By M. Peggy Quattro
Updated May 11, 2022
Greetings friends, fans, fam, and foes! Since I began this note some years ago, information continues to “come to light” about May 11, 1981, and the days, weeks, months, and years that followed. I had the pleasure to spend time with my former colleagues at D.T.A.M., to share what we saw and said, and to remember what transpired that fateful day in Kendall (Miami), FL. Even though 41 years have passed, time does not change what we know happened in our office, and the events we participated in, on May 11, 1981, a day that would change all of us in the room, and impact the Marley family and legacy. My longer tale, with input from the people who were there with me, is in the works. Watch this space… MPQ
May 11, 1981 was another beautiful Miami Monday morning. The excitement and anxiousness of starting my new job made for some tense nerves, not uncommon with the unknown. As a huge Reggae fan, I wanted this job badly. The excitement grew as I drove to the Datran Center in Kendall to begin a 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 my favorites—Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, and Gregory Isaacs—and this was all a bit much for me to believe. I’ve loved these three singers/writers/performers since my time living in Nürnberg, Germany, in the mid-1970s. I also felt sadness and dread as well because I knew these were the final days for Bob Marley on this earthly plane. Tense nerves, indeed.
My initial job interview 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, 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.” Seriously. It was the truth. It was authentic. It was me… and it worked.
The interview started from his fancy hotel room in LA, where he traveled often on business (and pleasure.) The street-smart Taylor, the self-made millionaire who grew up in a waterfront East Kingston ghetto, played hardball over salary negotiations with Quattro, the experienced Italian businesswoman from Steel Town, Ohio. Following the moment where I finally said, “Ahhh…no thanks,” we (thankfully!) came to an agreement. He filled me in on Bob Marley’s current health situation, and let me know Jimmy Cliff was flying in that following week. He mentioned returning to Miami the next morning and asked that I come in for a meeting.
As I entered the sort-of-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 quickly responded that because I am Italian, crazy was easy. I mentioned that I grew up in a large family of musicians, singers and performers, so that was no problem. The main reason I wanted to be there was my passion for this music…period.
I reminded him that I had a business background, was good with numbers, knew my way around an office, and that I really really wanted this job. “They’re not going to make it easy for you,” he nodded. Noting my puzzled look, he added point-blank, “…you’re white, American and female.” Never one to yield easily, I smiled and shrugged…“Sounds like a challenge.”
Don explained 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 Bob 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 the (former) Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, in central Miami.
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 13th! 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 nerves, yet counted the hours to May 11th. I was ready.
Driving into my future along palm- and banyan-lined Old Cutler Road, I remember wanting and yearning to meet this amazing, rebellious, spiritual Bob Marley. I wished I could thank him for touching my life. I prayed for him to get well so the entire world could experience their wish. As God, and life’s twists and turns would have it, plans do not always work out the way of wishes. News of this reality would be devastating. But as for touching lives, it’s a reality that Bob Marley’s music and message continue to realize each and every day.
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 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 don’t care for harsh fluorescent lighting, so I brought table lamps into my office, carefully placing them on my desk and shelves. I chose to accent my space with 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 past 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, to name a few.
Taylor and Marley’s connection began in 1973, while Taylor was in Kingston for a Marvin Gaye show. This is when someone at Island Records asked him to meet with Marley and convince him to go on tour. Always confident and a true Kingston rebel, Taylor went straight to 56 Hope Rd, found Marley in his bedroom, woke him up, and said he wanted to be his manager. After the initial shock and short vetting, Marley said “yeh mon.” This encounter began a relationship that lasted until (and beyond) Marley’s passing. The two got along “very well,” Taylor remembers. They had their moments he admits, 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 Taylor two deposits—one for Marley, one for Cliff—and then cancelled the Cliff show. He wanted his deposit back. Taylor responds, “Are you crazy?” The promoter then tells Marley that Taylor held additional money, not mentioning the money was for Cliff.
Marley becomes angered at this news 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, depending on whose story you believe) because he wouldn’t relinquish his rights and commissions. It’s reported that Marley’s young 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 horrific 1976 Hope Road attack on Bob’s life.
Here it is, 1981, less than a year later, and Taylor is still the only other authorized officer/signatory, on paper, to handle Marley’s accounts—Bob Marley Music (publishing), Media Aides (recording interests), and Tuff Gong (record label.) Taylor always said Marley was a smart guy, and he may not have been pleased about that after the beatings, but also noted that Marley didn’t move to 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.
It’s now around 11:00 a.m., and shortly after Taylor gave Herman and I instructions, the phone rang. I merrily answered, “Don Taylor Artist Management, how may I help you?” An anxious Jamaican female voice simply said, “Don.” “Who may I say is calling?,” I asked. It was Rita. With slight trepidation, I handed my new boss the phone. By the look of dread on his face, it seemed the world, as we knew it, was about to end. “It’s Bob,” Taylor whispered. That’s the last thing I heard.
Herman and Taylor immediately dashed out the door. They shot down to Bob’s mother’s house in Pinecrest to pick up Rita, who was waiting at the gates, and then literally sped off to Cedars. Unfortunately, Herman recalls, they arrived at Bob’s penthouse hospital suite minutes too late.
