Re-Chris Blackwell

Bob, I worked with Chris for almost 11 years. From 1989 to 2000.  He is a true legend, a true entrepreneur and truly loved by almost everyone who’s lives he touched. He was literally the James Bond of the music business. A style of doing business and dealing with artists that was simply unique.   Her thought global when most thought local. Almost everything I’ve learned in the music and any meager success I may have had I owe to Chris Blackwell and his tutelage.

Larry Mestel


Chris Blackwell. there is absolutely nothing to say, other then he was the true essence of what some call a “record man”. the artists ALWAYS mattered more then the money. a great song or album (on anyone’s label) excites him more then how much money he or they were making.

what he did at Island, was true magnificence! the label was all about the talent and it revolved around his core beliefs and loves as a human being within the world as he saw it. he taught us that music is a universal language and sent me on my path of discovering that alternative music was not about charts, but about feelings. those that spoke languages we did not understand, but made us groove and dance and laugh and cry.

sure, we all remember him bringing Bob Marley and U2 to the world, but it was so much more. Traffic, King Sunny Ade, Ali Farka Toure, Nick Drake, John Martyn, the B-52’s, Fairport Convention, Jimmy Cliff, Sly & Robbie, Toots and the Maytals, Joe Cocker, Tom Tom Club as well as the aforementioned Free, Cat Stevens, Marianne Faithful, Grace Jones, Tom Waits and so many, many more.

genius is a word that gets thrown around so casually and i am not sure what it’s true meaning is anymore, but i believe it is held up for those that reach higher and deeper then us mere mortals and therefore affect change in the world. Chris Blackwell is a all of that and more. he has always been my guiding light and i am forever in his debt in more ways then he will ever know.

long may he run…

Gary Gersh


It was 86-88 when Chris Blackwell offered me a job at Island Pictures. I had just completed the Rock of the 80’s TV Series for Paramount, then TV development for Pierre Cossette Prod. I had one hand in music the other in TV/film. Having written a few screenplays I was trying to sell ideas…always a tough call in LA.

Chris saw that and gave me an office at Island Pics.

I met Matt Dike who had a club….Power Tools in downtown LA, where few traveled at that time.

I hired Matt to DJ a Island film release party for Mondo New York.

To this day Power Tools was the coolest club ever, Matt had GO GO cages hanging from the 30’ ceilings.

Studio 54, Limelight, etc could not compare to Power Tools.

Later, Matt played me tracks he made at his loft on Santa Monica.

Tone Loc’s WildThing, Young MC’s Bust a Move… among the tracks.

I called Chris and asked if he would sign these guys, Delicious Vinyl.

He did on the spot, I called friends at KROQ, had lunch with Lee Masters Prez MTV at the Sunset Marquee.

A few days later Wild Thing went on power rotation at KROQ and MTV.

The rest is history.

That is Chris Blackwell, he had what all great record guys have..gut instincts, great ears, and the will to move on it.

They don’t make em like that anymore.

Chris is eternal as is the music he championed.

Marty Schwartz,


Hey Bob,
thanks for the heads up, can’t wait to read it.

Even though I’ve only met the man once, it was a memorable encounter and hands down one of those magic nights that only seem to happen in New York or LA. It was September 10, 2010, Fashion’s Night Out (a questionable but very fun attempt to get people spending again after 2008/09) when all the major stores in NYC were open late, full with special events and appearances all over town.

Chris Blackwell had a book signing for the just released The Story of Island Records: Keep On Running at Barneys, and I went with my friend Lori who had been Branson’s right-hand for 25 years and knew him that way. As we get there, I see Chris signing and chatting with the admirers standing in line, but as I turn around, another one of my heroes, Harry Belafonte, is casually browsing the cashmere sweaters on the shelf. Of course, he was there to support his friend Chris, so I respectfully kept my distance and just enjoyed the scenery. My friend Lori comes back from talking to Chris and says he’s inviting us to come to his house after, would I like to go? Hmm, let me check my schedule and have my people call your people… OF COURSE I want to go. This night is getting better by the minute.

