The Jamaican Observer

Jamming with Jimmy Norman
HOWARD CAMPBELL, Observer writer
Friday, November 22, 2002

Jimmy Norman in 2002.
Jimmy Norman

WHEN Bob Marley walked into the Bronx apartment of Jimmy Norman in early 1968, it was to get familiar with the African-American singer/songwriter he had met for the first time earlier that day. "He wasn't wearing dreadlocks at the time, he was just a regular cat and he loved Rhythm and Blues," Norman recalled. "All he wanted to talk about was music."

And play it.

Marley and Norman had a songwriting jam session that day which Norman recorded on a "small tape machine". Earlier this year, Norman, 65, stumbled upon the tape in his Manhattan apartment; two months ago he approached the Christie's Auction House if they would be interested in auctioning the item.

They said yes and the tape, which contains eight songs, will be sold by the world-famous organisation on December 26 in New York City. Asking price: US$10,-1000-$15,000. On Monday, Margaret Barrett, head of Christie's Popular Arts department described the tape as being in "fragile, but playable condition" and said the asking price was reasonable for a Marley piece.

"We hope to get much more for it than that but I had to give them a starting figure," Norman told Splash Wednesday from his home.

Three of the songs (Falling In And Out Of Love, Stay With Me and You Think I Have No Feelings) on the tape were written by Norman and his songwriting partner, Al Pyfrom, who was at the session along with Marley's wife Rita and Norman's wife Dorothy. Marley wrote the other songs which include the popular I'm Hurting Inside and One Love ,True Love.

The songs Norman co-wrote were for an album Marley was recording for African-American producer Danny Sims who introduced Norman to the budding Jamaican singer. Sims and R&B singer Johnny Nash had met Marley while on vacation in Jamaica in the mid 1960s and were so impressed with his songwriting that Nash covered some of his songs.

Over the years, the Norman/Pyfrom songs have appeared on several Marley compilations including Chances Are, a 1981 set that was released in 1981 by the now defunct Cotillon label. Norman and Pyfrom songs are also on The Formative Years Volume 1 (1996) and Volume 11 (1998) and 2001's Natty Rebel which were both distributed by JAD Records, a company owned by Sims.

In all, Norman says he wrote as many as 40 songs for Marley and reckons the reggae legend recorded and released 20 of them. However, he points out that the returns in terms of royalties have not been lucrative.

"Periodically, I get chump change, nothing big. A lotta people have been making money off of it, not me," said Norman. "I'm getting some money now, but there's a lotta money out there that I should be getting."

Marley was reportedly so taken with Norman that he encouraged him to come to Jamaica the following week and sit in on recording sessions Sims and Nash were conducting with him. Norman accepted and ended up staying in Kingston for seven months, writing songs that would eventually be recorded by Peter Tosh, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and Neville Willoughby.

Willoughby recorded two Norman songs (Falling and When The Tide Comes In) which were both produced by Sims. Willoughby, who would forge strong ties with the Marley family remembers Norman as a "quiet, intense person, who wrote very good songs. The first time I heard When The Tide Comes In, I knew I had to record it."

Norman says his stay in Jamaica was not limited to music. He recalls Marley taking him to meet people like singer/producer Prince Buster, going to the Cane River Falls in St Thomas and to Rasta functions where he met Mortimo Planno, a major figure in the Rastafarian movement.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Jimmy Norman left the South while still in his teens for California where he started his recording career for a number of independent companies. He moved to New York City in the mid 1960s and did some writing for Broadway; at the time he met Marley he was a seasoned player on the R&B scene.

It would be another 10 years before Norman saw Marley again. By then, Marley was a superstar, rubbing shoulders with heavyweights like Stevie Wonder and The Rolling Stones.

"I saw him backstage at the Beacon Theatre (in New York) and he had all these people around him," Norman related. "He jumped in my arms man, he just wanted to talk about what we used to do."

Shortly after he returned to the United States from Jamaica, Norman recorded and toured with Latin percussionist Eddie Palmieri and joined pioneer rock and roll group, The Coasters, with whom he toured for over 25 years.

He suffered a heart attack four years ago, which forced him to quit touring and last year he underwent bypass surgery. Married three times, he has two children and is a great-grandfather; his last album, Tobacco Road, was released in 1998 by the independent Bad Cat Records.