Paying Respects To Bob Marley’s Former Manager And “Godfather” The New York Times called the late Danny Sims “one of the people most responsible for Bob Marley’s success who has gotten the least amount of notice for it.” Sims himself described his relationship with Marley thus: “I guess I was his Godfather—that is in the street sense—I looked out for him.” Of course the Tuff Gong could take care of himself, but Sims definitely helped Marley reach new audiences through his connections in the R&B world. In his Marley biography, Catch A Fire, Timothy White writes that “Sims was the man who would put Bob’s unique sound on the airwaves. Yet he was always trying to dissuade Bob from actually recording reggae—and ‘message’ reggae at that. The chief way he saw Bob Marley being a money-maker was, in his own words, ‘in a rhythm-and-blues, Top Forty style.’ As Sims himself boasted to a reporter from the Village Voice: ‘I discouraged Bob from doing the revolutionary stuff. I’m a commercial guy. I want to sell songs to thirteen-year-old girls, not to guys throwing spears.'” Whatever else you may think of him, cllearly Danny Sims was not afraid to speak his mind. Born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago, Sims’ entry into the music business came with the opening of Sapphire, the first black club in Manhattan. He formed a promotions company, Hemisphere, at the behest of Johnny Nash. The companywas responsible for all the top stars of the day – Sammy Davis, Brook Benton, Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding – he worked with everyone from Mohammed Ali to Malcolm X. Hemisphere later absorbed Dinah Washington’s Queens label creating one of the biggest African-American agencies of the time. In the 1960s Danny formed a label with Nash called JODA, later to become JAD, and it was to this label that both the Wailers and Bob Marley signed. The Wailers would often stay at Danny’s house in Jamaica while he was away. Fellow performers such as Gloria Gaynor, Lloyd Price, Betty Wright and English musician Rabbit (Marley, Free, the Who) also found a home on JAD. Sims died last month at the age of 75, and his contributions to music are still not fully understood. Here’s a quick overview of the man’s musical legacy. Audio After The Jump…
Johnny Nash “Hold Me Tight” Johnny Nash “Cupid” Bob Marley “Acoustic Medley” (Recorded Live in Stockholm 1971 Johnny Nash “Guava Jelly” Johnny Nash “Stir It Up” Johnny Nash “Comma Comma”
Peter Tosh & Bob Marley “Soon Come”
Bob Marley “Reggae On Broadway” Bob Marley “Nice Time” (feat. Hugh Masekala) Bob Marley “Soul Rebel”
Betty Wright “Cleanup Woman” (Live)
Lloyd Price “Stagger Lee”
Gloria Gaynor “I Will Survive”
The reason why Sims relocated to Jamaica in the late 60s has been the subject of much speculation. In John Masouri’s book Wailing Blues, it’s suggested that Sims got in hot water because his music and other activities were viewed with suspicion by American authorities during the Civil Rights era. “We went down there because we thought we were going to get killed by the CIA and FBI. For inciting a riot as they called it. Detroit went down, Chicago went down, and LA went down. The country just went up in flames and we were right in the midst of that. Jamaica was a place to get away from the shooting. I didn’t even know Bob Marley then. WE had a distributor at Federal Records, but the biggest studio was four tracks. We had to bring equipment down there. We brought our whole production team down there.” SIMS TOLD Justine Ketola of Jah Works.
“To us it was like paradise but we never intended to stay because we had hit records in America. We had Gloria Gaynor, Lloyd Price, we were a hot little independent company.”
Roger Steffens (reggae historian) on Danny Sims: At the time of his passing he was working on a film about his years with Marley. I personally believe that the entire history of Bob Marley’s career would have been radically different if it weren’t for the fact that Bob, Peter and Rita Marley were all receiving a hundred dollars a week from Danny from 1968 to 1972. Danny and Johnny’s training brought Bob and Peter up to high international standards in both studio and stage craft. Bob received his first serious money from publishing royalties for songs of his that Johnny Nash turned into international hit records.
David Simmons (longtime business partner) on Danny Sims: As a music man he was totally artist oriented. Danny just saw no boundaries as far as an artist is concerned, if he believed in them—as he did with Bob—he just went for it. He was totally committed. In many ways he was totally irresponsible. I mean he could keep pouring in money and time way after other people would have quit. So Danny’s strength was that he just wanted to see that artist succeed. More often than not he proved right over the years.
Danny came up in a very colorful—not quite the bootleg era—but in terms of black music it was a coming of age. Black musicians and black managers and artists got a really bad deal in those days. They were often ripped off terribly. who was signed in the 60s and 70s was ripped off terribly. You had to have the street smarts that Danny had to survive. And he managed to do that.
I think Danny and Bob were made for one another. They were both very very complicated characters. I guess that’s why the chemistry sort of worked.
Whether Bob would have been successful without Danny is very hard to say. Bob really needed somebody with Danny’s left-field way of looking at things, and his determination. Really he whole black thing didn’t hold him back in any way. And he was very comfortable in a business that was very white-dominated at that time.
