It wasn't the first time Paul Epstein learned of a friend's passing from someone offering to sell him a dead man's record collection.

The call, from an estate liquidator, came last month.

"She said, 'His name is Postman Roger ... ' And I said, 'Gillies,'" Epstein recalls. "She asked, 'How did you know?' 'He was my friend.'"

That exchange led Epstein, owner of Denver's Twist & Shout record store, to an address in Golden to solemnly survey, and ultimately buy, Roger Gillies' mammoth collection of reggae music and ephemera.

"Going into Roger's house and seeing the tattered remains of someone you knew as a healthy person, that's profoundly emotional and upsetting," Epstein says. "These huge collections, which can make or change your career, are almost always the result of death, divorce or disaster."

And this particular collection — 10,000-plus CDs, vinyl records, cassettes, videotapes, DVDs, books, posters and more — may be one of a kind. Its late owner certainly was.

Known as Postman Roger to listeners of "Reggae Bloodlines" on Boulder's KGNU radio, Gillies spent nearly 25 years extolling reggae over the airwaves, helping through incessant promotion to establish Colorado — and Boulder in particular — as a touring destination for classic Jamaican acts such as Burning Spear, Israel Vibration and Culture.


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Friends describe Gillies as having possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre — Westword once dubbed him "the Cliff Clavin of reggae" — and an archivist's obsession with amassing his own historical record of the music.

"He was Colorado reggae," says Bill Bass, the Denver promoter who has co-produced the annual Reggae on the Rocks concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheatre since 1988. (For years, Gillies MC'd those multi-act bills.)

Postman Roger Gillies, longtime co-host of KGNU’s "Reggae Bloodlines" program, stands outside the Boulder radio station as on-air guest
Postman Roger Gillies, longtime co-host of KGNU's "Reggae Bloodlines" program, stands outside the Boulder radio station as on-air guest Andrew Tosh — son of the late Peter Tosh — plays around with a soccer ball. (Courtesy Kelly Maurice)

Ansel Cridland, of the Jamaican reggae group The Meditations, credits Gillies with helping his band, and so many others, find a receptive audience.

"Since he came on the radio, reggae music is big in Colorado," says Cridland, who developed a long friendship with Gillies. "He is the man who really explained to the people about the groups and the music and the joy and the happiness that this music brings."

Gillies, who lived for years in Jamestown, then Boulder, and was, in fact, an actual postman, died on Dec. 20 at the age of 65.

Like Epstein, many of Gillies' longtime friends didn't learn of his death until recently, having fallen out of touch with him in recent years, they say, as Gillies slid into dementia and lost himself.

"Postman was an unsung hero," says Robert Oyugi, owner of Boulder's Ujama News magazine and promoter of the annual Soul Rebel Festival. "Music was his life. Sharing music was him sharing his life with people."

'He thought it was magic'

Friends say Gillies' love of reggae could be traced in large part to the soundtrack to the 1972 film "The Harder They Come," which starred Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff, and spotlighted the deeply rhythmic music.

"To a lot of people of his generation, that was a really important point of introduction," says Carter Van Pelt, a reggae broadcaster, writer and archivist who befriended Gillies in the mid-'90s.

Reggae, born in the late 1960s out of ska and Jamaican variations on R&B and calypso, "spoke to enough of his love for blues rock, even though they're very different musically," Van Pelt says.

Epstein says Gillies once told him it was The Slickers' performance of "Johnny Too Bad" on the film's soundtrack that flipped the switch.

"He thought it was magic," Epstein says of the song. "That line, 'Walking down the road with your ratchet in your waist.' He didn't know what it meant, so he started researching it, trying to learn everything he could."

Postman Roger Gillies, longtime co-host of KGNU’s "Reggae Bloodlines" program, was, in fact, a postman, delivering mail across
Postman Roger Gillies, longtime co-host of KGNU's "Reggae Bloodlines" program, was, in fact, a postman, delivering mail across Boulder's University Hill neighborhood. In 1988, he was voted the city's top mailman in the Camera's Best of Boulder edition. (Courtesy Kelly Maurice)

Gillies would later recount the first time he heard Bob Marley; it was 1973, and he caught "I Shot the Sheriff" — which would be a hit for Eric Clapton the following year — on Denver radio. That triggered a lifelong obsession — not just with reggae, but with its globally revered figurehead.

"I heard this wild, electric, unchained voice, and the energy from that song was real and genuine," Gillies told Westword in 1996. "I thought, 'Who is this guy? I have to find out about this.'"

Gillies dove deep ("He was monomaniacal," Epstein says), and began collecting everything he could, from legitimate releases to bootlegged concerts and studio sessions. He honed in on Marley, the Jamaican superstar who was just 36 when cancer claimed him in 1981.

"He'd be into Bob Marley live recordings like a Deadhead would be into the Grateful Dead," Van Pelt says.

Around 1977, Gillies went to work for the U.S. Postal Service, delivering mail across Boulder's University Hill neighborhood. (A decade later, he'd be voted the city's top mailman in the Camera's Best of Boulder edition.)

Gillies would continue to deliver Boulder's mail — and a little music on the side, it seems — well into the 2000s.

