Chris Blackwell, like the paradigm-shifting artists he came to support over his 60-plus years in the music business, never took the conventional route. He grew up between Jamaica and London, crossing paths with Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, and Errol Flynn. After being expelled from an elite British school for rebellious behavior in 1954 at age 17, he moved back to Jamaica, and within 5 years, founded Island Records—the company that would make an indelible mark on music, shifting with the times, but always keeping its core identity intact. The Islander is the story of Blackwell and his cohorts at Island Records, who time and again, identified, nurtured, and broke out musicians who had been overlooked by bigger record labels, including Steve Winwood, Nick Drake, John Martyn, and Cat Stevens.
Blackwell (working with journalist Paul Morley) has written a highly entertaining, rapid-fire, hard-to-put-down memoir. The record producer/label founder/hotelier/film producer takes us on a rip-roaring ride through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the most exciting years in popular music ... Disclaimer: I’ve known Blackwell for many years and have shared adventures with him. I could be biased. But I think I’m just impressed ... The Islander is packed with juicy stories about the rise of rock music in the 60s and 70s ... Blackwell’s story puts us in the company of a businessman who was as ethical as he was fun and strong-willed. He also has incredibly good taste ... The Islander is 320 pages long. I could have read 320 more.
It is Marley—with whom Mr. Blackwell felt a great personal affinity—who is at the emotional center of The Islander. Due to the book’s occasionally unchronological structure, the singer’s death from cancer in 1981 keeps coming up, as though it haunts Mr. Blackwell daily ... The Islander, among its many pleasures, doubles as a firsthand history of the development of Jamaican music ... The Islander offers a vivid series of John Aubrey-esque 'Brief Lives' of Mr. Blackwell’s most notable artists. Far more has been said at far greater length elsewhere about Marley or, say, Martyn, but Mr. Blackwell’s sympathy for his subjects reveals unspoken truths we feel we might easily have intuited if only we’d listened to the music hard enough ... One is always sent scurrying back to the music: Grace Jones’s Warm Leatherette, a great-sounding record by any stretch, never sounded as magnificent as it did after reading Mr. Blackwell’s dissection of its production ... The Islander is more a professional biography than an intimate memoir. There are no children mentioned by name, and his wives’ designations are purely temporal.
Readers will know they’re in for a rollicking, fun, and vertigo-inducing wild ride of a memoir when by page seven, the author at age eighteen is getting punched out by Errol Flynn for attempting to steal one of his girlfriends ... Long-awaited ... Blackwell wends his way chronologically through his colorful story devoting separate decade chapters from the fifties through the nineties ... An obligatory purchase for all self-respecting rock and pop culture collections.