The whole story

HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Sunday, October 05, 2014

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FOR almost 30 years, Gary Himelfarb negotiated countless deals with Jamaican artistes as principal of RAS Records, one of the largest distributors of reggae music during the 1980s and 1990s.


Popularly known as Dr Dread, Himelfarb revisits his ties with Jamaica, its culture and some of reggae's most successful artistes in The Half That's Never Been Told, a book scheduled for release on March 3, 2015 by Akashic Books.


The 59-year-old Himelfarb made RAS one of the top independent companies in the world, with a catalogue containing albums by major acts such as Black Uhuru, Bunny Wailer, Culture, Israel Vibration, Yellowman, Gregory Isaacs and Freddie McGregor.


Some of the chapters in The Half That's Never Been Told are dedicated to Himelfarb's relationship with these artistes. Speaking to the Jamaica Observer recently, he described the book as a "page-turner", adding: "No one will be bored."


Himelfarb said over the years he has been encouraged to write a book on his time in the music business. But it was not until he read the biography of an industry giant that he took the plunge.


"I read a biography about Norman Granz who started Verve Records. It was sub-titled 'The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice' and spoke volumes of how he used music to bring a halt to segregation in America," Himelfarb explained. "I saw many parallels (with RAS) as to how he ran his label and his relationships with his jazz artistes."


Verve exposed a number of black jazz performers who were not attractive to major record companies. RAS did the same for reggae, helping to revive the careers of groups like Culture, Israel Vibration and Inner Circle in the 1990s.


Born in Washington, DC to Jewish parents, Himelfarb was struck by wanderlust in the 1970s, living for a time in Ecuador. In the book, he details his first visit to Jamaica in 1977, a four-month trek that saw him crisscrossing the island and absorbing its culture.


Back home, he went into radio, hosting a reggae show using the moniker Dr Dread. He started RAS Records in 1981. The company's first release was Rastafari Liveth, an album by roots singer Peter Broggs.


The Half That's Never Been Told focuses on more famous acts like Wailer, with whom Himelfarb had an indifferent relationship, and producer Phillip 'Fatis' Burrell, head of the Xterminator label.


"This is my story. It is the way one person sees life, Jamaica and the people who have made up the reggae music business. Some people may not agree with what I say and some may say, 'right on'," he said.


Since leaving the music business, Himelfarb has established Doctor Dread's Famous Jerk which produces jerked products such as sauces and snacks.


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