Updated May 11, 2023
By M. Peggy Quattro
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’ve had the pleasure of spending time with my former colleagues at D.T.A.M., sharing what we saw, said, and did as we remember what transpired that fateful day in Miami, Florida. Even though 42 years have passed, time does not change the truth or what we know took place in our office “that day.” The double-dealing events we witnessed and inadvertently participated in remain with us. However, the lasting effect it has on the Marley family and legacy remains to be seen. This is one day. There is a longer tale, one that’s never been told in any Marley book, still waiting to be revealed. ~MPQ
May 11, 1981, is another beautiful Miami Monday morning. The excitement and anxiety of starting my new position made for some tense nerves, not uncommon when facing the unknown. As a huge Reggae and Bob Marley fan, I landed this job I wanted so badly. I feel my excitement grow as I drive to the Datran Center in southwest Miami. Don Taylor Artist Management (D.T.A.M.) is a well-established and well-connected management company, which happens to manage my favorite Reggae artists — Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, and Gregory Isaacs. I’ve loved these three singers/writers/performers since the mid-70’s, when I lived in Nürnberg, Germany. Eager to begin my new chapter as Don Taylor’s assistant manager, I arrive shortly before my 10 a.m. start time. Because I am aware that these are the final days for Reggae king Bob Marley on this earthly plane, I have feelings of sadness and dread as well. Tense nerves, indeed.
Before I share the events of this fateful first day, let me start at the job’s beginning. In early May 1981, there is a listing in the Miami Herald (I’m paraphrasing here): “Music Manager Seeks Assistant. Fun, Adventure, Travel.” Perfect! I think, and immediately call and speak to Betsy Berg, the young lady I would soon be replacing. She is genuinely surprised that I know who these Reggae greats are and promptly invites me in for an interview that day. When I passed the first round with Betsy, she highly recommended me to Don Taylor.
During that week leading up to my first day, I speak with Taylor a few times on the phone. Our first interview is conducted from his fancy hotel room in LA, where he travels often on business (and pleasure.) “Why do you want this job?” is his first question. “Because I love Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff,” I answer. “I love the message, the music, the calling for the underdog to ‘get up, stand up.’” Seriously … it is the truth. It is authentic. It is me … and it worked.
Later in the week Taylor, the street-smart, self-made millionaire who grew up in a waterfront East Kingston ghetto, plays hardball over salary negotiations with Quattro, the experienced Italian businesswoman from Steel Town, Ohio. After finally saying, “Ahhh…thanks, but no thanks,” we (thankfully!) come to an agreement. He then fills me in on Bob Marley’s current health situation, and lets me know Jimmy Cliff will be flying into Miami that following week. He mentions returning to his Miami base the next morning and asks that I come in on Friday for a face-to-face meeting.
As I enter the not-so-spacious Kendall office, I’m met by Herman Plasencia — Don’s loyal, affable, right-hand-guy. He greets me with a welcoming handshake and relief-like smile. I’m led to Taylor’s office, where I spot the smiling smooth-talker casually lounging on a lush leather couch in a silk shirt and leather sandals. Quite the first impression. The cool, music business pro did not hesitate to question how and why “a nice Italian girl from Ohio” would want to be in “this crazy business”… punctuating with a wry smile, “… and working with Jamaicans.” Not missing a beat, I simply explain that because I am Italian, crazy is easy. I mention growing up in a large family of musicians, singers and performers, so no problem there. “The main reason I want to be here is my passion for this music … period.”
Following with my business background, i.e., I’m good with numbers, know my way around an office, detailed and organized, I end with the fact that I really really want this job. After a brief pause, he looks me straight in the eye and says: “They’re not going to make it easy for you.” Noticing my puzzled expression, he adds point-blank, “You’re white, American and female.” Not one to yield that easily, I respond with a smile and a shrug: “Sounds like a challenge.”
Taylor and I speak on the phone several times that weekend. He says he is looking forward to working with me, and that I should prepare because the week ahead is going to be very busy. He explains that Bob Marley is extremely ill following cancer treatment at the controversial Ringberg clinic in Germany’s frigid Bavarian Alps. I’m told preparations are underway for him to return home, to his beloved Jamaica, and that he is now in Miami. With his condition critical, Bob is admitted to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. The entire penthouse floor was allocated to the Reggae king, and he is surrounded by his mother, several children, close friends, and family members.
I also learned Jimmy Cliff will be coming into town on Wednesday, May 13, 1981, and I was to prepare for his end-of-tour business. I’m super excited to meet the man whose music and voice drew me into Reggae’s orbit during those halcyon days in Nürnberg. Furthermore, he is to be a featured guest on a local TV show (as it turned out, Jimmy didn’t know about that, and wasn’t very happy when he found out!) I was a bundle of mixed emotions and nerves while counting the hours to May 11, 1981. In my mind, I was prepared and ready for what was to come … little did I know what was coming.