Just the whole thing with reggae. Originally reggae wasn’t accepted as a commercial record form. But it was the songs that he was writing initially for Johnny Nash. Songs like “I Shot the Sheriff” for Eric Clapton and “Guava Jelly” for Barbra Streisand. People started to get that sort of reggae rhythm. Before that the Caribbean had been famous for calypso really. This was a very strange off-the-wall thing. When the whole Rasta thing started it was very scary to everybody. And getting it accepted, and especially to white audiences, that was really strange. Logically it would’ve gone to a black audience. Bob really struggled with black audiences in America all his life.
I think Danny always saw Bob’s success. And when he got back together with Bob in the final year or two of his life, they thought they could even get to bigger things. And I think they would have if Bob had lived. But unforetunatley he was struck down very young. There was a big drecord deal in discussion, a $10 million advance in discussion, but Bob couldn’t take it up because he was too ill to record. SO I think it would have gone even bigger.
Danny holds the world record for telephone calls. There’sa rumor he once had a 24 hour telephone call a girlfriend who had left him and he was trying to get her back.
Mark St. John (longtime business partner) on Danny Sims: Danny’s greatest gift was that he human all the way around.
He wasn’t a saint, he wasn’t a sinner. HE wasn’t as proprietary about money.
Danny was genuine. You knew where you stood with him. There was no side to him. If he was pissed you knew about it. You knew where you stood.
And he had boundless charm. He was really charming and lovable to be with. Charm goes a long way. There’s a lot of charmless people in the world. Danny had charm but he had strength behind it. He didn’t bullshit you. IF Danny was gonna fuck you up, he’d tell you about it.
He was real. And that appeals to people like Bob, hardcore writers who wear their hearts on their sleeves. You recognize someone else who was doomed by life.
He knew everybody. He had a huge phone book. He had a lot of friends.
Quietly one of the first people to cross black music over into the mainstream. And he did it with flair. And he had great ears, right from the get-go.
Danny championed Hugh Masekela, who remains the South African musician of note.
He could get to the heart of it.
Betty Wright. Gloria Gaynor, Jimmy Smith, and Gil Scott Heron, Peter Tosh. It a railroad of the truth of black and Afro-Caribbean music.
Danny was at the root of it. He was at the core of everything.
Rudy Langlais (filmmaker) on Danny Sims: . There would be no Bob Marley I believe without Danny Simms in many respects both you know the discovery of Bob if you will who was largely still a Jamaican entity at that time by an American producer who had extensive contacts in the record business and entertainment circles by the time they met but also someone who had vision and great charisma and a gift for developing talent. So I think we found our way to Danny thru the music. We were working on telling the story thru Rita Marley’s book and her marriage to Bob. And kept coming across Danny and finally we heard a lot of music that was recorded and a lot of the conceptual ideas for music that Danny produced and supervised the recording of. We began to listen to more and more of this extraordinary music and finally the time came to meet the man who was behind it and a meeting was arranged one time when Danny was coming thru Los Angeles, as you know he lived in the Dominican Republic and had been there for much of the last decade or more. We met and began to build a very close working relationship as well as a friendship and through that came to really know his story; kind of a view of both his life and Bob’s evolution that no one ever really heard or talked much about so that’s what gave us a really unique point of view in the telling of Bob’s story. It became more than just Bob’s story because the friendship between Danny and Bob is a very unique and complex one.
Why did people not know about it?
I think they don’t know about it because Danny was a very private man. He always was private, he wasn’t someone who sought publicity or sought to be known. He was behind the scenes guy who loved working behind the scenes, he loved pushing others out onto the stage and seeing them get the credit. I haven’t come across anybody in the music business who more people credit for the launching of their careers, their success than Danny. In a tough business, I have not met anyone who people speak more fondly of than Danny. I think he liked being the behind the scenes guy, the fixer, the mover, the shaker, behind the scenes to make things happen and not someone who talked about his own life.
Now you said that without Danny there might not be Bob as we see know him today but would Danny be noteworthy without Bob Marley? Who are the other people that he influenced?
I think that’s a very good question. In a way they needed each other for the certain kind of place that they now hold and should hold in cultural history. I think that Danny would have been successful with other performers, I mean, Danny not only worked with Bob. Danny was for example the producer of Johnny Nash and brought “I Can See Clearly Now” as well as his early work. Danny met Johnny when he was a younger performer on the arthur godfrey show. He walked into Danny’s restaurant in Times Square and it was through that meeting that Danny became Johnny’s partner and manager and producer. Who would from New York move to Jamaica to then set up a company called JAD Records and Cayman Music and begin really Johnny’s rise to fame. So to the extent that Johnny Nash is someone who has made a mark in the music business, Danny Simms is responsible for that. So he might have been Danny Simms the Danny Simms of some note (?) but he worked with other performers. He was a booker of tours… I would say that amongst all the performers probably Johnny Nash and Bob Marley are the two most famous but he was also promoting and publishing and recording the work of Peter Tosh as well. So Peter was also on Danny’s JAD Records label and did some of his finest work there independent of Bob and the work that they did together. When you really dig into Danny’s story you’re going to find someone who has had a significant role in music history.