Interview: Island Records’ Chris Blackwell (1989)


JT: SO NOW YOU are coming to the end of a relationship of over 25 years with Sonet. I think Sonet realised that it’s not something that you engineered it just happened because PolyGram has now taken you over. You obviously have some regrets about terminating such a lengthy relationship.

CB: Sonet was the first company with whom Island ever made anything or I ever made in any kind of deal. I stared in Jamaica in 1959 and in 1960 I started to license, get some interest in some of our records in England. I didn’t really license them, but I got some license people wrote me some letters. They were interested and I didn’t really do anything, but I decided what I would do is take a trip and have a look at the whole scene. In about 1961 I came over and I went to England and Europe. And I took with me my first records that I’d produced in Jamaica, which were two records. The first one was called ‘Boogie in my Bones’ by Laurel Aitken. Then I went to Copenhagen, and I can’t remember why I walked into Sonet’s office. I think maybe because at that time I really liked jazz music a lot. And they started I think as a sort of jazz label. I went in and I met Karl Emile Nelson and made a deal with him for my very first records which was quite exciting. I can’t remember what the advance was, probably five pounds or something like that. But that was before Island Records started in England, before it was formed in England. It was formed in England a year later. My relationship with Sonet precedes the start of Island records in England.


And it continued with some more Caribbean stuff such as ‘My Boy Lollipop’.

I’m not sure whether they had ‘My Boy Lollipop’ because I was just releasing Jamaican records but when I made this record ‘My Boy Lollipop’ I felt that it could be a big hit. And I was nervous as whether Island could handle it I licensed it to Phonogram. And I think Phonogram had it worldwide. They weren’t called Phonogram then they were called Fontana. I don’t think ‘My Boy Lollipop’ went through Sonet, but I can’t remember but I don’t think so because it was licensed to Philips worldwide. But we did have a relationship going one way or another because we were in contact a lot, in fact they helped me with the early touring days when I used to go on the road with Millie and with Spencer Davis Group all through Scandinavia. It might have been possible that we licensed it to Fontana for the world excluding Scandinavia because I do remember seeing them a lot in those early days when I had those records.

The Spencer Davis group was probably the very first one that was a huge hit in Scandinavia as they were here, of course. And I believe you probably have some interesting stories about touring with the Spencer Davis Group in those days in Scandinavia.

Scandinavia was a big place you used to tour a lot because the Volks Parks were very powerful in the Summer, that’s where the whole business was centred. The key was to get on these Volks Parks tours, and I used to go on them with Millie and the Spencer Davis Group. At that time Steve Winwood was very young and very different from how he is now. He was kind of a wild man in those days. Constant parties and after some gig you’d go to some party. There would be about forty people there, about two bottles of that Nier beer I don’t know if they still have it in Scandinavia. It was non-alcoholic, or very low alcohol content beer. I remember these parties because they were really disorganised in terms of that there were a whole lot of people around but there was nothing for anybody to drink or anything else like that. Everyone would try and get a little merry on this quarter of a bottle of Nier beer. And that was the extent of the partying really.


Jimmy Cliff was obviously somebody who you’ve been connected to for a long time. I gather that he was quite influential in Scandinavia and successful in those days.

After Millie, Jimmy Cliff was really the next artist that I brought over. Other than Jackie Edwards who came with me when I first arrived, and he wrote ‘Keep on Running’ the first Spencer Davis Group hit. But Jimmy Cliff came over after Millie and Jimmy Cliff was very strong live at that time, he wasn’t really doing that much reggae he was doing more soul music and stuff like that. He used to tour Scandinavia I think more than anybody. He used to be touring there all the time. We had really had success in Scandinavia with him at the time. That was from about 1964 to 1966. Then he lost his popularity and disappeared for a little bit. Then In 1969 to 1970 he came back with a reggae record which was good and was called ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’. From the cover of that Perry Henzell the director of The Harder They Come chose him because he represented the image he wanted for his lead character in the movie The Harder They Come. That movie came out again with Sonet we made a deal with them to distribute the movie. What was great about working with Sonet and still is because we are still working with them, is that they are very open a company to different ideas they are not stuck in some mould where it’s just record business. With The Harder They Come it was I guess the first time I appreciated the value of a film in order to get across a culture behind a music. They recognised that immediately and they picked it up, released the film and marketed the record and became one of our best markets for reggae music for all our other artists eventually leading up to Bob Marley.