THE FIRST DAY
I remember driving into my future along banyan-covered Old Cutler Road, hoping and yearning to meet the amazing, revolutionary, spiritual Bob Marley. I wished to thank him for touching my life. I prayed for him to get well so the entire world could experience that same wish. As it turns out, life does not always work the way of wishes. The new reality will be devastating. But, as for touching lives, Bob Marley and his music share a reality that continues each and every day.
Quite enthused, I arrive a little early. Taylor isn’t in yet, but Herman is. He shows me around, fills me in, and helps me set up my office. There are posters and pictures, magazines and albums, papers and receipts everywhere — a real treasure-trove for this Reggae lover. I don’t care for the harsh fluorescent lighting, so I bring table lamps into my office, judiciously placing them on my desk and shelves. I choose to accent the walls with Marley’s recently-hung gold records (believe me, that was a thrill!) and framed photos and posters of Bob, Jimmy, and Gregory. After nodding satisfactorily at my new workspace, I begin to look over files and folders to see what I am facing.
Around 11 a.m., Taylor bursts through the door. Distracted and uneasy, he calls me into his office to discuss what I will be doing that day and in days to come. He is an experienced artist manager, with a client roster in R&B and soul music that includes 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 a confident maverick, Taylor goes to 56 Hope Rd., finds Marley in his bedroom, wakes up the surprised singer, and says, “I want to be your manager.” After a short vetting, Marley says “yeh mon” and they began a relationship that lasts until (and beyond) Marley’s passing. The two got along “very well,” Taylor recalls in his memoir. 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 a reported beating Taylor was given by Marley and crew in Gabon, Africa, the previous year. Over money (of course). In his own defense, while sworn under oath in a NYC courtroom, Taylor recounts the event in a Nov. 9, 1987, hearing. Evidently, the promoter gave Taylor two show deposits — one for Marley, one for Cliff — and then cancels the Cliff show. When he asks for his deposit back, Taylor responds, “Are you crazy?” The promoter then goes and 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 after Gabon, also in 1980, 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 reportedly roughed Taylor up, threatening him with an Uzi (or a 45mm, depending on whose story you believe) because Taylor wouldn’t relinquish his rights and commissions. The story goes that teen-aged son Ziggy rushes in to save Taylor’s behind, shouting for his father to “leave him alone,” reminding him that Taylor suffered six gunshots the night of that horrific 1976 Hope Road assassination attack.
Here it is, 1981, 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.) Taylor always said Marley was a smart guy, and he may not have been pleased about Taylor’s status after the beatings, but he never changed it. These accounts, set up by Taylor in various Caribbean countries, including Tortola BVI, Nassau, and Netherland Antilles, in the mid-70s were still under Taylor’s control … and I had possession of the checkbooks to prove it.
Back to that first day. It’s shortly after 11:00 a.m., Taylor has given Herman and I our day’s instructions, when the phone rings. I merrily answer, “Don Taylor Artist Management, how may I help?” An anxious Jamaican female voice simply says, “Don.” It’s Rita Marley. Feeling slightly trepidatious, I hand 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 whispers as he hands me the phone.
Herman and Taylor immediately dash out the door. They shoot down to Bob’s mother’s house in Pinecrest to pick up Rita, who was anxiously waiting at the front gates. Herman literally speeds off to Cedars hospital with Don and Rita in tow. Unfortunately, Herman recalls, they arrived at Bob’s penthouse hospital suite minutes too late. Wailing, grief, and despair fill the hospital halls.
I’m waiting. 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 knows where things are, and that’s fine with me. It was approximately 11:45 a.m. when I get the dreaded call from Taylor. “If anyone calls, you don’t know anything,” is all he said. This is it. Bob is gone.
My heart sank with sadness. His wife Rita, children, loving mother Cedella Booker, all now have to deal with this terrible loss. How do you prepare for the onslaught of international press that was about to invade their semiprivate lives. The phone rang incessantly. “I know nothing,” I repeated. But somehow, everyone knew.
It is about 2 p.m. when the door swings open and in storms Taylor, visibly shaken. Time to get to work. He is followed by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and Rita Marley in a purple dress and head wrap. Blackwell goes into Taylor’s office and Rita wanders into mine. It is the first time I ever set eyes on her, and to me, she looked more serious than sad. No tears, just a strange, faraway look on her face. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” is all I could muster up to say. She slowly looks around at my newly hung Bob Marley pictures and gold records, and without a word, turns and walks out.
Taylor, Blackwell and Rita are 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 fly down to Miami. The tempo picks when they arrive and huddle with the group already in Taylor’s office. Flying in later from Los Angeles will be Brenda Andrews, VP of Irving Almo Music Publishing. By late afternoon, she is the final piece of the puzzle to join the party of five. And, for some reason, Vernell Johnson, the African American VP of A&R for Capitol Records, is also there. Perhaps because Taylor also represents a soul-pop group from the Bahamas called T-Connection, and that band is part of Vernell’s and Capitol’s roster. But Vernell, unwittingly, becomes part of music history that day, too.
