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
Just folk: The Unthanks

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups


An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment


Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'


Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea