Primary Wave is purchasing Blue Mountain Publishing, which was launched by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell in 1962 and is home to the songs by Bob Marley, U2, Toots and the Maytals, Free, John Martyn and others, two sources tell Variety. Terms of the deal were not clear at press time, although a New York Times report published after Variety‘s says the deal is for $50 million and U2’s songs are not included.
Like the early Island Records catalog, Blue Mountain’s holdings are rich with vintage reggae tracks, including songs by Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, The Congos, the Heptones and many others.
Blackwell, 80, is one of the legendary independent executives of the music industry. Born in London, he spent his childhood in Jamaica and founded Island in 1959, when he was in his early 20s. He began recording and releasing music by Jamaican musicians — scoring a No. 1 hit in the country in 1959 with the Laurel Aitkin’s “Boogie in My Bones” — and broke out internationally five years later with Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop,” which essentially introduced the sound of ska to the rest of the world. Yet the label was also on the ground in the Swinging London of the mid-1960s and into the 1970s, releasing influential rock albums by Traffic, Free, King Crimson, Roxy Music and many others along with its pivotal reggae acts. Its ship truly came in when Blackwell signed U2 in 1979 — the band’s enormous success enabled him to sell Island to PolyGram Records in 1989 for a reported $300 million.
Marley was already an established artist in his home country at the time he signed with Island in 1972, yet over the ensuing years he became the first global reggae superstar with albums like “Burnin’,” “Natty Dread,” “Exodus” and others, thanks in no small part to the marketing strength and influence of Blackwell and Island. Marley died of brain cancer in 1981.
Many of the artists signed to Island are also in the Blue Mountain catalog.
Primary Wave is a multifaceted publishing, management, film & TV and marketing company founded by Larry Mestel, whose first job in the music industry was with Island, in 2006. It is one of the largest independent entertainment companies in the U.S. According to its website, the company holds the copyrights to more than 15,000 songs from the catalogs of artists such as Smokey Robinson, Kurt Cobain, Steven Tyler, John Lennon, Def Leppard, Hall & Oates, Chicago, Maurice White, Graham Parker, Daniel Johnston, Steven Curtis Chapman, Lamont Dozier, Steve Cropper, CeeLo Green, Larry Smith and many others.