My Life-Changing First Day Working for Bob Marley’s Manager

Bob Marley - Passion & Truth Photo Kate Simon
Bob Marley – Passion & Truth        Photo Kate Simon

Updated May 25, 2018

May 11, 1981 was another beautiful Miami Monday morning. The excitement and anxiousness of starting a new job made for some tense nerves, not uncommon with the unknown. I drove to the Datran Center in South Dade to begin my new chapter as Don Taylor’s Assistant Manager. I arrived shortly before my 10 a.m. start time. Don Taylor Artist Management (D.T.A.M.) managed Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, and Gregory Isaacs, and this was all a bit much for me to believe. I knew of and loved all three singers since my days living in Nürnberg, Germany in the 1970s; sadlyI also knew these were the final days for Bob Marley on this earthly plane. Tense nerves, indeed.

Get up stand up art for 5-11-18My initial meeting was with Betsy Berg, the young lady I would be replacing. I passed the first round of interviews with her and she highly recommended me to Don Taylor. That week leading up to my first day had me meeting a few times with Taylor, always on the phone. “Why do you want this job?” was the first question. “Because I love Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff… I love the message, the music, the call for the underdog to “get up, stand up.”  S eriously.  It was the truth.  It worked.

From his fancy hotel room in LA, the street-smart Taylor, a self-made millionaire who grew up in a waterfront East Kingston ghetto, played hardball over salary negotiations with Quattro, the little Italian from Steel Town Ohio. Following a moment of me saying, “Ahhh…no thanks,” we finally (thankfully!) came to an agreement. He filled me in on Bob Marley’s current condition and let me know Jimmy Cliff was flying in that week. He mentioned returning to Miami the next morning and asked that I come in for a meeting.

As I entered the spacious Kendall office for our first face-to-face, Herman Plasencia, Don’s loyal able right-hand-guy, greeted me with a welcoming, relief-like smile. He led me to Taylor’s office, where I spotted the smiling, smooth talker in a silk shirt and leather sandals, lounging on a lush leather couch. The cool music business pro questioned how and why “a nice Italian girl from Ohio” would want to be in “this crazy business”… adding with a wry smile, “and working with Jamaicans.” I reminded him that because I am Italian, crazy was easy. I mentioned growing up in a family of musicians, so that was no problem. The main reason was my passion for this music…period.

Earlier I mentioned that I had a business background, was good with numbers, knew my way around an office, and I really really wanted this job. “They’re not going to make it easy for you,” he said. Noting my puzzled look, he added point-blank, “you’re white, American and female.” Never one to back down, I smiled and shrugged…“Sounds like a challenge.” Uh-huh. I was mentally prepared, or so I thought. Monday, May 11, 1981, was the day he set to begin.

Bob Marley was extremely ill and had been undergoing cancer treatment in Rottach-Egern, a frigid Bavarian Alps village in Germany, near the border of Austria. Preparations were made for him to return home, to his beloved Jamaica. By May 11th, Bob was already in Miami, surrounded by his mother, several children, close friends, and family members. With his condition now critical, Bob was admitted to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.

Don T Bob Fams by Kate Simon
Don T, Bob, & Familyman    Photo Kate Simon

I remember so wanting to meet this amazing, spiritual Bob Marley, and wishing I could thank him for touching my life. I prayed for him to get well so the entire world could get my wish. As God and life’s twists and turns would have it, it did not work out the way of wishes. The news of this reality was devastating. But as for touching lives, it’s a reality that Bob Marley’s music and message continue to accomplish every day.

Taylor and I spoke several times over that weekend. 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 in the hospital, Jimmy Cliff (!) was coming to town on Wed., May 13! I was super excited that I was going to meet the man whose music and voice drew me into the Reggae orbit during my days in ‘70s Nürnberg. He was coming in for business and to be a guest on a local TV show (as it turned out, Jimmy didn’t know about that, and he wasn’t very happy when he found out!) I was a bundle of mixed emotions and counted the hours to May 11th.  I was ready.

I arrived a little early to the office. Taylor wasn’t in yet, but Herman was. He showed me around, filled me in, and helped me to set up my office. There were posters and pictures, magazines and albums, papers and receipts everywhere, a real treasure-trove for a Reggae lover. I didn’t care for the harsh fluorescent lighting, so I brought table lamps into my office, carefully placing them on my desk and shelves. I chose to accent Marley’s recently hung gold records (believe me, that was a thrill!), and framed photos of Bob, Jimmy, and Gregory. After nodding satisfactorily at my new workspace, I began to look over files and folders to see what I was facing.

