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The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond

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In the vein of Sound Man and The Soundtrack of My Life, a lyrical, warmhearted, and inspirational memoir from the founder of 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. Chris Blackwell, like the paradigm-shifting artists he came to supp In the vein of Sound Man and The Soundtrack of My Life, a lyrical, warmhearted, and inspirational memoir from the founder of 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. Chris Blackwell, like the paradigm-shifting artists he came to support over his sixty-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 seventeen, he moved back to Jamaica, and within five 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. After an impromptu meeting with Bob Marley and his bandmates in 1972, Blackwell decided to fund and produce their groundbreaking album Catch a Fire. He’d go on to work with Marley over the rest of his career, remain his close friend, and continually champion Jamaican culture and reggae music. In the ensuing years, Blackwell worked with U2, Grace Jones, the B-52s, Tom Waits, Robert Palmer, Tom Tom Club, and many other groundbreaking artists. 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. Blackwell is a legendary as well as deeply humble raconteur, and reading The Islander is like spending a day with the most interesting man in the world.


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In the vein of Sound Man and The Soundtrack of My Life, a lyrical, warmhearted, and inspirational memoir from the founder of 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. Chris Blackwell, like the paradigm-shifting artists he came to supp In the vein of Sound Man and The Soundtrack of My Life, a lyrical, warmhearted, and inspirational memoir from the founder of 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. Chris Blackwell, like the paradigm-shifting artists he came to support over his sixty-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 seventeen, he moved back to Jamaica, and within five 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. After an impromptu meeting with Bob Marley and his bandmates in 1972, Blackwell decided to fund and produce their groundbreaking album Catch a Fire. He’d go on to work with Marley over the rest of his career, remain his close friend, and continually champion Jamaican culture and reggae music. In the ensuing years, Blackwell worked with U2, Grace Jones, the B-52s, Tom Waits, Robert Palmer, Tom Tom Club, and many other groundbreaking artists. 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. Blackwell is a legendary as well as deeply humble raconteur, and reading The Islander is like spending a day with the most interesting man in the world.

30 review for The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond

  1. 4 out of 5

    E

    A mostly enjoyable look at the career of Chris Blackwell, founder and longtime president of Island Records (he finally sold out in the late 80s; Island is now part of Universal Music Group, one of the Big Three). The story of Blackwell's rise from a runner delivering records to jukeboxes all over southeast Jamaica to eventually heading one of the most successful independent record companies in the business is nothing short of captivating. He did everything he could to stay true to his Jamaican r A mostly enjoyable look at the career of Chris Blackwell, founder and longtime president of Island Records (he finally sold out in the late 80s; Island is now part of Universal Music Group, one of the Big Three). The story of Blackwell's rise from a runner delivering records to jukeboxes all over southeast Jamaica to eventually heading one of the most successful independent record companies in the business is nothing short of captivating. He did everything he could to stay true to his Jamaican roots while not being afraid to branch into all sorts of weird stuff. And then he signed U2. I said it was "mostly enjoyable." At times it devolves into "Then this producer made this record, then that singer recorded that album, then this person left that label to go this label, and then . . ." It is easy for the eyes to glaze over at some of these points. I recommend resorting to YouTube to hear some of the obscure acts he's writing about. Also, I could have used a lot more than only one chapter on Bob Marley and the Wailers! That was probably the biggest shock of the book. The highlight of Blackwell's career (and a highlight of music, period) deserved more. This is a book about the business. Blackwell almost never talks about his wives, his homes, or other elements of his personal life. But that's okay.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John

    I was looking forward to reading this biography. He tells fascinating stories from his life that spans from the 1950's to now. Chris is the person behind so many bands\artist of renown, from wikipedia... "After discovering The Spencer Davis Group, featuring Steve Winwood, Blackwell focused on the rock acts that Island had signed. Island became one of the most successful independent labels of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s with an eclectic range of artists, including Traffic, King Crimson, Emerson, L I was looking forward to reading this biography. He tells fascinating stories from his life that spans from the 1950's to now. Chris is the person behind so many bands\artist of renown, from wikipedia... "After discovering The Spencer Davis Group, featuring Steve Winwood, Blackwell focused on the rock acts that Island had signed. Island became one of the most successful independent labels of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s with an eclectic range of artists, including Traffic, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, John Cale, Free, Fairport Convention, Nico, Heads, Hands and Feet, John Martyn, Sparks, Spooky Tooth, Nick Drake, Roxy Music, Grace Jones, Ultravox, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Robert Palmer, Marianne Faithfull, The Buggles, Etta James, Melissa Etheridge, Julian Cope, The Cranberries, Womack and Womack, U2, and others." At the heart of the book is the mystic faraway beating drum emanating from the mountain jungles of Jamaica of the indigenous inhabitants. These people saved his life and he was forever indebted.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rob Sevier

