KINGSTON, Jamaica -- When major record labels shunned reggae music, small, independent companies were always around to pick up the slack.
Among the best known of these 'indies' was RAS Records. It had offices in Washington DC and was run by Gary 'Doctor Dread' Himelfarb.
The 60-year-old Himelfarb stepped away from the daily grind of the music business 10 years ago. Today, he operates Doctor Dread's Famous Jamaican Jerk, a company in his hometown of Washington DC.
In an interview with OBSERVER ONLINE last week, Himelfarb said his culinary venture is not much different from what he did at RAS.
"It has always been my intention to promote the positive side of Jamaican culture. I decided to launch a company that could again promote Jamaican culture around the world through food," he explained. "It is my vision to use food to help promote the music and music to help promote the food."
Himelfarb started Doctor Dread's Famous Jamaican Jerk five years ago. Having owned a home in the Jamaican jerk kingdom of Portland for 15 years, Himelfarb was more than familiar with the spicy delicacy.
"Jerk is the most internationally known of Jamaican cuisine. It has become main stream and is on menus of many restaurants that have nothing to do with Jamaica or the Caribbean," he said.
Himelfarb founded RAS in 1981, four years after he first visited Jamaica, criss-crossing the island for three monhs. He got the moniker Doctor Dread while hosting a reggae radio show in 'DC' prior to starting RAS.
The label launched with Rastafari Liveth, an album by singer Peter Broggs. It became a hub for mainly roots-reggae for over 30 years, distributing outstanding albums by Culture, Israel Vibration, Inner Circle, Bunny Wailer, Barrington Levy, Yellowman, Freddie McGregor and Jacob Miller.
RAS amassed a catalogue of over 300 albums, making it one of the most successful promoters of reggae.
Himelfarb says he left the music business through disillusionment with declining standards and the emergence of Internet downloads.
"When Napster first came on the scene and people could download music for free, I saw the writing on the wall and decided to sell RAS Records."
He then started Doctor Dread's Famous Jamaican Jerk which products include a variety of snacks (nuts, chips) and sauces. Himelfarb points to southern California and Australia as his company's biggest markets.
He has partnered with McGregor's Big Ship Music organisation to stage the inaugural Long Beach Reggae Music Jerk and Food Festival on September 28 in California.