It had been a long time coming, but today it was confirmed. Longtime manager/promoter/videographer/music lover Mike Cacia, whose path crossed mine over and over again during the last four decades, has passed on. It’s a tremendous loss: to his family, his many, many friends, the artists and bands he managed, and to the music business.
Originally from Rochester, NY, Mike told me that got his start in the music business when he attended Emerson College in Boston. Somehow he and a friend got access to a video camera, and had the idea, very unusual then, of videotaping bands in a live setting. The way he told it, this was basically a scheme to get into shows free, but it turned into a lot more. They would go to sound check, introduce themselves and the camera, and offer to tape the band and give them a copy of the tape if they liked the results. Much to their amazement, nearly everybody they asked said yes. They not only amassed an amazing collection of live performances, they often went back to the hotel with the bands to view the footage after the gig. Mike built up a network of contacts and a lifetime of friendships from these early endeavors, which served him well when he went into promotion and management.
Reggae hit the US very hard in Boston right around the time Mike was doing this, and he became an early champion of the music. He promoted reggae shows and got to know the artists. He also got to hear their problems! Mike was as comfortable around people who were superficially unlike him as anyone I’ve ever met, and he was a man of his word. As a result, he rapidly gained the trust of the musicians he promoted. Competent management is the single most pressing deficiency in the music business then and now. Noticing this, Mike’s love for the music and the people who made it ultimately led him into management, though he always had a variety of other interests. (NYC reggae fans will fondly remember his partnership with Earl Chin and the long-running cable show Rockers TV, to name one example.)
I first met Mike when I sat in, unexpectedly, with Culture at the Ritz in New York City, a story told in more detail elsewhere on this site. Mike was promoting the tour; he may or may not have been managing the group but he was definitely the person who got things done on the road. After the show, Joseph Hill insisted that I join the tour, and although an extra guitarist was not in the budget, Mike hired me for $30 a night and reimbursed me for my Greyhound tickets, as there was no more room in the tour van. It was my first tour; just this Saturday night at my gig with Clark Gayton, someone in the crowd introduced himself to me and said he’d first seen me with Culture at Jonathan Swift’s in Cambridge. (He also said I was young and skinny; true then but no longer.)
My next sighting of Mike was during my first tour with Dennis Brown in 1981. We got to Boston and Mike was the promoter of the show. Shortly thereafter, Mike moved to Jamaica. An avid lover of the country and its people, Mike was a regular attendee at Kingston dances, as was I at the time. I saw him at Skateland regularly. One night he said, “I’m going to record dance hall in its natural setting. It’s much more interesting here than it is on record.” I had been thinking the same thing, but he beat me to it. Mike recorded and released an album of a Skateland dance in 1982. I was in the audience. It is one of the earliest professional recordings of a roots dance, if not the first. (The name escapes me, I will update this when I remember.)
I started working with Toots and the Maytals in 1988, and although I loved the music, the band’s managers (there were a succession of them, who I will not name here) were crooked, incompetent, or both. We went through a number of horrific experiences at the hands of these people. Yet Toots persisted and somehow he managed to pay everybody, though we weren’t really going anywhere.
Sometime in the late 90s my phone rang and it was Mike, calling to talk about the upcoming tour. He told me that Toots had asked him to manage him and that, since Toots was an old friend of his from the 70s, he had decided to accept. From that day on, our situation improved, though it was still a bumpy ride. Toots hadn’t had a record out in years and there were large areas of the country where it simply made no sense to play.
In 2003, Mike called me at work. “Can you meet me downstairs? I want you to hear something.” I went for lunch and met him in the parking lot across the street. He played me a rough mix of the Toots/No Doubt remake of “Monkey Man” that they had just cut in California. “What do you think, Andy?”
I was blown away and said so. “It’s terrific! I love it. What are you going to do with it?”
“Remember Richard Feldman, the guy who always comes to the LA shows? He’s going to produce a duets album with Toots and artists who love him. Richard Branson has a new label and I think he’s going to go for it.” Sure enough, Branson did and the rest is history. The duets album, “True Love,” came out in 2004 and we won the Grammy for Reggae Album of the Year in 2005. Mike and I represented the band at the awards ceremony and I’ve got the Grammy on my piano at Bassford Manor. The album sold well, got terrific reviews, and the resulting wave of publicity and good will that we had accumulated over the years got the band better bookings, and more of them, including opening for the Rolling Stones on many occasions. Without Mike, I don’t think this ever would have happened. Because they were friends first, Mike was able to get Toots’ ear in a way that his predecessors had not, and Toots knew that whatever arguments might occur (and there were many), Mike wanted the best for him.
My involvement with Toots diminished after the Grammy year, but I visited the band often, and Mike always made me welcome. At the last NY show I did with Toots, Monty Alexander, my current employer, sat in and played melodica, a hint of things to come. Mike was looking into managing Monty as well, though that never came to pass. I didn’t always like Mike’s decisions, or agree with them, but he was always open about things and willing to explain what he’d done. This means a lot over the long haul. Sometimes he bit off more than he could chew, getting involved with more artists than he could handle properly because he loved what they did and wanted the world to love them too. But the errors he made were out of love, not greed.
In spite of everything, Mike’s love of music never abated for a moment. He always had something new he was excited about and he would make sure you had a copy of it right away if you liked it too. Obviously he loved reggae, but he also loved rock, soul, blues, jazz, and African music. If it was emotionally deep, Mike was down with it.
I can’t finish without mentioning Mike’s love of family. He was very fond of his father, who was an important role model, and his passing was a serious loss. Other family members turned up at regular intervals all across the country while we toured. They were just like Mike, warm, funny, music-loving, and easy to know. A bon vivant, Mike married late. The marriage didn’t last, but he stayed on good terms with his ex-wife and absolutely adored his daughter Zoe.
Good managers are rare. Good managers who are also good people are rarer still. Mike Cacia was not only both of those things, he did as much as anybody in reggae’s early days outside the Jamaican community to champion and promote the music. He made a huge impact and many of us, myself included, will always be grateful. Fly away home, Mike. You earned it.