Scandinavia picked up on it before Britain, in fact?

On The Harder They Come? I don’t know about before Britain because Britain has always had a larger indigenous population of West Indians. There was always a basic recognition for that music and for that culture, but Scandinavia was the first outside of England and outside of Jamaica, definitely.


They seem to have this ability to get hold of things and understand them quicker than many other parts of the world, don’t they?

Yes, but again I think it’s the people of Sonet are really music people. A lot of people in the record business are businesspeople or have come in for whatever reason. But these guys are all record fans initially and still very much into music rather than music business. When they hear something that they would like they say this sounds great let’s get behind this introduce it and promote it. They would make the effort to get behind something which was new, and which was strange. Rather than say this doesn’t sound like what’s selling now so give us something that sounds like what’s selling now. They would also be very ready to try new things and break new ground.

We need somebody like that in England these days.


I get the impression that Sonet based a lot of its ideas on your pioneering spirit in this country for example taking on satellite labels like Chrysalis. I don’t know that they did so much of it themselves, but it’s obviously established relationships those same labels through you.

Why that started for me and why I continued to do that was I think that the area that I’m interested in the record business is really in the creative area. You can handle just so many artists. You can just get to a certain size and still keep your identity and your spirit and your point of view and after that size it starts to become impersonal and just like a large corporation, therefore, quite early on I thought that when there was an opportunity that somebody a group of people or entity had the talent and the ability to develop something in their own image with their own identity with their own character then that was something that I would really seek to support and promote. Because what it would mean is you would have to have a separate creative module that the artists were then signed to that module and they would get the direction and all the personal time and all that creative time, was something that we didn’t have to spend there by spreading ourselves too thin and not being able to devote the time to the artists we had. So quite early I was very keen on them. All the busines people I have spoken to have said instead of giving these companies a start or getting them going we should have really had ownership in them butt I don’t think that would have worked the same because once you have an ownership in something you feel necessary to put your own style of management and controls in there. It would have really limited their growth.

Because Chrysalis was the first one you did that to.

Chrysalis was the first one, after that was Virgin. With Virgin it was slightly different because Virgin already had their retail stores fairly established as a company in the retail area but when they decided to go and become a record company, that started through us.

Then there was Bronze was there?

There was Bronze and there was Stiff and EG, there was another one too I can’t remember it.

I think because the kind of acts that were signed at the point like Jethro Tull, Roxy Music and King Crimson. Do you have any memories of their doing well in Scandinavia or anything like that?

I remember King Crimson doing well in Scandinavia that was 1969. King Crimson were the most sort after group in England around 1969. They were something that was very different and very fresh. I went after that group strongly because I thought they were just unique and exciting. From that group was created Emerson Lake & Palmer and Robert Fripp. Basically, it was a seminal group in terms of influence.


What about the Chrysalis thing? Those two chaps Chris Wright and Terry Ellis had brought you Jethro Tull as an artist and that was the way that happened was it?

I’ll tell you exactly how it happened, I had Spooky Tooth and the time, and we were managing most of the bands also at the same time. When Spooky Tooth came in one day, I said to them while you’ve been out touring have you seen anyone that’s any good or interesting and Gary Wright, who was one of the leaders of Spooky Tooth, said laughingly: “I saw this guy who stood on one foot and played the flute.” I said that sounds different and that sounds interesting. I said what was he like. He said he was great. I said what is his name and he said Jethro Tull. So, I tracked down who was his manager and the way I found out by contacting the agency. And the agency was called Ellis Wright. Terry Ellis in fact was the person who had looked after Jethro Tull, and I met with Terry and he had been trying to place the record with various people but hadn’t been able to strike a deal with anybody. We hit it off and we signed them and then he said he’d really like to have his own label and I said it doesn’t really make any sense to start your own label because Island was very strong at this time which it was. I said why not wait until you have five chart entries because if you have five chart entries from your own acts, Jethro Tull and other acts then you have enough really to start your own label. He worked very hard and he signed another couple of acts very fast and they charted quickly so we moved everything over from Island to Chysalis.


