My Life in Music and Beyond
In the vein of Sound Man and The Soundtrack of My Life, a lyrical memoir from the founder of one of the greatest music labels of all time, Island Records, about his astonishing life and career helping to bring reggae music to the world stage and working with Bob Marley, U2, Grace Jones, Cat Stevens, and many other icons.
Since its founding in 1959, Island Records has been home to legendary artists representing wildly divergent musical styles, yet who share the same maverick, outsider spirit of its founder, Chris Blackwell. Time and again, Blackwell and his Island cohorts identified and nurtured musicians overlooked by other labels, including Bob Marley, U2, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, Roxy Music, Traffic, Nick Drake, Tom Waits, Robert Palmer, Free, the B-52’s, John Martyn, and Jimmy Cliff.
Like these artists, Blackwell never took the conventional route. After a privileged early childhood in Jamaica—crossing paths with Ian Fleming, Noël Coward, and Errol Flynn—he was expelled from the elite British school Harrow for rebellious behavior at age seventeen. Within five years, he had moved back to Jamaica, and founded Island.
Intertwined with the story of Island is that of Bob Marley and the Wailers. After an impromptu meeting with the band in 1972, Blackwell produced the groundbreaking album Catch a Fire, formed a deep bond of mutual trust and friendship with Marley, and became known for helping to bring reggae music to the world stage. He also opened the first Jamaican boutique hotel, on the property of Ian Fleming’s former home, GoldenEye, where all the James Bond books were written.
This engaging memoir from one of the great raconteurs of the late 20th century makes for a giddy ride through some of that era’s most cutting-edge, enduring music. As Bono says, Blackwell “is an adventurer, an entrepreneur, a buccaneer, a visionary, and a gentleman.”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Blackwell, founder of Island Records, delivers a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of his consequential career as a record producer. Following his family's move from England to Jamaica in 1938, less than a year after he was born, Blackwell lived a comfortable, cloistered life. That changed when, at age 18, he and two friends took a boating trip that left them stranded on an unfamiliar stretch of shore; eventually they were rescued by a community of Rastafarians. As the impresario observes, his encounter with people he'd been taught by "white Jamaican society" to regard as a threatening "gang" was life-changing; most significantly, it planted a seed within Blackwell that ultimately led him to partner with "Rastafarianism's most celebrated... ambassador, Bob Marley." His career began humbly in the late 1950s, as a selector, responsible for picking out songs for jukeboxes around Kingston to play, and eventually led him to start his own label, Island Records, in 1959. Throughout, Blackwell provides engrossing details of his road to success including discovering such famed musicians as Bono and Cat Stevens but most impressive is his refreshing self-awareness; as he writes, "There's no two ways about it: I am a member of the Lucky Sperm Club. I was born into wealth and position." Music lovers shouldn't miss this.