    Aloof and delusional rich guy delivers a cliff notes version of his successes

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tom Meek

    Until I received a copy of this book who Chris Blackwell was. After I started reading it became apparent he was the mastermind behind the music acts, Bob Marley, U2, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, Steve Win wood and many others, all groups I grew up listening to. Enjoyed learning who he was and learning of the many other fields he was involved in (rum, hotels and film).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Aydee

    Overall enjoyed reading this. The book includes a few chapters on working with specific artists (Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, U2 amongst a few others) which was interesting to read how Chris began to work with them and their styles when creating albums. There are some chapters at the beginning discussing the start of Island Records that were mainly paragraphs of many names only mentioned a couple times that was a little disorienting for me but other than that, I enjoyed this. Review base Overall enjoyed reading this. The book includes a few chapters on working with specific artists (Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, U2 amongst a few others) which was interesting to read how Chris began to work with them and their styles when creating albums. There are some chapters at the beginning discussing the start of Island Records that were mainly paragraphs of many names only mentioned a couple times that was a little disorienting for me but other than that, I enjoyed this. Review based on an ARC received in a Goodreads giveaway.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eric Sutton

    I read the review of this book on The Guardian's website and immediately ordered it through Audible, not so much because the review is standout but because I love so many artists Blackwell signed and worked with: Bob Marley, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Traffic, Tom Waits. The Guardian critiqued Blackwell's lack of writing his personal life, sticking strictly to the music business (I guess the "and Beyond" in the title refers to his ventures into film and real estate?); still, it was a really enjoya I read the review of this book on The Guardian's website and immediately ordered it through Audible, not so much because the review is standout but because I love so many artists Blackwell signed and worked with: Bob Marley, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Traffic, Tom Waits. The Guardian critiqued Blackwell's lack of writing his personal life, sticking strictly to the music business (I guess the "and Beyond" in the title refers to his ventures into film and real estate?); still, it was a really enjoyable listen, full of entertaining anecdotes, chance encounters, and insanely-cool experiences with some of the twentieth-century's greatest artists, many of whom he took a mere chance on signing. Blackwell seems like a relatively humble person - he speaks openly of his privilege but also of his efforts to promote Jamaican music and do his best to give back to the country of his birth. He also isn't afraid to admit when he makes a mistake, upsets an artist or agent or takes a gamble that doesn't pay off. The book runs chronologically but he often moves back in time to contextualize first meeting or hearing of an artist or to fill in the necessary gaps detailing place and circumstance, thus the book reads fairly smoothly and is easy to follow. On the surface it seems like Island Records is (was - Blackwell sold the company in the late '80s or early '90s, though they still carry some great artists) a pretty amazing company, in that Blackwell, even when he signed more high-profile acts, stuck with them through thick and thin and seemed to really promote the idea of creating albums, not hit singles. The best part of the book, however, is the stories. Blackwell's refusal to drop Nick Drake from Island's catalogue because he so believed that one day Drake would be discovered, only for Volkswagen to feature "Pink Moon" in a late-90's commercial, which catapulted the gentle singer to posthumous fame, is my personal favorite. I love reading postcolonial fiction, and Blackwell as postcolonial musical troubadour spreading Jamaica's reggae to the masses - conflicted over compromising Marley's spiritual/rebellious nature in the face of commercial pressure for his more peaceful songs - made for rich storytelling. For fans of behind-the-scenes takes on musical giants as well as for audiophiles, as there is so much about studio work and production also.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Glen Helfand

    Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell's music industry memoir has one of the worst opening lines ever: "I am a member of the lucky sperm club." Ooph! He means to come out and say up front that he's a man of privilege, a white Brit who grew up in colonized Jamaica. It is an important admission, one he makes just once more in this book, which thankfully doesn't discuss sperm again (it is ironic because his mother is referenced more than his father-- who divorced). This is a book about the music bus Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell's music industry memoir has one of the worst opening lines ever: "I am a member of the lucky sperm club." Ooph! He means to come out and say up front that he's a man of privilege, a white Brit who grew up in colonized Jamaica. It is an important admission, one he makes just once more in this book, which thankfully doesn't discuss sperm again (it is ironic because his mother is referenced more than his father-- who divorced). This is a book about the music business, and as such, Blackwell has great stories to tell about his rise into the business--so much of it tied to his youth in Jamaica where he met Ian Fleming, Tyrone Power, and Noel Coward- all friends of mom--and the illustrious artists he worked with at Island Records. He found himself a niche as a big indie, a label for misfits, if you could call the label that supported Stevie Winwood, B-52s, Grace Jones, Roxy Music, U2, and most importantly, Bob Marley little. He describes his passion and instincts for various musicians he supported, some more known than others. (As a Roxy Music fan, I was disappointed they rated just a page, but they just weren't a band that he was so engaged with-- someone else must have signed them, there's not the backstory of Marley or Cat Stevens who get their own chapters.) It's an engaging read, al that music lore of the era before streaming (he goes back to his start in the jukebox trade). Blackwell does come across as a nice guy, but he doesn't really talk much about intimate relationships. Wives and girlfriends are mentioned only in passing, his kids are termed "the livestock" in a very brief mention. But he's also known for his privacy. He's a businessman, first and foremost, and one with some degree of integrity-- and glamor. A perfect beach read, preferably on an island.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ginni