One of your major successes in the ’70s was rejuvenating the career of Cat Stevens. How did that one come about did he contact you or did you go looking for him?

His manager contacted me through a mutual friend. I wasn’t really that interested in Cat Stevens, because I had just seen him on Top of The Pops or whatever the programme was, probably still Top of The Pops. He was wearing a caftan and was a Buddhist at the time. It felt a bit corny at the time, I wasn’t really that interested. He came and played a few songs I was really taken by his presence and his sensitivity he just is a talented person, Cat Stevens. There was a record we just put out by a group called Renaissance, the record was incredibly well produced I thought. So I suggested that Cat Stevens should use the same producer and try and produce a record that came as close as possible to how he sounded when he just played me those songs. They did that and his songs were great and everything. We sold a huge number of records with Cat Stevens.

Yes, the relationship with Paul Samwell-Smith was very good. Bob Marley by this time was beginning to make waves here and he used to work in Scandinavia quite a bit in the early days did he not?

I met Bob Marley in England first, even though I’d released some of his records as early as 1964/5. I’d got some records up from Jamaica and put them up. But I’d never met Bob then I met him in 1972 in London in the office in Basing Street and he was on his way back from Scandinavia where he’d gone on some tour or some film thing with Johnny Nash. It had collapsed and they were stranded. Somebody told me that Bob Marley was in town, which was two weeks after Jimmy Cliff, and I fell out with him and he left Island. I was full of energy to get behind an artist which in a sense was the character from The Harder They Come because I wanted Jimmy Cliff to be that character in real life, as it were, but he was off on a different tangent anyhow. Two weeks or so later I heard that Bob Marley was in town I met him again right away and felt that we could really work together. His first record I think is one of the best records we’ve ever put out, it’s called Catch a Fire I guess he was the first reggae artist that we really promoted as a rock act. Because reggae at that time was considered very much a kind of novelty music really. You’d have four or five hits or three or four hits every summer which would be a one-off novelty hit and that was reggae, but it had no credibility amongst musicians it was just considered a kind of novelty. The idea that we tried to get across with Bob that we did successfully was to get the musicians and get the credibility behind this Bob Marley and the Wailers as a “black group”. Through that promotion Eric Clapton heard ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ and recorded it at the height of his fame, I think Eric Clapton’s recording of ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ was the biggest break Bob Marley had. It was when Eric was like “God”. People saw where “God” went for his material, so everybody started to look at Bob Marley in a different vein.


It says here that Bob Marley went back to Sweden and Scandinavia a lot afterwards, it says that he played at the Stockholm Tivoli and the park had its biggest crowd ever during its 100-year history. Were you there on that occasion?

Yes, I was that was in 1980, that was incredible because the first thing they never knew there were so many black people in Sweden. It must have been every black person that existed in Sweden turned up for this show and it was exciting. I remember the day it was a beautiful day and as far as you could see you just saw people. That whole tour, that whole 1980 tour that he did was spectacular but this show and this venue which was a fabulous venue it was just spectacular, really.

Were Free an act that went a lot to Scandinavia in your memory?

I can’t remember how much Free went to Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia. I can’t really remember I can’t remember touring with them personally and I would go a lot with the bands at that time because I’ve always really liked touring, I love going on the road. But I don’t remember touring with them. I certainly toured with Traffic when the Spencer Davis Group was when Steven had evolved them into traffic because Traffic’s first tour was there. And I also remember going there with Blind Faith, I’m pretty sure I think I remember going there with Blind Faith. I’m pretty sure Blind Faith toured there too.


Because mention of Traffic, the first Island record in Scandinavia was apparently ‘Paper Sun’. Did you change your arrangement, had they been on Sonet before?

