Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records—the label who introduced Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, and U2 to audiences around the world—is in London for the 50th-anniversary celebration of the company he founded. Blackwell, the son of an Irish father and Costa Rican mother, has been based in Jamaica (where he was raised) for the last two decades. In an interview with Andrew Perry of the Telegraph, he reminisces about his relationship with the musicians he worked with at Island Records. Here are some excerpts from the interview, which you can read in its entirety through the link below.
AP: What kind of childhood did you have in Jamaica?
CB: When I was young, I didn’t have a lot of contact with people, because I was sick a lot. Then I went to school in England [to Harrow]. I didn’t do terribly well at school, so I came back at the age of 17. After that I did different things. I rented motor scooters. I had a little jazz club. I managed 63 jukeboxes in Jamaica, which meant I had to go all around the country to the jukeboxes, and change the records, and argue about the provision of threepeenny pieces with the owner of a bar in a little fishing village or up in hills. It was all great stuff to absorb – real life.
AP: You famously overdubbed white session musicians onto Catch A Fire, in order to make Marley more palatable to white rock audiences. Was Bob au fait with that?
CB: He trusted my instincts, which were that he should go after being a rock star, rather than a star on black American radio. His music was rough and raw and exciting, but all black American music at the time, other than James Brown, was very slick and smooth. Bob trusted me on that, he was as keen as I was. He was with me in the studio when we did all the overdubs. After that, it was just a matter of getting people to see him perform, and word of mouth did the rest.
AP: Through Marley’s eyes, you must’ve been ineradicably connected to the old order, the British Empire, while he was a ghetto roughian, a revolutionary. How well did you work together?
CB: It was as good a working relationship as I’ve ever had with anyone. I respected him from Day One. He never told me anything which he didn’t do, and vice versa. We never had any misunderstandings. But I never hung out with him. He was his own guy, he had his own life, it wasn’t that kind of thing.
He was tough if he had to be, but he never gave off a tough air. He gave off a very shy and quiet image. He absolutely had an aura about him. I never saw him leading his band by toughness, I saw him leading them by example. If the bus was going on somewhere, he’d be the first person on the bus. Normally the star turns up at the end, cracks a few jokes and climbs on, but he’d be the first one there.
For the complete interview go to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopfeatures/5356523/Chris-Blackwell-interview-Island-Records.html
Photo: Dickie Jobson, Countryman and Chris Blackwell in Jamaica, 1982/ISLAND TRADING ARCHIVE