When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, London-born Chris Blackwell, 84, is a household name. As the founder of Island Records, the label he founded in Jamaica in 1959 and England in 1962, Blackwell has propelled a long list of music icons to fame: Robert Palmer, Melissa Etheridge, The Cranberries, U2, Bob Marley and many more.
Others know Blackwell as the patriarch of GoldenEye, the home of famous author Ian Fleming where he wrote all of the James Bond novels – now a luxury resort and haven for celebrities.
In fact, before music, Blackwell got his professional start in the travel industry over four decades ago when he was working as a surf instructor at Half Moon Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
He went on to own and manage real estate in Miami and the Bahamas. He still runs Strawberry Hill, in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica and cliff-top caves in Negril, while splitting his time between the island and New York City.
Now, storied Blackwell working with the world’s most famous artists is chronicled in the memoir: “The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond” (released June 7 and available for pre-order now).
Blackwell, a recruit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, spoke to The Post about his projects in hospitality, recording and discovering the stars whose songs we all sing out loud.
You know about GoldenEye but have always worked in the travel industry in Jamaica?
My cousin John Pringle opened Round Hill in Montego Hill in the 1950s, which immediately attracted an elite crowd due to his extensive network of friends. Noel Coward came to stay, and so did the Kennedy family before John became president.
I was a teenager at the time and was so impressed with the whole setup that I was inspired to get into hotels. She began teaching surfing lessons to guests at Half Moon, which was near Round Hill. At the same time, air travel to Jamaica revived, and Montego Bay became popular among tourists. I loved the energy.
Wasn’t your hotel business what led to your musical career?
Yeah. Bands played in restaurants and bars on the weekends in both Round Hill and Half Moon, and I was drawn to their music, especially jazz. Once upon a time a band from Bermuda came to play in Half Moon and they had a blind pianist. A couple of drinks in one afternoon, I told them I wanted to score them. I didn’t know anything about recording, but that was the talk of the rum.
A few days later, we drove to Kingston, which was three hours away, and drove to a recording studio. After this experience, I started going to concerts and recording different Jamaican bands that I loved. This was how Island Records started.
After dedicating more than 20 years to music and leaving hotels behind, you dipped your toes again in the early ’80s. why?
I was going to Miami to meet a Detroit singer and was shocked by the deterioration of all the hotels in the city. I saw this abandoned hotel in Miami Beach for sale and decided to buy it automatically. I had just met the fashion designer Barbara Holanecki who was designing the costumes for this singer and asked her if she wanted to do the interiors. Approved. This property was called Marlin and was among the first nice hotels to open in Miami Beach. I ended up buying and operating seven other properties there including Tides and Leslie.
They thrived throughout the ’80s, but I eventually got frustrated with how things went: I had to close property every time there was a hurricane in the forecast. I sold hotels and moved to the Bahamas where I opened two hotels in Nassau: Pink Sands and Compass Point.
I was still running Island Records, so I built a recording studio there. Robert Palmer recorded his song “Addicted to Love” in it.
I still own three hotels in Jamaica. What makes it unique?
Strawberry Hill is 3,100 feet high in the mountains and is stunningly beautiful. The caves have only 15 rooms and are located directly on the sea in Negril. You can jump from the cliffs there right into the ocean.
GoldenEye is best known for being the home of Ian Fleming where he wrote all of the James Bond books. The beauty of the property is its simplicity. It has more than 60 rooms, four different beaches and a large open space. There are no lanes and you feel very free.
You knew Fleming personally. Where did you meet him and what did he look like?
Fleming first came to Jamaica in the late forties when I was nine or ten years old, met by my uncle, who was a writer for the local newspaper, through a mutual friend, and the two became close friends. I was in a boarding school in England but used to see it when I was home from school holidays.
He was very warm and very disciplined. He followed the same routine every day: long swimming, then breakfast, then hours of writing in his bedroom. He would go out at 1:30 for lunch and be back for more writing.
It has brought many stars to fame. Who is the most memorable?
You must be the first person you spotted: Millie Small, who grew up on a sugar plantation in Jamaica. She had the loudest, unique voice, and she brought her to England in 1964 to record “My Boy Lollipop”. It ended up being a huge hit and made her very famous.
Suddenly, I set out to become the guy who ran around London trying to sell Jamaican music to the guy who worked in television studios with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Tell us about the discovery of Bob Marley.
I was in London working when Bob Marley and the Wailers went to Scandinavia to score a movie, but it failed. They had no tickets or money to get back to Jamaica and ended up in London. A friend asked me to help them get home. I lent them money, and we called right away. They made a recording for me, and that was the beginning.
What do hotels and music have in common?
Both industries are all about entertaining and meeting people.
Who is the most unique to you out of all the rock stars you’ve met and why?
Maybe Elton John. We met in London before he became famous. He was the most amazing songwriter but very shy. I made the mistake of thinking that he wouldn’t be a very strong person on stage. I couldn’t be more wrong.
But among the musicians I worked with, I could not recognize anyone personally. I am more than lonely and most content is alone.