In 1967 was the year that I decided to change my focus really because up until that time I was running a record company which specialised in Jamaican music. I was managing rock and roll acts. Spencer Davis Group and other groups from that included Joe Cocker, Spooky Tooth, Free. I decided around this period ’67 ’68 that rather be a manager who put out their acts on this record company I would change my focus and get out of management and concentrate on building the record company. But the thing I was nervous about was I the name Island. I didn’t think Island was a good name, from a pop record company. Because Island was so associated in my mind’s eye and in the public’s eye with Jamaican music. That it wouldn’t really have a credibility. I deliberated a long time about this and then decided that what I would do would start a new fresh pop label and make it extremely pop and make the label pink and the whole image of it pink and everything else like that. This was a concentrated effort to change the image of Island into being a pop image. At that time all the different licensees I spoke to I said I want to have this new label and Sonet were the people who really understood that, got behind that and supported that change of image way before anybody else did.

You’ve been with them for so long. Were you never tempted to move elsewhere before Scandinavia?

There was a time I think a six-month period or a year period that we moved from them, and we moved in fact to PolyGram Philips. Then we moved back. I can’t remember when that was it was somewhere in the late ’60s, I think.

Can you tell me about this Jevetta Steele thing, because it’s something I know very little about?

Jevetta Steele is an artist from Minneapolis, black singer from Minneapolis. Her roots are gospel singer, she’s really a church singer. She was chosen to sing the song for the film Baghdad Café. It’s an incredibly haunting song, but the problem is there is no other music in the film which is anything even vaguely close to it. The difficulty was when you come down to three or four records that you need to work to get on to the radio to promote, three of them all are from an album and one of them is isolated on its own, it tends not to get prioritised. For whatever reason I don’t know if the film did well in Scandinavia or what, but that song just really took off. It’s the kind of thing if you see the movie, you walk out the record was there and you’d buy it. I mean as you hear it once you want to buy it. But if the movie isn’t a hit and it wasn’t in England and it wasn’t in America, I think it was in Scandinavia, then you would like it if not enough people would hear it and not enough people would demand it and you wouldn’t enter the distribution system. But in Scandinavia it became a very big hit.


Right. Another big hit all over the world was ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ because Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes had worked at Island Studio had they not? In Basing Street?

I’m not sure whether they did or not. I heard ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ first in Lionel Conway’s office, because Lionel Conway is head of Island Music Publishing, in Los Angeles in ’76 or ’77. Even though it’s not what you would call an Island type record, it was something that you couldn’t fail to recognise a huge world-wide type hit. We tracked it down and made the deal with them.

Shrewd, certainly. Now King Sunny Adé was your first move into African music. I think you took him on tour in Scandinavia as well, didn’t you?

King Sunny Ade and indeed all third world music the only way you can hope to break that music is through interesting press and personal appearance. You are not going to get the records played on the radio because they don’t fit into any kind of radio format. After the become successful certainly they do, initially they just don’t’ fit into radio format so the only way you can promote them is by taking them on the road. Now the problem with taking them on the road in some cases they have eight million people in the band, King Sunny Adé has eighteen people in the band and another dozen or so as supporters in terms of cooks and equipment people etc. It was very expensive to bring them on the road. But musically, they were so extraordinary that you just had to see them in order to get a feel of what their music was all about. Again, Sonet really supported us in this. We did well in Sweden with King Sunny Adé on the first record but then on the second record it was a bit of the same thing then not quite as good as the first one and on the third one it was a bit of the same thing but not quite as good as the second one. We weren’t able to build on a base that we’d achieved because there wasn’t anything fresh coming out. By the time we’d signed King Sunny Adé he’d already made about 40 LPs in Nigeria so he was a fully mature artist as to what his style was and where he was going and everything else like that. We were looking for something which was going to grow each time and eventually bring some new stimulation each time so people would be able to go back and find something extra. But when they would come back they would find the same thing so they would come back and be a little disappointed.


Do you feel that African music is the way forward in the ’90s?