We get to Blackwell’s penthouse on the Upper West Side, which stretches across the whole building, filled with amazing photos from many of the Island acts, especially those of Marley. It’s a small gathering, and there’s a dreadlocked dude working the iTunes in Chris’ living room, where a few fine ladies are eager to dance. But… this must be the only Jamaican in New York who doesn’t know how to rock a crowd, I mean I was shocked how bad his music selection was, and this at Chris friggin’ Blackwell’s house?! No way will these lovely dancehall queens be deprived! Long story short, the guy let me, the white boy, take over, I plug in my iPhone and start DJ’ing (it helped that I had a DJ residency at Lenny Kravitz & Denzel Washington’s Bowery lounge at the time, so I had jams on standby), and we’re off to the races, everybody startin’ to get down.

Now, and you can’t make this up, as if on cue, in STRUTS Grace Jones in a hoodie, miniskirt, and high heels, and starts to “breakdance”!!! in the middle of the floor. In high heels. Needless to say, I was in total bliss mode, you couldn’t wipe off that grin on my face, even more so afterward when she came up to me, we hugged it out and ended up talking for a good half an hour.

As the night progresses, I make my way into the kitchen, where Chris is holding court with pals, among them our mutual friend Tommy Silverman, legendary label founder of Tommy Boy Records in his own right. I’m thinking, but of course Tommy is here, it all makes sense, movers and shakers always stay within close proximity to each other, game recognizes game.

Chris, ever the cool gentleman, then sits me down at his kitchen island and we start to chat after he pours me a big glass of his own Blackwell Rum punch while his Jamaican chef is whipping up delicious food for everyone. For a music fanboy like myself, that night was a slice of heaven.

Fredrick Weiss

PS: I did run into Harry Belafonte at a movie screening a couple of years later and got the chance to meet that legend then, as well.


Jim was VP of sales at Island from 84 to 87. I was running Tower 4th&Broadway for part of that time. Upstairs/Downstairs. Chris traveled light; same white leather jeans which he’d pair with a t-shirt from whatever airport gift shop(s) he happened to depart from that day.

That was indeed, the High Life.

Randi Swindel


One of the highlights of my 15 year stint in the music business was sharing a spliff which Blackwell rolled from one of my cigarettes in the Chelsea offices of Kurfirst-Blackwell Entertainment and Palm Pictures where I was an intern back in 2004. The truth was that even Blackwell still got nervous before interviews and needed the calming effect of cannabis to get through it. Reading your perception that you didn’t truly know him after 320 pages makes me wonder if revealing too much of himself in the interview was part of the anxiety.

-Stu Walker


You are right on U2, Bob
I remember listen to The Fly the first time in the car with me dad. He pulled over so we could listen to the song. We didn’t understand the song, it was so far behind of everything else you heard those dats on the radio.
It was indeed spectacular!

I bought Achting Baby and it was so great.

Kris Keijser


Hey Bob,
I know exactly how it was.
I worked through all of it.
So I’m really looking forward to reading “The Islander”.
Great review.
Michael Wright


I LOVE Chris Blackwell. Before I could sign my contract with Island Records in 1988 I had to go meet Chris at his house.

I was getting the biggest deal Island had ever given a new artist so I thought I was special but I really wasn’t.

Turns out Chris wanted to talk to me about my weird blend of Hendrix meets James Brown guitar funk rock and to maybe get me into a Latin Rock thing.

He said he thought the world was ready for a new young Carlos Santana on guitar.

I was like Huh??? Then I explained that I was not Mexican but I was a Native American Apache and I did not speak Spanish.

I could tell he was a little bugged that I wasn’t into it but he was cool and I signed the contract.

When he would be in the Island office in London, NYC or Hollywood people would all be nervous but I would just walk in and talk to him about all the amazing music he had been responsible for that I loved like Blind Faith, Nick Drake and the amazing My Boy Lollipop which I loved as a kid. He was amazing to talk to about music history.

Chris would walk into a semi formal room of ballers with a pair of sandals and a Hawaiian print shirt and sometimes get asked to leave when people thought he was a bum.

I LOVED that and I really loved that I got to work with him.

Stevie Salas


Ref:Chris Blackwell

Looking forward to this book.

In the UK Island was VERY well known to music nerds in the 70’s.

The label logo, either the pink one or the cartoon palm tree one, was a signifier of quality, of something different, exciting, bold.

The first Roxy Music album, mind bending, like something beamed in from Mars, Free – how could they be so authentically gritty, they were teenagers, King Crimson – reinvented and unrecognizable with every release, Sparks – deranged subversive pop with a smile and a bite, Marley – spreading the gospel of Jamaica to  the world, and of course,THAT voice – with Spencer Davis, then with Traffic and then solo, that VOICE – undeniable.

