas, and I thought about how much had transpired since that first day. One was greeting Jimmy Cliff when he arrived in Miami on Wednesday, May 13.
I wasn’t prepared for his reaction when I broke the news that we were on our way to a TV taping in downtown Miami. However, riding in the bus to the station was one of the biggest thrills of my life. Here was my Jamaican Reggae Idol from my Nurnberg days. Jimmy was kind to me (though not crazy about being tricked into doing this taping by the shrewd Taylor.) We spoke about my time in Europe, his time in Brazil and traveling the world, the loss of brother Bob, and the current state and future hopes for Reggae music.
Shortly after that, I had to meet Gregory Isaacs at the Miami International Airport. That encounter, and more with Jimmy Cliff, to follow. One Love!
September 22, 2008 – Miami, Florida
I was sent by Don T to the Miami International Airport to meet Gregory Isaacs and members of Roots Radics, who were coming in from Kingston. Gregory had just toured London and the UK, and he was riding high on the success of his LP More Gregory, which featured great songs like “Front Door” and “Confirm Reservation.” Although I didn’t know of Gregory prior to DTAM, I became a fan of his music immediately. What a voice! Soulful and sultry, you could understand why women swooned when he crooned. Since I didn’t know who I was looking for, I carried around a copy of one of his LP’s, the one with the black and white cover (can’t think of the name right now…) Picking out a Rasta inside MIA turned out not to be too difficult. I strolled up to a group of dreadlocks who were looking in some store windows. I picked the tall one and asked, “Are you Gregory Isaacs?” I’ll never forget the look he gave me…a slight curve up on one side of his smile, a slight head tilt, with languid brown eyes very obviously sizing me up and down, and a very cool reply, “Nuh, not really.” Well, I knew it was him, and when I showed him the LP cover he just cracked up laughing, as well as the guys with him. They began to introduce themselves…there was Bingy Bunny, Flabba, Style…so I asked Gregory, “So, what’s your nickname?,” and he very slowly drawled, “They call me Toot.” And I immediately replied, “Not in this country, okay?” [Later did I learn it was a nickname given him in the UK for his sweet tooth.]
As we rode back to the DTAM office, I impressed them by knowing all of their birth names. See, I worked on their visas and had access to their passport information, and no where did it say Bingy, Flabba, or Style. Roots Radics were really such great guys. The more I hung out with them and learned their history, the more impressed I became with them. All of them were working on an LP that would be released in 1982…the most popular and well-known Gregory Isaacs record to date…Night Nurse.
Once back at base, Gregory went into Don’s office to sort our whatever he came into town for. I assumed it had to do with the completion of the tour, or perhaps the Night Nurse project, or a pending short tour of the US. Gregory was at the top of his game in the early ’80s, and his unique style of Lover’s Rock had set the standard for other JA acts to follow. But still in America, it was only in major markets, such as New York and LA, that Reggae acts were getting the respect due, and that gave me much cause for concern.
In a matter of a few months, brother Bob had passed, Jimmy Cliff was in and out of town, and Gregory Isaacs ruled the Reggae scene. We managed the top acts in Reggae music! They both toured to rave reviews in Europe and South America, but in Miami, the lack of gigs was a topic of conversation among the Reggae radio DJs and Reggae and Caribbean press. I got to meet them all and it opened my eyes to a whole new world. Lawd, I loved my job… More fun stories about life at Don Taylor Artist Management next time… 1 Luv!