I feel all Third World music and Ethnic music is going to be very important in general because in the developed world the music business or it has become an industry now, so industrialised that it becomes very difficult for anything that’s fresh or unstructured to find a way into the marketplace. But on the other hand, the consumer I feel is ready for something that is going to be a little fresh and a little different. Even the general musicians in these areas are ready for some new stimulation again a little fresh. Reggae provided that in the early ’70s. Reggae became an enormous influence for rock music. I think that the same will happen for other kinds of music, not just for African music, Columbian music or North African music and Middle Eastern music, just music which is not a product of the developed world or industry system. I’m going to be very much concentrating in that area because I think firstly it’s an area that I like and an area that Island has a credibility to develop so through our Mango label we’re going to be really focusing very strongly on all that.


Salif Keita is one that you’ve recently signed.

Salif Keita, I think is the best singer in the world personally, but he doesn’t sing in a language that anybody can understand. It’s going to be difficult selling a lot of records with him, but I think again it’s not unlike instrumental music in a way. If you don’t understand the lyric, you are listening to the sound of the words and the voice starts to become more like an instrument rather than a purveyor of lyrics. I think that I’m very positive it can work and do well but I’m not expecting a whole bunch of platinum albums for Salif Keita in the next couple of years.


Recently you’ve parted company with two people you’ve been very involved with for a long time, one is Steve Winwood and the other one is Robert Palmer and I believe that Scandinavia was where Robert Palmer first did very well as a solo artist.

Robert Palmer was part of a group called Vinegar Joe and before that he was part of a group called the Alan Bown Set. And I wasn’t very that interested in the group but I was interested in the lead singer that was Robert. I told him I’d very much like to sign him as a solo artist. He said I’m not ready yet I’d like to start this other band, that was with Elkie Brooks it was called Dada then it evolved into Vinegar Joe. Then one day he said one day ok I feel I am now ready to go on my own. I said what kind of record do you want what are the ideas you have? And he said I’d really like to record in New Orleans with Alan Toussaint and use some of the members of Little Feat and things. I thought that was a great idea, sounded like a great idea to me. I appointed a producer to come and work with him who was somebody I was working with who now is I think head of the retail association in America, he runs Tower Records, Steve Smith anyhow. He went with Robert down to New Orleans, recorded his first record, it was called Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley and that album didn’t do anything much in England or in Europe but did very well starting in Houston in America. It broke out of Houston and Robert really got enough of a buzz on that first record to really give you some light almost immediately that something was happening there. It wasn’t until I think Clues that Robert really cracked it in Scandinavia. That was a great album and the song from that was called ‘Johnny and Mary’. That was a very big hit in Europe. What always happened with us with Robert is he would either hit in Europe or America, but he never ever had a record which hit in both sides of the Atlantic at the same time.

Did you have some regrets about him departing?

Yeah I was very sorry about Robert leaving because I believe about a lot in his future and also he was a very close friend like family really. He was offered a very good deal and some of the people immediately around him some of his advisors weren’t very keen on me, I didn’t get on too well so. It just went.

These things happen don’t they.



You also resurrected Marianne Faithfull which apparently did particularly well in Scandinavia, which I was unaware of. What made you think of Marianne Faithfull renaissance?

There was a person called Mark Miller Munday who I worked with on a Steve Winwood record, he was a very good friend of Steve’s and we had become friends. He told me he was deciding to do some work with Marianne Faithfull, and I was a little doubtful as to how good an idea it was, I said to him I’d love to hear something. He brought me something to hear and I really loved it. I said complete an album. Then he brought me the completed album and I was astounded as how good how consistent the whole album was. We all put really a lot of energy into that record. Again, because she’s got a kind of art content, she’s not regular straight pop by any means at all, she’s really got an art/jazz content to her. We paid special attention to Sonet because it’s going back to music rather than music business. I think they really recognised what they had, and they put a tremendous amount of work into her, that record sold in Scandinavia better than anywhere else in the world per capita.

Grace Jones was another one who had probably done quite well there for the same sort of reason I would imagine.