As the meeting goes on, Taylor comes out and asks me to type this and find that. Reading the documents as I type, I have a gut feeling that things aren’t quite right. “Is this even legal?,” I dare to ask. I am quickly admonished for asking questions about what I was typing: “I don’t pay you to think,” Taylor barks. Okay, I thought, 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 out of tens of millions of dollars, and a fraudulent company formed when Rita Marley forged her husband’s signature on the soon-to-be-backdated contracts that I had typed. Bob Marley Music was now Rita Marley Music. All funds and future earnings will now go to Rita’s new company, registered in the Netherland Antilles, with Rita the soon-to-be sole signatory.
“I don’t pay you to think…”
While the family is gathered at Cedella Booker’s house, reeling and dealing with the pain and loss of their son, father, husband, brother, colleague, and friend, Marley’s manager, wife, lawyer, accountant, record label owner, and music publisher are wheeling and dealing with his estate, bank accounts and fraudulent signatures. Behind closed doors, the offshore companies — past and recently formed — are being readied for the ensuing chaos that is sure to follow. Not clear where this figure came from, but the estate’s estimated value at that time was shown as approximately $30 million. But in my estimation, then and now, it could have been/should have been/was definitely more. Much more. Call it another gut feeling.
Marley died without a will, so according to Jamaica law, Rita was apparently 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 seven women. Following Rita’s demise, all money would go to the children. Fair enough, right? Right? Or was it?
Everyone in the office that day 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. Marley mentioned to Taylor 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 Steinberg and Zolt? Even though Taylor wrote about that day in his memoir Marley and Me, at no time, as far as I’ve seen, has Blackwell, Rita, or Taylor ever been held financially accountable for participating in May 11th’s Marley’s legacy transfer; or held responsible for masterminding the unlawful relocation of Marley’s millions. Yet, they were there. Within a few hours of Bob’s passing, working, plotting, before Steinberg and Zolt ever touched down at MIA.
As May 11, 1981, heads into late afternoon, Taylor and Blackwell want to go to the Marley/Booker house. I drive Taylor’s Silver Shadow Rolls Royce 20-30 minutes to the exclusive Pinecrest area, dotted with huge houses and large lots. On the way, I am an earwitness to casual conversation between two — no three — music moguls, as Johnson is still with us. One exchange that sticks in my memory is when Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” comes on the radio. Their talk turns to the famous handclap sound effect. Blackwell thought out loud, something to the effect, “Marvin Gaye is over.” Adding, with a tinge of smugness, “who wants to listen to him anyway.” In a knee-jerk reaction, I raise my hand from the steering wheel, look at him directly through the rearview mirror and say, “I do.” I catch Taylor smiling because he once co-managed the sexy soulful singer. “Sexual Healing” went on to sell millions and become certified platinum, and Marvin Gaye’s handclap sound effect was at the beginning of a synthesizer music revolution.
The spacious home Taylor found and Marley bought for his mother in 1977 is situated on what may be two acres of land. Large iron gates, adorned with red, green and gold Lions of Judah, open as the Rolls pulls up. The yard is filled with activity and clouds of righteous Rasta herb. The rhythmic pulse of Rastafari’s Nyabinghi drumming is intriguingly new to me, while the mourning and grief surrounding us is palpable. This is where I first encounter son Stephen, 9, and son Ziggy, 12. Rita is moving about the spacious two-story house. I notice that same strange look on her face, like her mind is somewhere else. The atmosphere is as heavy with uncertainty as it is with pungent ganja smoke. The leader of the family, the Reggae king, is gone, and the question of the moment seems to be, what do we do now?
Ready to take leave of the sad and increasingly crowded house, my observations and questions left with me. I drive Taylor’s Rolls back to my car. As I reach my Coconut Grove home, I call a friend to join me for dinner (and wine) on Key Biscayne. I felt the need to share my first day in the Reggae business. I must share the sadness and woe I experienced; to ruminate on how (and why) this powerful clique pounced on this fresh pecuniary opportunity, working like gangbusters inside a flurry of illegal-legal documents and secretive meetings and phone calls that will change music and Reggae history forever.
After leaving Stefano’s restaurant, I become frustrated with a red light that refuses to turn green. What is this? I demand. After dutifully waiting a few non-changes, I proceed to go. Light be damned! Only seconds later do I see red and blue flashing lights behind me … a nice African American cop pulls me over. I start to bawl about how the cursed light would not turn green and how I just want to go home. Then blurt out, “Bob Marley died today … my first day on the job.” The cop appears genuinely shocked when he asks, “Bob Marley died?” “Yes, today,” I mumble, “and I work for his manager… today was my first day … and he died.” The officer is immediately sympathetic to the pain of our shared loss, and kindly let me go.
A day that began with excitement, anticipation, and promise, ends with sadness, bewilderment, and deception.
Although our Reggae messenger and leader is gone, the story of Bob Marley is far from over.
To be continued.