    Predictably, given my age and musical tastes, this was a great read. I particularly enjoyed the first part, as it related the early years of Island Records, the time when I was most switched on to popular music. I can remember singing along to ‘My Boy Lollipop’ in an Irish cinema - probably one of the last to put the lyrics up on a screen and encourage the audience to join in. I can remember dancing madly to Free’s ‘All Right Now’ in 1970. Traffic, Stevie Winwood, Procul Harum, the Spencer Davis Predictably, given my age and musical tastes, this was a great read. I particularly enjoyed the first part, as it related the early years of Island Records, the time when I was most switched on to popular music. I can remember singing along to ‘My Boy Lollipop’ in an Irish cinema - probably one of the last to put the lyrics up on a screen and encourage the audience to join in. I can remember dancing madly to Free’s ‘All Right Now’ in 1970. Traffic, Stevie Winwood, Procul Harum, the Spencer Davis Group....the list goes on. And then Bob Marley and the Wailers.... There is not much about Chris Blackwell’s personal life - probably wise, as the throwaway remarks tend to be ‘Xxx - my wife at that time....’ I rather lost count of the number of wives and girlfriends - but hey, he was a good looking guy, with charisma, money and a glamorous lifestyle - the rock and roll lifestyle - the amazing properties in Jamaica....and he does appear to have stabilised as he grows older; he is now 84.... It becomes apparent that the great sadness in his life was the premature death of Bob Marley, the person who he felt closest to in so many ways. Worth a read if you can remember the Sixties and Seventies musical scene.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jem Aswad

    Rock-porn of the highest order - take it from someone who's read way too many music biographies. What makes this one different is the fact that unlike contemporaries like Ahmet Ertegun and Clive Davis, Blackwell stayed out of the spotlight, which may have been less due to British modesty than an astute business move for a white man who made his fortune on Black music. While there's definitely some curious exclusions and presumably more than a little revisionist history, it's absolutely brilliant Rock-porn of the highest order - take it from someone who's read way too many music biographies. What makes this one different is the fact that unlike contemporaries like Ahmet Ertegun and Clive Davis, Blackwell stayed out of the spotlight, which may have been less due to British modesty than an astute business move for a white man who made his fortune on Black music. While there's definitely some curious exclusions and presumably more than a little revisionist history, it's absolutely brilliantly written — that's entirely down to co-writer Paul Morley; Blackwell has said he didn't write a single paragraph — and includes a jaw-dropping number of not just anecdotes but musical insights as well, which range from how the swinging drums are the magic ingredient of "Whiter Shade of Pale" (a hit Blackwell decided not to sign and release because he wanted to focus on Traffic) to how the B-52s — who Blackwell DID sign — "had enough ideas to build their own reality, which they then inhabit.” Of course, there are many scenes from Swinging London, anecdotes about Bob Marley and U2, an so much more. It's up there with Patti Smith's "Just Kids" and Elton John's "Me" among the all-time greatest music memoirs.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Janet Graham

    Non-Stop Living! This is the autobiography of the man who founded Island records. That does not nearly describe him, it just gives us a place to tether him. This guy seems to have endless energy and no qualms about following endless dreams. In his very successful music career, he found talented musicians and gave them the backing to develop themselves into unbelievable musicians. The list of acts he helped goes from the doo-wop era into rap. The story of how he meets and develops acts is as amazi Non-Stop Living! This is the autobiography of the man who founded Island records. That does not nearly describe him, it just gives us a place to tether him. This guy seems to have endless energy and no qualms about following endless dreams. In his very successful music career, he found talented musicians and gave them the backing to develop themselves into unbelievable musicians. The list of acts he helped goes from the doo-wop era into rap. The story of how he meets and develops acts is as amazing as the success he had in doing it. And while part of him was doing that, another part was making independent movies and yet another part was building boutique hotels and renovating the crime-riddled South Beach, Florida into the fantastic place it is today. The book is filled with names you know as well as a few you will want to check out. There was one part that I found to be a bit slow, but it was necessary for the following parts. This guy had had an unbelievable life and he is not done yet!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Don Gorman