I produced the records those records with Grace. I used the same guitarist because I loved the guitar work on Marianne’s records, so I used the same guitarist on Grace’s records. And again, so much of it all is support whether people believe in an idea or believe there’s a possibility for something to happen. That energy that’s put in just makes all the difference. A lot of people maybe just think that records are put out and some of them catch the public’s fancy, but those sorts of records need special attention. You can’t just put them out like you are a regular pop group, like a Bros or something. They must be nurtured you have to figure out how you’re going to first introduce it, how it’s going to be presented how you are going to position it so that it has an opportunity to cut its own path against the general mainstream. What was great working with these guys in Sweden is that they were able to recognise what were the qualities which they were able to focus on, to bring attention to artist or group or whatever.


Coming a little more up to date of course, we have U2 and I’m sure they’re as big in Scandinavia as they are everywhere else in the world. What is the story of your coming across U2?

U2 was really introduced to me by the gentleman who just brought you down here, by Rob Partridge. He as head of press always has his ear very close to the ground. He told me about this band which were very exciting he felt from Ireland. I was in the Bahamas at the time, so I asked him what their name and they were called U2. I just thought it was a great name I thought first when you have a very short name you can print it very big on posters, also I thought U2 is the name where people say it every day. It’s just a catch kind of thing. Strangely enough names are very important to me because I think it helps to show the sensibilities of the people that are in the band, as to how they pick their name what intelligence and potential longevity they have. Really that’s how I was introduced to them it was over the phone. When I came back to England a month or so later, I went to see them play and I really liked them that’s how we signed them.

It’s been a rather potentially happy relationship.

I would say.

Are you taking them with you? I think one hears that they own part of Island now.

PolyGram owns all of Island now. But U2 we have a contract with them I think it’s about for three more albums we’ve got an incredible relationship with them right from the beginning, they knew what they wanted to do they had a very good manager. Everything worked out the way they were going their path. It was always presented well by their manager the plans they were always adhered to if they said this tour is going to cost one hundred and twenty thousand dollars it would cost one hundred and twenty thousand dollars. They wouldn’t suddenly come back and say they’d made a mistake it’s two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. In other words, they were professional to work with all the time, we supported them all the time they weren’t an overnight happening by any means. We developed a strong relationship over the years where we supported them at times and at times when we were having difficulties, they supported us.


Recently you’ve gone into heavy metal thrash metal, I think it’s referred to, with Anthrax. Is this something you are particularly interested in?

I met this guy a guy called Johnny Z, somebody told me I should meet this guy. I met him I thought he really knew what he was doing. I don’t have any particularly for that music my musical roots are much more jazz rooted or black music rooted so I can’t claim to be able to hear the qualities the different qualities to evaluate hard rock, heavy metal, thrash metal. But it was like one would sort of approach a label deal. I met this guy I felt he knew what he was doing I trusted him I liked him he said this band is great, he said you should sign them. I said if you say so I’ll sign them, but you look after it and I’ll give you the support you need to make it happen. It was much more signing this guy who I felt I had a rapport with I trusted him I felt I knew what he was doing.

This PolyGram thing you are going to continue to work for PolyGram at least in the immediate future. What do you feel you are going to be doing at PolyGram?

I’m going to be in charge of Island, as I have been, and I will be working with them just on strategy in general and their general business other than just Island particularly. But Island is going to remain autonomous with the same sort of style of operating where the companies are all on equal levels to each other. For example, we are not structured where the English company has the head office, and the American company is a subsidiary, and the Canadian company is a subsidiary of that. They’re all on equal level like stepchildren or children or that kind of thing. Because of that we can sign an act in America and break them in Germany through the direction of England or vice-versa. I’ve always thought that’s a very important asset Island had where most companies where there’s all the sort of corporate structures. I think PolyGram recognise that value and are keen for us to maintain whatever we’ve been doing now what we want to do it just sharpen it up get a little bit more efficient. We have tremendous resources both in terms of manpower and a global network with PolyGram so we could utilise those and I think we can grow from a point where it was starting to become very difficult as an Independent.


Obviously, it’s a bit of a leading question but if you once went with PolyGram in Scandinavia before and found it not a satisfactory relationship, that of course was quite a long time ago I’m sure, do you think you will miss the independent aspect of a Sonet like operation because they are their own bosses aren’t they?

