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Behind “The Wild Side of Paradise”

Words by Arthur Gorson



The truth is I needed to get married. My live-in girlfriend was seven months pregnant and we wanted to find a way to get a few close friends to Jamaica for a wedding. We had been on the Island before and had the perfect place in mind. Only problem was, we were all broke.


Michael Thomas had gotten himself listed as a “Travel Editor” for Rolling Stone Magazine. He and I had found a way to get ourselves sent to exciting places  - he would write, and I would do the photography - both of us living the experience. It was always about the trip, never the money. Our good friend Michael Ochs had recently become head of publicity for Shelter Records and they were about to release “The Harder They Come” soundtrack in the U.S.A.


Revolution was in the air and, ten years into independence, Jamaica was on fire. Michael Thomas pitched the idea of a feature to Rolling Stone. Shelter Records owner Denny Cordell called his friend Chris Blackwell to help set things up on the Island.


We had a crazy drunken wedding party and then basically spent the honeymoon in teaming downtown Kingston. Blackwell turned us over to his then partner Dickie Jobson. Dickie introduced us to Bob Marley and left us alone with him in Trenchtown. It was a defining moment for Bob – he was about go on his first European tour – was sprouting locks and learning to snarl. Poised to become a star, he was looked upon as an upstart by the Reggae establishment who called him “bacra baby” (child of an Englishman). Somehow, through steaming heat and clouds of ganga, I managed to keep my old manual Nikon F in focus as we followed Bob for several days.


Then we met Perry Henzell. Jamaica was tense after seeing itself through the raw eyes of  his “The Harder They Come.” Its music was everywhere and the film was still selling out the Caribe Theater in Kingston. Perry was planning his next feature and took us to meet a magic-mystic Rasta fisherman named Countryman. (Perry became a lifelong friend and I ended up being Executive Producer on his last film “No Place Like Home.”)


The resulting groundbreaking article was published on July 19, 1973. It was called “The Wild Side of Paradise.” When the editors of Rolling Stone saw my photos they thought Countryman was more attractive and would become the bigger star - they gave him a full page spread on the back cover. I think they only used one or two small photos of Bob.  As for me, I recently got married again and … Michael Thomas performed the ceremony.

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