Obituary: Don Taylor

NOW HAILED as one of the icons of the 20th century and the first world music superstar, the Jamaican singer Bob Marley, who died in 1981, was supported in his endeavours by a huge entourage. At its centre from 1974 to 1979 was his manager Don Taylor.

Sometimes compared to the boxing promoter Don King or Elvis Presley's manager "Colonel" Tom Parker, Taylor was a shrewd entrepreneur who learned his trade with various American rhythm'n'blues acts in the Sixties before helping Marley fulfil his international potential in the Seventies. Taylor subsequently fell out with the singer and became embroiled in legal disputes over the Marley estate.

He wrote an autobiography, So Much Things To Say: my life as Bob Marley's manager, published in 1994. The self-aggrandising title, never mind the suspect chronology and grand claims the book sometimes makes, gives a measure of this larger-than-life figure who travelled from the ghettos of Jamaica to a life of luxury in Miami, Florida.

Taylor was born in Kingston in 1943; his mother, Cynthia Llewellyn, was just 13 years old at the time of his birth, worked as a maid and lived with a black Jamaican called Taylor. However, Don was actually the son of Vernal Kidd, a white British soldier. Disowned by both parents, the young Don grew up hustling cruise- liner passengers in the downtown area of Kingston. Already, he was cutting deals with bar owners, selling American cigarettes or washing cars.

Meeting the American singer Lloyd Price gave Taylor the idea of setting up a valet service for other visiting performers such as Fats Domino, Ben E. King and Jackie Wilson. Impressed by Taylor, Wilson bought him a plane ticket to Miami in 1960. While there, he met Jerry Butler and ended up in New York, working for Little Anthony and the Imperials.

By 1965, Taylor had managed to convince the US military that his father was American; he was drafted for two years, giving him legal resident status. Following his discharge in 1967, he rose from road manager to looking after the affairs of Little Anthony and the Imperials. The vocal group were on the way down after hits such as "Tears on My Pillow" and "Goin' Out of My Head" but Taylor kept them working in Las Vegas and learned to operate in a "charged environment" which was under mafia influence. He also took the Motown artist Martha Reeves under his wing.

Asked by the Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley to organise a benefit concert for the Trench Town Sports Complex, Taylor suggested Marvin Gaye as the headline act, while a local promoter, Stephen Hill, added Bob Marley to the bill. During negotiations over the concert in 1973, Marley was puzzled by Taylor's appearance and business acumen. "You really is a Jamaican? How you learn the business so?" he asked.

The pair kept in touch. The following year, realising there was a buzz around Marley's group, the Wailers (Eric Clapton's version of "I Shot the Sheriff" had just become a hit) and hearing that the group had left their manager Danny Sims, Taylor travelled to Kingston, walked to Marley's house at 56 Hope Road, woke him up and offered the singer his services. The pair shook hands and, although they didn't even draft an agreement for another two years, Taylor convinced Marley to go on the road to promote the Natty Dread album.

After a successful tour of Canada and the United States, Taylor renegotiated Marley's deal with the Island Records boss Chris Blackwell for $1m, just as the seminal album Live! and the single "No Woman No Cry" were racing up the charts in 1975. Setting up a company in the British Virgin Island of Tortola to avoid UK and US taxes, Taylor also extricated Marley from his publishing deal with Danny Sims.

In late 1976, Marley decided to play a free show for his countrymen and Taylor suggested the grounds of Jamaica House. However, Michael Manley hijacked what was supposed to be a non-political event and called for elections to be held soon after the Smile Jamaica concert.

On 3 December, two days before Marley was due to play the concert, seven gunmen burst into his home in Kingston and shot him, his wife Rita, Lewis Griffith, a family friend and Don Taylor. Taylor was critically injured in the assassination attempt, but, by standing in front of Marley, arguably saved the singer's life. "I heard Bob say: they shoot up Don Taylor, Don Taylor dead or something," recalled Taylor, who lost a great deal of blood and was nearly pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital, until a doctor examined him more closely. He was subsequently flown to Miami, where a bullet was removed from his spine.

Marley went ahead with the concert but then spent 18 months away from Jamaica, recording much of Exodus and Kaya in Britain. He eventually returned in 1978 for the One Love Peace concert during which he clasped both the hands of Manley and leader of the opposition Edward Seaga in a forced show of unity.

In 1979, Taylor bought Jimmy Cliff's publishing rights for $40,000 and set about rebuilding Cliff's career, which had been on the skids since the early Seventies. However, when negotiating separate advances for concerts by Cliff and Marley in Gabon, the manager was accused by Marley of "creative accounting" and dismissed. Taylor claimed that Marley later forced him to cancel their management agreement at the point of a gun. In 1980, Marley wrote "Bad Card" as a thinly veiled attack on Taylor for the album Uprising. By then, Marley had been diagnosed with cancer and he died in 1981 in Miami.

Taylor took care of the funeral arrangements in Jamaica but Marley's death hit him hard and he began using cocaine. He was also trying to sort out the singer's estate but, in the absence of a will, the dispute between various parties (Rita Marley, Danny Sims, Cedella Booker - Marley's mother - and so on) rumbled on until 1989 when Chris Blackwell bought the publishing rights to Marley's songs for $12m. In 1983, Taylor convinced EMI America to sign the Melody Makers featuring Ziggy Marley (Bob's son).

Taylor claims he was later targeted by the mafia but used his connections to call off the hitmen. Over the years, he also worked with Burning Spear, Gregory Isaacs, Prince, Soul II Soul, and the producers Baby Face and L.A. Reid. Tall, sharply dressed, charismatic, and nicknamed "Jaws" by those who disliked him, Taylor was fond of bragging to interviewers: "I made Bob Marley a millionaire! I'm a wealthy man. I don't have to work."

"Don Taylor, you know what I like about you is you no lickey lickey," was the nicest compliment Marley paid the manager who made him a multi- million-selling artist.

Donald Delroy Taylor, manager and promoter: born Kingston, Jamaica 10 February 1943; three times married (four sons, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Miami, Florida 1 November 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all