News Flash: Island Records Founder Leaves Label

Chris Blackwell, who introduced Bob Marley and U2 to the world, is now a free agent again.

The man who introduced reggae to America and helped transform Bob Marley and U2

into superstars has severed ties with Island Records, the label he launched

35 years ago in Kingston, Jamaica.

"What I have come to realize is that it is not really possible for me to

continue to grow creatively in the entertainment business with PolyGram," Island

Records founder Blackwell told the L. A. Times last week, before his

departure was announced. "

Eight years ago, Blackwell sold Island to the Dutch PolyGram conglomerate.

Public clashes with PolyGram CEO Alain Levy led to Blackwell's departure,

according to sources quoted by Reuters. Blackwell and Levy announced the

move in a joint statement issued Thursday. "I feel that Alain Levy is

restricting me and I don't understand why," Blackwell told the Times.

Blackwell, 60, is regarded for being as much a fan of music as he was head

of Island Entertainment Group. During the 1960s and '70s, Blackwell

brought the sound of reggae from Jamaica to the world through artists such

as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals and numerous others. The

classic The Harder They Come reggae compilation soundtrack was released

by Island. A long list of innovative artists including Brian Eno and John Cale

recorded for the label.

In 1980, Blackwell launched the career of U2 by

releasing their Boy album, and more recently he has championed bands

such as the Cranberries. During his career, Blackwell has established a

reputation for being willing to take chances on pioneering music, including

ska, world beat and electronica.

One industry executive who would not be named told Reuters that PolyGram

management was angered by Blackwell's public criticism of the company in

the face of slowed sales. "On the one hand, you have Blackwell wanting

more of an investment, while the label hasn't been doing very well. In a

sense it was doomed from the start with someone who has owned a label for

more than three decades and then becomes an employee of a big company."

Blackwell's departure comes amid a period of restructuring at Polygram.

Last week, George Jackson was named to head Motown Records, another

PolyGram label. In September, Danny Goldberg was tapped to lead PolyGram's

Mercury Group. Chris Nelson [Fri., Nov. 7, 1997,

9 a.m. PST]