If it was on Island, I went out and bought it – simple as that.

Mark Hudson


Thanks, Bob, for this piece on Chris Blackwell – his story needs more telling.  I’ve got a little-known story about him that may surprise some people.  In 1986, before Chris asked Lou Maglia to be the president of Island Records, Lou was casting about between gigs and finding himself in a moment of, shall we say, ‘personal reflection’. Somehow, through a network of music biz connections too byzantine to recount, Lou decided to take an interest in helping a small indie label I was working at in Sacramento called Exit Records.  The twist here is that the label was run by a somewhat radical group of evangelical Christian musicians who also had a desire to do some rather hip and artistic music at a time when neither of those terms were associated with the church and/or pop music in general.  However, after Amy Grant broke through on A&M Records, Exit was able to glom onto that association and managed to get secular distribution on A&M for a time, but we wanted more.  Much more.  And it was at that time when Lou stepped in and actually began trying to help us turn our big dumb thoughts on ‘changing the world for God’ with our music into a reality.

It wasn’t long into that relationship that Lou got the call from Chris Blackwell to come and manage Island Records.  Lou agreed to the gig, with one caveat — that he be allowed to bring our little indie label with a handful of artists (including Charlie Peacock, The 77s and others) into the deal.  We knew this was an insane move on Lou’s part (and we begged him to leave out the religious aspect of our work), but since Chris had already planned a trip to Japan shortly before calling Lou, Chris agreed to fly to Sacramento to come check out our artists and do an “in person” audition at the church we were doing all this at.  We didn’t tell him it was a church, though, for fear of spooking him out, so we tried “sanitizing” the church by removing all manner of anything that would give us away.  Fortunately, since we met in an industrial warehouse space, this wasn’t too difficult to do, but I am beyond confident that Chris saw through the whole silly ruse.

Chris arrived in his characteristic flip flops, shorts and Hawaiin shirt and sat through the auditions one by one.  Suitably impressed, he made his way to the pastor’s office (the pastor’s wife was running the label) to ‘talk business’.  I sat there spellbound, taking in this decidedly worldly man and his calm and relaxed demeanor.  He was most definitely a man of leisure, yet so coolly and calmly passionate about music.  He gave my band a lot of encouragement and told us to get out on the road and start playing lots of clubs (good advice that we took to heart). Then, surprisingly, he decided to cancel his trip to Japan and fly back to New York to ink a “P&D” deal for our label with Island, a situation that was thrilling for all of us.

Unfortunately, shortly after bringing our little label into Island, U2 came out with The Joshua Tree and the entire 30 member staff had to go gonzo 24/7 in order to barely keep up with that level of success.  We got a lot of good press and other perks from Island, but, in point of fact, even other artists who were signed around the same time we were (like our idols The Comsat Angels) were not able to gain much ground sales-wise, given the momentous task it was for a comparatively ’boutique’ label to keep up with a monster album like The Joshua Tree.  Indeed, it would take the entire Atlantic/Atco/Warners machinery to handle it and Island was hanging onto their wigs and keys just trying to keep up.  I’ll bet that U2 would have sold tons more copies of Joshua had it come out on CBS or one of the other majors, but the band remained loyal to Chris, which says a lot.

The only reason I’m telling you all this is that Chris did something for us that he didn’t have to do, and he did it at personal inconvenience to himself simply to please his new label president who happened to take an interest in a ragtag group of musicians trying to do something different.  I have never forgotten his kindness, and I learned a hell of a lot about the music business that I would have never known otherwise.



I’ve Been following your posts for many years now. Always an interesting read. Our band is still making music and touring (thanks to our loyal fans as there is no radio that supports new music from vintage artists unfortunately). Look forward to checking out the Chris Blackwell book.

There is a direct connection with Glass Tiger and Island Records. They were the first record label to show interest in the band and helped us cut our early demos. Chris even flew to Canada to see us at a small local pub in Bradford Ontario called “The Village Inn”. We were convinced we would be the next act to get signed by Island in 1986 however as soon as Chris shook our hand we knew it wasn’t in the cards. Our early songs had a tinge of the U2 sound and I guess that was too close for him.

