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]