Yes, there’s no question that we’ll miss that aspect of it. But the problem I was feeling for Island as an on its own independent competing globally in a way nowadays we don’t have the margins to compete for example, if Warners want to sign an artist they can give them a top royalty world-wide. We could never do that; we could give them a top royalty in the territories where we operated. But in the territories where we were licensed, we would have to give them a much lesser royalty otherwise we’d have no margin for ourselves. That was becoming more and more difficult. Because unless you had an artist worldwide you are not able to mastermind their album sleeve their touring plans, the worldwide release promotionally, you weren’t able to do all that kind of thing. That was becoming harder and harder. The options were either to start our own companies everywhere which I didn’t really want to do because again you can get to a situation where you’re just signing stuff to keep doors open in various places. Or do a deal like the kind of deal we did. The worst aspect of it frankly is parting company with the Sonets or in Italy Rekordee or in Australia Festival each of with we’d worked with for over twenty-five years. Over that period of time, you get to talk in shorthand, everybody knows each other so well that if I would ring to Doug this record is a really important record for me I really think this is great give it a special attention, he would do that because of the twenty five years I have actually run him three or four times on that. I think one was Marianne Faithfull. That now when we moved to Phonogram, I’m not going to be able to have that kind of ability now. Where I had to ring the guy in Scandinavia who oversaw PolyGram in Scandinavia, he wouldn’t know if this was a call, he was going to get on every record he would have no idea. But anyhow as it happens the way things are structured, we moved first, before we come to PolyGram we go first to BMG in Scandinavia.

I suppose one of the ones that you might have called Doug about might have been Melissa Etheridge.

Yes, I’m not sure if I called him but I send him a note.

What did you see in Melissa Etheridge?

A great performer, somebody that really sings with her heart just truth kind of thing. A real kind of troubadour in the sense.


Do you see her having a long career?

Definitely. I think she’s going to be as Bruce Springsteen.

Where did you find her?

I saw her in a club in Long beach which only had about twenty people in it, 1987 or 6.

Does she play the piano or guitar?

She plays a bit of piano and plays guitar.

So she’s a folk performer one might say?

When I saw her, she was just singing on her own with guitar. I judge things by what I personally I wish I could hear so I presume if I’m looking forward to hearing it, some other people might be looking forward to hearing it. Right now, it would be great to have Cat Stevens, anyone who comes around right now could do what Cat Stevens did when he was doing it, I think could be hugely successful because it’s just nice to hear some pure music, except with a real rock style it just wrenches it maximises a song. She pulls in your tension when she sings.

It certainly seems the buzz has accelerated into jet-stream noise between the first and the second albums. I’m not quite sure how that happened are you?

It’s her. It’s her it’s always easy if you can sign someone who’s so good that basically you just put them out and let them do it. It’s really her she would tour everywhere people would see her people would come back and say gosh, I saw this person who was so great. So, there are not many performers nowadays since all these electronic instruments came in and people were able to make wonderful sounds without ever having to really learn any instruments, people became incredibly focused into all the machinery and stuff, there are not really any performers. A few people with the odd haircut and stuff like that but there’s not really anybody who’s a performer who can get up there sing a song demand your attention and leave you just drained after they’ve finished their show, and she has that quality.


I must say one of the questions that I was framing in my mind, was your decision to finally sell Island due to the fact you were no longer as interested or excited by the music as you had been in the past 25 years?

No, I’m very excited by it now, at this point in time, I think it’s a very exciting time because I think it goes in phases all the time and we’re entering a phase where, the musician in the music business is going to take more prominence again. That then is much closer to my heart and I’d be very excited about that but I really wanted to be positioned in a way I felt I could compete in order to provide the best environment for those acts. Because other than that I wouldn’t be able to sign them and if I was, I wouldn’t be able to market them as well. It’s changed so much the business recently.

So, you are still a music man and happy to be so.

Yeah, very much so.

Well, thank you very much that was most interesting, thank you.


© John Tobler, 1989

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