Around 11 a.m., Taylor burst through the door. Distracted and uneasy, he brought me into his office to discuss what I would be doing that day, and in days to come. He was an experienced manager, with a client roster in R&B and soul music that included Marvin Gaye, Jazzie B, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

Taylor and Marley’s connection began in Kingston in 1973, when he was asked by someone at Island Records to meet with Marley, to help convince him to tour. Always a confident rebel, Taylor went to 56 Hope Rd, found Marley, and said he wanted to be his manager. After a short vetting, Marley said “yeh mon” and they began a relationship that lasted until (and beyond) Marley’s passing. The two got along “very well,” Taylor remembers. They had their moments, but after “licks and tricks,” they still worked well together.

Speaking of licks, I was not aware at that time of the beating Taylor was given by Marley and crew in Gabon, Africa the year before. Over money (of course.) In his own defense, while sworn under oath in a NYC courtroom, Taylor recounted the event in a Nov. 9, 1987 hearing. Apparently the promoter gave two deposits, one for Marley one for Cliff, and then cancelled the Cliff show. He wanted his deposit back. Taylor said, “are you crazy?” The promoter then tells Marley that Taylor held additional money, not mentioning it was for Cliff. Marley is angered and the rest is history. A second pounding occurred, also in 1980, after Gabon, when Taylor told Marley he was not going to be his manager anymore. This angered Marley again, and he and best friend Alan “Skill” Cole roughed Taylor up, threatening him with an Uzi (or a 45mm, depends on whose story you believe) because he wouldn’t relinquish his rights and commissions. It’s reported that son Ziggy rushed in to save Taylor’s behind, shouting to leave him alone, reminding his father Taylor took six gunshots that night in the 1976 Hope Road attack.

Here it is, less than a year later, and Taylor is still the only other authorized officer/signature, on paper, to handle Marley’s accounts – Bob Marley Music (publishing), Media Aides (recording interests), and Tuff Gong (record label.) Marley was a smart guy, and he may not have been pleased about it after the beatings, but he didn’t change it. These accounts, set up by Taylor in Tortola BVI in the mid-70s, were under Taylor’s control… and I had possession of the checkbooks to prove it.

Rita Marley
Rita Marley

Shortly after giving me and Herman instructions, the phone rang. I answered, “Don Taylor Artist Management, how may I help you?” An anxious Jamaican female voice simply said, “Don.”  It was Rita.  When I handed him the phone, his look said the world was about to end. Herman and Taylor immediately dashed out the door. “It’s Bob,” was the last I heard. They shot down to Bob’s mother’s house to pick up Rita, and literally sped off to Cedars. Unfortunately, they arrived at Bob’s penthouse hospital room minutes too late.

Now I was uneasy. Not quite sure what to do, I continued to organize my office and straighten up the reception area. I never touched Don’s office. He knew where things were, and that was fine with me. It was approximately 11:45 a.m. when I received the call from Taylor. “If anyone calls, you don’t know anything,” was all he said. This is it. Bob is gone.

My heart sank with sadness. His wife Rita, children, loving mother, all have to deal with this terrible loss, and the onslaught of press that was about to invade their semiprivate lives. The phone rang incessantly. “I know nothing,” I repeated. But somehow, everyone knew.

It was about 2 p.m. when the door swung open and in stormed Taylor, visibly shaken. Time to get to work. He was followed by Chris Blackwell and Rita Marley in a purple dress and head wrap. Blackwell went into Taylor’s office and Rita came into mine. It was the first time I ever set eyes on her, and she looked more serious than sad. No tears, just a strange, far away look on her face. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” was all I could muster up to say. She slowly looked around at my newly hung Bob Marley pictures and gold records, and without a word, turned and walked out.

Taylor, Blackwell and Rita were doing whatever it was they were doing in his office. Upon hearing the news, David Steinberg – Marley’s Philadelphia lawyer, and Marvin Zolt – the New York accountant, immediately flew down. The tempo picked up as they came in and huddled with the crew in DT’s office. Flying in from Los Angeles was Brenda Andrews, VP of Irvin Almo Music Publishing. By late afternoon, she was the final piece of the puzzle to join the party of five. Also, a mysterious African-American man from Capital Records was there, too. Not sure why. I think his name was Eddie.

As the meeting went on, Taylor would come out and ask me to type this and find that. Reading the documents as I typed, I had a gut feeling that things weren’t quite right. I was quickly admonished for asking questions about what I was typing: “I don’t pay you to think,” Taylor barked. Okay, this is a first day I will never forget, and kept on typing. I didn’t realize until years later exactly what this con-crew had done to Bob’s life and works inside that Kendall office. In those few hours, Bob Marley’s legacy was hijacked and corrupted, an estate swindled of millions of dollars, and a fraudulent company formed when Rita Marley forged Marley’s signature on the backdated contracts that I had typed up! Bob Marley Music had become Rita Marley Music. All funds and future earnings would now go to RMM, registered in the Netherland Antilles.