Now, I’m uneasy. Not quite sure what to do, I continue 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 heard 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, several children, loving mother Cedella Booker, all have to now deal with this terrible loss, and get ready for the onslaught of press and media 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, faraway 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 busy doing whatever it was they were doing in his office. Upon hearing the news, David Steinberg—Marley’s Philadelphia lawyer, and Marvin Zolt—his New York accountant, immediately flew down to Miami. The tempo picked when they arrived and huddled with the group already in Taylor’s office. Flying in later from Los Angeles was Brenda Andrews, VP of Irving Almo Music Publishing. By late afternoon that day, she was the final piece of the puzzle to join the party of five. Also, and for some reason I still don’t understand, Vernell Johnson, an African American VP of A&R for Capitol Records, was also there. Taylor also represented a soul-pop group from the Bahamas called T-Connection, and that band was part of Vernell and Capitol’s roster. Whatever the reason, Vernell became part of Reggae history that day, too.
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, I thought, this is a first day I will never forget… and I kept on typing. I didn’t fully 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 tens of millions of dollars, and a fraudulent company formed when Rita Marley forged her husband’s signature on the backdated contracts that I had typed! Bob Marley Music had now become Rita Marley Music (RMM). All funds and future earnings would now go to RMM, registered in the Netherland Antilles, with Rita the soon-to-be the sole signatory.
While the family at Cedella Booker’s house was reeling and dealing with the pain and loss of a son, father, husband, brother, colleague, 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 approximately $30 million, but in my estimation, it could have been/should have been more. Much more. Call it another gut feeling.
Marley died without a will (Intestate), 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? 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 fateful day in Taylor’s office. That’s no secret. Taylor recalls that Marley mentioned to him several times, “Don Taylor, Rita can sign mi name betta den 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 (both now deceased but guilty of embezzling millions of Marley’s money.) Really? Just them? Taylor wrote his story about that day in his memoir Marley and Me. But at no time, as far as I’ve seen, have Blackwell or Andrews been mentioned as having knowledge of that day’s Marley legacy transfer; or that they participated in the unlawful relocation of Marley’s music and millions. Yet, they were there.
Later that day, Taylor and Blackwell wanted to go to the Marley/Booker house, roughly 20-30 minutes away. I drove Taylor’s Silver Shadow Rolls Royce to the exclusive Pinecrest area, dotted with huge houses and even larger lots. On the way, I was witness to the casual conversation between two—no three—music moguls, as Vernell was (still) there, in the backseat with Blackwell.
One exchange that sticks in my memory is when Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” came on the radio. Their talk turned to the famous handclap sound effect. Blackwell thought out loud, something to the effect that Marvin Gaye was “over.” With a tinge of smugness added something like, “who [still] wants to listen to him?” In a knee-jerk reaction, I raised my hand from the steering wheel, locked eyes with him through the rear-view mirror and said, “I do.” Taylor looked at me and smiled, because he once co-managed the sexy soulful singer. “Sexual Healing” went on to sell millions and be certified platinum, and Marvin Gaye’s handclap sound effect was at the beginning of the synthesizer revolution. Clearly, not “over.”
The spacious house Taylor helped Marley buy for his mother was situated on what may be two 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 large clouds of righteous Rasta herb. The rhythmic sound of Rastafari’s Nyabinghi drumming was new to me, and the mourning and grief surrounding us was palpable. This is where I first encountered son Stephen, nine years old, and 12-year-old Ziggy. Rita was moving about the spacious two-story house, still with that strange look on her face I noticed earlier. It appeared her mind was somewhere else. The atmosphere was as heavy with uncertainty as it was with pungent ganja smoke. The leader of the family, the Reggae king, was gone. The question at the moment 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 home, 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, share 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 and Reggae history forever. Although our messenger and leader was gone, the story of Bob Marley was far from over.
When leaving Stefano’s 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 just go. Light be damned!
Only seconds later did I see red and blue flashing lights behind me…a nice African American cop pulled me over.
I started to bawl about how the cursed light would not turn green and how I just wanted to go home. Only to then blurt out, “Bob Marley died today… my first day on the job.” The cop appeared genuinely shocked when he asked, “Bob Marley died?” “Yes, today,” I mumbled, “and I work for his manager…today was my first day…and he died.” He became immediately sympathetic to the pain of our shared loss and kindly let me go.
The Following Days
The great debate over the funeral, the where and who, Rasta or Orthodox, questions regarding a plastic-covered casket, the filming crew…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 plexiglass cover for the casket and how he would be dressed (his locks were returned to 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. A simple viewing for family and close friends was arranged to be held at his mother’s house in Pinecrest.
Meanwhile, flight tickets for the French and German film crews took some time, resulting in the Ethiopian Orthodox/Rastafari ceremony taking place in Kingston 10 days later. Yes, Bob Marley’s final production ultimately became part of the movie, The Land of Look Behind.
A somber, musical journey of Bob’s final trek home, a display of the love and loyalty bestowed by the hundreds of thousands who lined his path, who never left his side, from Kingston to Nine Mile. A fitting tribute for the son of Jamaica who traveled the world, changing lives with his music and message, then returned to the mountains of his birth, and now, his final resting place.