"You would see Postman, and he'd be, 'Hey, man, there's a great mix of Bob Marley I need to give you! I need to give you some old-time Bob Marley! Meet me on my route,'" Oyugi recalls. "So I'd go meet him on his route, and he'd give me a cassette."

Kelly Maurice, a longtime Boulder friend of Gillies' and a fellow reggae obsessive, says that need to spread the music — not just over the airwaves, but physically, too — was so important. "He must have sent thousands of CDs to people around the world," Maurice says.

Gillies was something of a curmudgeon, and no stranger to grudges, his friends say. He also was a contradiction — very social within his reggae circles, but also a recluse, living for years in remote Jamestown.

"He loved to talk on the telephone," Maurice says. "He would talk for hours, and it drove people crazy. I gave him so much time on the phone — and I don't really like being on the phone — that I developed a permanent neck condition."





'Passionate about the music'

In 1987, Gillies joined KGNU's weekly "Reggae Bloodlines" program, trading off shows with original host and creator Donovan Makha.

A Jamaican himself, Makha launched "Reggae Bloodlines" a little more than a week after the Boulder-based FM frequency debuted on May 22, 1978. Makha hosted the show by himself for nearly a decade; since then, he has shared airtime on "Reggae Bloodlines" with a cast of co-hosts.

E.C. Erb, a former KGNU music director who has worked or volunteered for the station since 1984, said the "collective format" for "Reggae Bloodlines" and other shows helps diversify the programming.

"Roger was really passionate about the music," she says. "He definitely had a somewhat different approach than Makha, but he really enjoyed the classics. ... I'd ask friends, 'What are you listening to on ("Reggae Bloodlines"),' and they loved hearing Postman because of the classic material he was bringing in."

Gillies trawled his collection for rarities to play on-air, often broadcasting live recordings or obscure studio sessions that listeners wouldn't be able to hear elsewhere. Knowing that, Gillies encouraged fans to tape his shows.

"If you go back before the internet, I can't emphasize enough how hard it was to get access to this music, and this culture, if you didn't live in an area that had a sizable Jamaican population," Van Pelt says. "That's why regional radio, and community radio shows, were such valuable points of access.

"People would make cassette tapes of Postman's radio show religiously because he was the only one who had a lot of that material."

Gillies' reach, and that of "Reggae Bloodlines," was not lost on the record labels trying to market reggae artists in America.

"The best way to get the music to the people was through the radio," Oyugi says. "This was pre-internet, pre-Facebook, and all that. If you wanted to get your music out and you were anywhere in the country, you wanted to send your cassettes or records to Postman, and he'd play it on 'Reggae Bloodlines.'"

But Gillies' time at the mic came to an end, rather abruptly, in 2011.

Maurice, who helped Gillies in the studio, says KGNU dropped Postman after his deteriorating mental state — he was beginning to forget names — and difficulty adapting to the station's new digital technology resulted in on-air mishaps during a "Reggae Bloodlines" show that fall.

(John Schaefer, who was music director at the time, says KGNU parted ways with Gillies after he refused an offer for technical assistance to stay on the air.)

"He didn't go out with a bang," Maurice says. "More like a whimper."





'A profound collection'

And the fate of Postman's reggae collection? More than one person interviewed for this story inquired of its whereabouts.

Most of it will be sold, piece by piece, at Twist & Shout, which has begun putting Gillies' old LPs and CDs out on the sales floor.

It'll take months to get everything cataloged, priced and stocked. (And it's not all reggae; Gillies was into the Grateful Dead, too, among other musical strains, and also owned all variety of TV shows — whole runs — on DVD.)

"I've barely been able to get a picture of what is," Epstein says of Gillies' collection, which he bought for an undisclosed sum.

Some of it won't, and can't, be resold. Namely, Gillies' dubbed cassettes of bootlegged concerts, unreleased studio material and other rarities. Epstein calls the tapes "a profound collection" that, as a reggae disciple himself, he plans to keep for himself.

On a recent visit to Twist & Shout, the collection — which took a truck and five car trips to transport — threatens to overwhelm the back rooms of the record store. Boxes of CDs line the halls. DVD-filled tubs occupy a storeroom.

In Epstein's office, framed reggae posters lean against one wall, and a sampling of Gillies' CDs sit stacked on the desk. On the floor, a tackle box brims with 8-millimeter videotapes of the One World Festival in Crested Butte.

Out on the shop's sales floor, an expanded reggae section greets customers walking into the vinyl department. It's stocked with Gillies' old LPs, including, on this visit, titles by Judy Mowatt, Gregory Isaacs, Lee "Scratch" Perry, The Skatalites and, of course, Marley and assorted Wailers.

Flip through, and you'll even come across autographed copies of records by old Jamaican acts Foundation and Carlton and the Shoes ("Long life to Postman Roger to keep reggae going").

Standing next to the new shelves filled with his friend's old LPs, Epstein is a little wistful.

"Roger was such a uniquely Boulder character," Epstein says. "He was one of those guys who was on a mission. You meet those guys sometimes. Sometimes it's about something like guns. But this was a mission I could be down with.

"And I'm really sad he's gone."

Matt Sebastian: 303-473-1350, sebastianm@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/mattsebastian