Gramps Morgan

reggae music lives

A friendship forged on a Bahamian island...
by Spencer Antle

I met Gramps Morgan by Chance, or by Fate depending on what philosophy you buy into. I had been in Harbour Island for a week in 2006 shooting models all over Bahamian beaches for 15 hours a day for our Island Company® catalog. While on a golf cart racing from location to location, I saw a poster that advertised famed family reggae band Morgan Heritage on a telephone pole. They were performing on our last night on the island of Eleuthera, Harbour Island’s larger sister island. I had plans to take the crew and models over to the show, thinking it would’ve been a great end to the 5 days of sweat and sunburns. But when that night came, we were exhausted and got word there might be rain that night and 10,000 fans were expected to attend. It just seemed like too much, given we had to get up at 6am to catch our chartered plane off the island. We decided instead to go ballistic across Harbour Island, dancing, drinking, and generally being a civil nuisance.

The next morning the crew, the models and I are waiting in the Eleuthera airport, which is probably the size of your average kitchen. Our chartered plane is late and we’re just waiting for it to show up, everyone tired and hungover from an all-out booze-up wrap party. I’m staring off into the distance, wishing I had a shot of rum to make my head stop hurting when a crewmember taps my shoulder and says, “Hey look!” He points at our feet where there are a bunch of guitar cases. They all have MORGAN HERITAGE written by their handles. I scan the airport and see like 5 Rastas sitting in the corner. Jesus, how hungover was I to miss them? I grabbed one of our catalogs, strolled over, and introduced myself to the closest guy to me. I sat down next to him, told him about Island Company®, showed him the catalog, where we’re sold, how much reggae has meant to me, etc... General low-level starfucking without being a goon. I was a big fan. I had been listening to these tracks over and over on my iPod and in particular one band member who sounded just like Peter Tosh. This 6ft rasta with calm eyes scans the catalog and immediately asks, “Oh cool, can you get me a pair of those sandals?! Those are wicked!” I smirk. “Yeah man. I got a warehouse full of ’em. But one question, who’s the guy that sounds just like Peter Tosh?” He smiles and nods his head. “That’s me, bro!” The guy was Gramps Morgan.

Gramps and Spencer at the Cure Fest in Jamaica, 2007.

A month or two later Gramps invited me to see Heritage play in Ft. Lauderdale. I went and sat side-stage and watched, happy as hell. I went backstage and pushed through a throng of reggae fans. I brought with me some sandals and about 10 of Island Company’s® signature “Quit Your Job” shirts. Gramps was stoked, as was I. He wore those damn shirts so often I had to keep sending them to him. He never took them off. He said in Jamaica he wore them so much people were calling him “Mr. Island Company®!” I mean what the fuck?! Life is weird. One day one of your musical heroes is wearing your clothes all up and down Jamaica.

The very first time I heard one of my all-time favorite Morgan Heritage songs, I’M COMING HOME, I was standing on stage at a MH concert in Tampa, and was just dancing, skankin’ style behind the band on stage. Some ridiculous white boy in a red hat and an Island Company® Escapist shirt just jammin’ the fuck out...I don’t remember what I did that entire month but I remember that song in Tampa.

I’ve met quite a few famous people in my life and worked on quite a number of concert tours in various capacities, and one of the startling things about Gramps is that the guy has always been an absolute saint in every moment I’ve ever spent with him. Rock stars tend to be assholes. It’s not their fault, it’s just what the world does to them when people try to crawl up their ass for even a scrap of attention. It takes a REAL rockstar to behave and not want to break a chair over someone’s head cause they’re interrupting you for the 600th time in 3 hours while you just want to finish your soup.

But Gramps is an exception. Gracious, cool and a straight-up fucking sweetheart. He’s always willing to give and be involved in everything. We got off the ferry in Martha’s Vineyard where he was coming to do a show and visit our Island Company® store, and the second we walked off the dock Jamaicans were appearing out of windows and doorways like it was a surprise party for him – all just yelling, “Gramps mon! Waa g’waaan?!?!” I had no idea how many Jamaicans were on MV until Gramps arrived. The dude’s an icon that has quietly built up a fan base that just GETS IT. And if you hear him sing and it doesn’t hit you, then YOU don’t get it. Because it hits the rest of us that know better.

Gramps Morgan on a photo shoot in Jamaica's legendary falls, wearing his Island Company® Quit Your Job Shirt.

He has a corps of friends (and stories!) that range from the exceptionally famous to the elite of the elite of reggae super stardom. I don’t think there is a person in the tropical music and lifestyle genre that doesn’t respect him both as a person and as an incredibly gifted talent. He’s told me some very ridiculous stories that only a fraction of rockstars get to experience. His phone blows up with the coolest of the cool tracking him down. It’s not shocking to me, but it is impressive. It’s impressive to maintain your composure in the rat race while Wyclef Jean and David LaChapelle fill your inbox.

Gramps and I have been friends for over 5 years now and I’ve taken his picture on countless occasions. I recently got the opportunity to photograph and design his album cover for his latest release REGGAE MUSIC LIVES. It’s a great album, as is his first solo venture 2 SIDES OF MY HEART. I encourage all of you to get these albums and get introduced to not only a top-notch Life Warrior but also one of the last greats in roots reggae. You won’t be disappointed. –SA