Ms B Bob poster b-wWhile the family at Cedella Marley Booker’s house was reeling and dealing with pain and loss of a son, father, husband, brother, and friend, the manager, wife, lawyer, accountant, label owner, and music publisher were wheeling and dealing with Bob’s estate and bank accounts. Behind closed doors, the offshore companies were being readied for the ensuing chaos that was sure to follow. The estimated value at the time was shown at $30 million, but in my estimation, it could have been more. Much more. Just another gut feeling. Marley died without a will, so according to Jamaica law, Rita was entitled to 10% of the estate and personal possessions, and 50% of money generated by the estate during her lifetime. The balance would have been distributed to Marley’s 11 legal children by eight women. Following Rita’s demise, all money would go to the children. Fair enough, right?  Or was it?

Everyone there wanted some share of the Marley pie. It would be weeks, months, years, before it was (somewhat) sorted out. Rita forged Bob’s signature. That’s no secret. Marley had said to Taylor several times, “Don Taylor, Rita can sign mi name betta dan me.” Years later, Rita would acknowledge signing her late husband’s name, but only, she claims, at the prodding of lawyer Steinberg and accountant Zolt. Really?  At no time, as far as I’ve seen, have Taylor, Blackwell, or Andrews been mentioned as having knowledge of that day’s Marley’s legacy transfer. Yet, they were there.

chris blackwell-70s b-w pic
Chris Blackwell – Island Records Founder

Later that day, Taylor and Blackwell wanted to go to the Marley/Booker house, which was about 20-30 minutes away. I drove Taylor’s Silver Shadow Rolls Royce to the exclusive Pinecrest area, dotted with huge houses and large lots. On the way, I was witness to the casual conversation between two music moguls, and ‘Eddie.’  One exchange that sticks out was when Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” came on the radio. The talk turned to the famous handclap sound effect. Blackwell 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.” Taylor smiled, because he once co-managed the sexy soulful singer. “Sexual Healing” went on to be a major hit song for Marvin Gaye, and the handclap sound effect was at the beginning of a synthesizer revolution.

The spacious house Marley bought for his mother was situated on three acres of land. Large iron gates, adorned with red, green and gold Lions of Judah, opened as the Rolls pulled up. The yard was filled with activity and clouds of righteous Rasta herb. The rhythmic sound of Nyhabinghi drumming was new to me, and the mourning and grief surrounding us was palpable. This is where I first met son Stephen, nine years old, and son Ziggy, 12 years old. Rita was moving about the house, still with the strange look on her face I noticed earlier, like her mind was somewhere else. The atmosphere was as heavy with uncertainty as it was with the pungent ganja smoke. The leader of the family, the Reggae king, was gone, and the question seemed to be, what do we do now?

After taking leave of the increasingly crowded house, I took my observations and questions with me. I drove the Rolls back to my car. When I reached my Coconut Grove house, I called a friend to join me for dinner (and wine) on Key Biscayne. I had to share my first day in the Reggae business, how sad the day was, and how the powerful pack that descended in a flurry of illegal legal documents and secretive phone calls changed music history. Although our messenger and leader was gone, the story of Bob Marley was far from over.

When leaving the restaurant, I became frustrated with a red light that refused to turn green! What is this!, I thought. After dutifully waiting a few non-changes, I proceeded to go. Light be damned! Only seconds later did I see red and blue flashing lights behind me. A nice African-American Key Biscayne cop pulled me over. I started to bawl about how the cursed light wouldn’t turn green, and how I just wanted to go home. Only to blurt out, “Bob Marley died today!” adding, “And it was my first day on the job!” The cop appeared genuinely shocked as he said, “Bob Marley died?” “Yes, today,” I mumbled. He became instantly sympathetic to the pain of our shared loss, and kindly let me go.

Don Taylor-MPQ Book Kgn 961A
Don Taylor & MPeggyQ – Kingston, Jamaica

The great debate over the funeral, the where and who, Rasta or Orthodox, questions regarding a plastic covered casket, they all ran together. Taylor was a master at handling these things. I watched in awe and did what I was instructed to do. Final arrangements were being made, including the Plexiglas cover for the casket and how he would be dressed (his locks were replaced on his head). His beloved Les Paul guitar, a Bible, a ganja bud, and his ring given to him by Prince Asfa Wossen of Ethiopia would be buried with him. Flight arrangements for the French film crew took some time, resulting in the ceremony taking place in Kingston 10 days later. Yes, Bob Marley’s final production became the movie, The Land of Look Behind. A somber, musical journey of Bob’s trek home, and the hundreds of thousands who lined his path, who never left his side from Kingston to Nine Mile, the place of his birth and his final resting place.

magazine covers
One of the many annual Bob Marley Tribute Issues