The Jamaican Observer
|Jamming with Jimmy Norman
|HOWARD CAMPBELL, Observer writer
Friday, November 22, 2002
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
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
"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.