    (2 1/2). I was certainly familiar with Chris Blackwell prior to this, and I read some pretty good reviews on this book. Unfortunately, the good stories and insight to his relationships with many famous musicians and groups (Bob Marley, Cat Stevens U2 and more) and his interesting philosophies about how he ran his business are overshadowed by the endless lists that seem to be part and parcel in these memoirs. His childhood was interesting and the little bit of his other personal insights in the v (2 1/2). I was certainly familiar with Chris Blackwell prior to this, and I read some pretty good reviews on this book. Unfortunately, the good stories and insight to his relationships with many famous musicians and groups (Bob Marley, Cat Stevens U2 and more) and his interesting philosophies about how he ran his business are overshadowed by the endless lists that seem to be part and parcel in these memoirs. His childhood was interesting and the little bit of his other personal insights in the very last chapter resonate as well, this is good research for all of us geriatric music nuts. Reasonable stuff.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Roger Silverberg

    Blackwell's autobiography was a fairly easy read, in part because he was, for the most part, well-edited. Wealth has its perks and Blackwell surely was the beneficiary. However, I cannot pass Chris off as another dilettante. He followed his passion throughout his career. And he doesn't hold back. I would rate this book right up there with Keith Richards' book, Life, which I read right when that one came out. Insightful, and also dosed with sobering reality when the rest of the world catches on t Blackwell's autobiography was a fairly easy read, in part because he was, for the most part, well-edited. Wealth has its perks and Blackwell surely was the beneficiary. However, I cannot pass Chris off as another dilettante. He followed his passion throughout his career. And he doesn't hold back. I would rate this book right up there with Keith Richards' book, Life, which I read right when that one came out. Insightful, and also dosed with sobering reality when the rest of the world catches on to what you've labored to bring to the table

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ray

    One of the best music business related biographies that I've read. I was especially impressed by his first hand account of the development of Jamaican music and his involvement from the 50-70's. This led to his signing of Bob Marley & The Wailers. There's great anecdotes about his family /business associations with Ian Fleming, Sean Connery and Errol Flynn, key Island artists- John Martyn, Cat Stevens, Free,Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club et al He is one of the rare label heads to acknowledge the infl One of the best music business related biographies that I've read. I was especially impressed by his first hand account of the development of Jamaican music and his involvement from the 50-70's. This led to his signing of Bob Marley & The Wailers. There's great anecdotes about his family /business associations with Ian Fleming, Sean Connery and Errol Flynn, key Island artists- John Martyn, Cat Stevens, Free,Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club et al He is one of the rare label heads to acknowledge the influence of non commercial music leading to production and cultural changes.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David Steck

    Enjoyed learning Balckwells life story and his journey as a pioneer in the music world ( especially resonant with me as a diehard U2 fan). Dare I say I found the material a bit boring (?) at times , especially discussions around (now) obscure musicians / music industry veterans who most readers would likely not know.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John Lyman

    Lots of cool stories about lots of cool artists, many of whom rank among my favorites. Personal stories are at a minimum, focus is on artists, labels, discovering talent. Glad to have read it, CB was intimately instrumental in the production of a ton of music I love. I guess I should go back to Jamaica if I want to show further support.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Val

    I very much enjoyed this fascinating memoir of Chris Blackwell's. Most of the book focuses on the founding and building of Islander Records. There is lots of neat insight and stories of the music industry and the people involved. I very much enjoyed this fascinating memoir of Chris Blackwell's. Most of the book focuses on the founding and building of Islander Records. There is lots of neat insight and stories of the music industry and the people involved.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    If you like books about the business side of the music industry and happen also to love performers like U2, Bob Marley, Steve Winwood, Spooky Tooth, Cranberries, Robert Palmer, and many more on the Island Records label founded by the author, then you’ll likely love this memoir. I did!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda Duncan

    Enjoyable but wordy at times. Interesting and leaves you jealous of the wonderful meetings, friendships and travels that blessed his life. If you enjoy seeing how people came into the life they lead this is definitely a must read. Happy page turning.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Don Dealga

    Anodyne, vanilla, and mildly tedious at times. Not very 'rock and roll'. Anodyne, vanilla, and mildly tedious at times. Not very 'rock and roll'.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Listened to the audiobook on Storytel. Marvelous account of a full and curious life.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jalen NeSmith

    Just… so… tone deaf….

  22. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    For a lifelong Bob Marley aficionado, this book filled in a lot of the open spaces, knit together the collage of so much of the world’s greatest musicians… so glad I read it. One Love Indeed

  23. 5 out of 5

    Betty Deithorn

    While not caring for reggae music this book was a great quick read. My fellow baby boomers...enjoy!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tom Berry

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rick

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jim Schneider

  28. 4 out of 5

    Robert Damon

  29. 5 out of 5

    ALPHONSE CANGIARELLA

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tony Crooks

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