There are two records that D.C. native Gary Himelfarb, 60, credits with turning him on to the music that would become his life’s work: Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Catch a Fire” and Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” soundtrack.
Himelfarb, who produces music under the name Doctor Dread and founded the reggae label RAS Records, was still a teenager when he heard those seminal ’70s records, but he hasn’t forgotten the feeling of hearing them for the first time.
“I clearly remember sitting on MacArthur Boulevard that day, listening to those two reggae records and just being blown away,” he says. “Those two records really hipped me to this other type of culture, this revolutionary type attitude, and it resonated with me.
“My friend who played [them] for me likes to say, ‘I created a monster.’ ”
That moment spurred a lifelong passion for reggae and Jamaican culture that led Himelfarb to produce music, release records, promote shows and even create a line of Jamaican foods. His latest project is a memoir, “The Half That’s Never Been Told,” which Himelfarb will discuss Saturday at Politics and Prose alongside Elder Rastafari Ras Iris.
As a teenager growing up in Chevy Chase, Himelfarb started collecting reggae records, buying as many as he could from West Indian Record Mart, which was then at the epicenter of D.C.’s Jamaican community, the corner of Georgia Avenue and Columbia Road.
The store’s manager “took the time to let this white kid in on reggae, ska and Jamaica,” Himelfarb says. By 1979, Himelfarb had traveled to Jamaica (which he affectionately calls his “first home,” even though he no longer owns a house there), brought back more records and started a radio show, “Night of the Living Dread,” on the free-form FM station WHFS, adopting the persona Doctor Dread.
It wasn’t long before Himel-farb launched RAS — Real Authentic Sound — which, for a time, was America’s go-to label for reggae. Himelfarb would load up on albums on his trips to Jamaica, selling them back home. RAS would go on to sign artists like Israel Vibration, Inner Circle and Yellowman. In recent years, the Bethesda resident had been semiretired from the music business — RAS is no longer active — but he’s about to launch a new label, DDP, with a Barrington Levy acoustic LP as its first release.
After all, it’s not like Himelfarb could — or would want to — leave his reggae roots behind. In fact, he was in Los Angeles during this interview and while discussing Bob Dylan, he stopped the conversation short.
“I’m telling you the truth: A red, yellow and green mini-bus just went by, and it says ‘RastaBus.com,’ ” Himelfarb says. “That’s the kind of s— that happens to me all the time.”