His right hand guy, Doug Chappell here in Canada was our first music industry “believer” and worked hard to get us across the finish line with Island. He sat in on our rehearsals and studio sessions but Chris didn’t hear it so he passed on us. Doug would later leave Island because of that issue. Wasn’t the first time that Doug would find a cool new band and Chris would put the boots to it.

Thankfully we also had Capitol Records interested at the time and because of Island’s interest they pushed harder to sign us. We played the Island deal against the Capitol deal and the rest is history – signed with Capitol in 1985 and released our “Thin Red Line” debut album in 1986.

I remember being super nervous that Chris Blackwell was in the audience for that showcase, he represented some super cool bands and I loved the diversity in acts that Island had on their roster. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to Glass Tiger if we signed with Island. Hard to say! We had an awesome run and are coming up to our 40th year together so no complaints!

Thanks Bob,

Sam Reid (Glass Tiger)


In the early 1990s I stayed at the Marlin Hotel in Miami Beach at a time when Blackwell was intermittently living in the hotel in his own suite. He owned a number of properties in the area but the Marlin was his favorite.  It was still during the Art Deco Miami revival, and everything about the hotel was hip. Everyone was beautiful. I remember the restaurant was Jamaican-themed and served great authentic jerk chicken.

During our stay I hoped we’d bump into him as we heard he liked to party with guests on occasion. But it was not to be. Nevertheless, my stay was a memorable one, and for someone who was on the road living in hotels at least 100 nights a year for a few decades, that’s saying a lot.

Barry K. Herman, MD, MMM


Hi Bob,

One of the many reasons I’m happy to have grown up as a kid in the UK. We had Island Records, we had “pirate” radio, who played Island Records, and we had bands -on- Island records that toured the UK regularly. This was “normal life” for us, and we reveled in the luxury of a massively diverse musical culture played in disparate venues. The Oval cricket ground? Yep. The Big Apple in Brighton with the bouncing floor? Absolutely. Rock, reggae, punk, you name it, we had it, and didn’t realize that we had an “edge” on the world of music back then. Blackwell was a music god when I was probably too young to understand what that meant and was dancing at the “youth club” to Monkey Man by Toots and the Maytals. It took years for the US to catch up.. by which time the UK had lost its edge and become corporate junk.

Still miss those days. Thanks for your insightful articles.. 🙂

Jill Henley- now a grandmother, but still a rock chick at heart.



Love your review of the Blackwell book.

Chris Blackwell is a National Treasure of Jamaica.

Jamaica is a blessed place to have produced so many geniuses. The Greatest Black leader in history, Marcus Garvey who had 6 million followers in the 1930s, long before the internet and social networks!!!

Bob Marley the most important musician of our times. Usain Bolt the greatest runner of all time.

So let’s add to that list, the greatest record man of all time, Chris Blackwell. He created the most progressive and coolest record company in history, Island Records. But with all off this he is still totally unassuming and humble.

There are only 2 pictures of Chris and Bob Marley together as Chris didnt want to appear to be a svengali as Bob didn’t need any help as he was already a genius!!

When Bob was stranded in London in the early 70s, Chris gave Bob US$8000 on a handshake with no contract. No other human would have done this and the executives as Island Records gave Chris hell for this and said he would never see this money again as these were crazy Jamaicans who were going back to Jamaica with his money !! If Chris didn’t own Island Records but had done this at another record company, he would have been fired and put in prison!! But because he owned the company he could take this chance and that is what built the trust and bond between him and Bob.

Another brilliant thing that Chris did for Bob is to tell Bob that he had no chance of getting on black radio in America but should form a black rock band. Chris then took the original Catch a Fire tapes and added the rock element. Wayne Perkins opening guitar intro to Concrete Jungle is one of the greatest openings in music history!! And Rabbit Bundrick from the Who put on the keyboard spin that turned it into a rock masterpiece!!

When Peter Tosh left the Wailers he said some unsavory things about Chris. But instead of Chris being angry, he helped Peter to get a record deal!! Peter was going to sign with a small record label, but instead, Chris got the heavyweight Gary Kurfirst to get Peter a record deal with Columbia the biggest record company in the world!! Now Columbia and Peter Tosh could crush little Island Records and Bob Marley, so this would look like a terrible move. But Chris knew that Columbia would spend a lot of money on reggae and so “All boats rise with the tide”. No other human would have done this for Peter after having just been slagged. But Chris always says “Its just business, dont let personal things affect it”

Native Wayne Jobson

Ocho Rios


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