Many significant 1's for Dennis Brown
In a few hours time, we should be celebrating the 59th anniversary of the birth of legendary reggae artiste Dennis Brown, OD.
He was fittingly dubbed 'The Crown Prince of Reggae' for the enormous contribution he made in popularising Jamaica's reggae music across the globe.
Truth be told, his efforts and achievements in the music business were surpassed only by the Reggae King, Bob Marley. As we prepare to enter Reggae Month tomorrow, we can't
help but remember and reminisce on Brown's contribution as it played a major role in influencing organisers to declare the month of February Reggae Month.
If numbers are anything to go by, then the number one, seems to have been very much a part of Brown's life: He was born on day No. 1 in Reggae Month; He died on day No. 1 in the month of July, which happens to be International Reggae Day; and he was rated by many as Jamaica's No. 1 vocalist in popular music, insofar as it relates to voice quality, quality of his output and the quantity of his output. It is said that Brown had over 60 albums to his credit.
In addition, he created another first when he became the first and only Jamaican recording artiste in popular music to be interred in The National Heroes Park - a place reserved for national heroes, heads of state, governors general, and other distinguished persons.
His vocal qualities were undoubtedly one of the best, but the love and admiration that his fans had for him certainly added to his stature. There is hardly any doubt that Brown was the best-loved Jamaican singer by virtue of his close association with his fans, his affable character, and his generous ways.
As a young boy, living with my aunt along Orange Street (downtown Kingston) - the Mecca of Jamaica's popular music during the 1960s I was privileged to have interacted with him on several occasions. I remember him walking to and fro, with guitar in hand along that busy musical corridor, almost like a man possessed, perhaps contemplating a way he could get into the music business.
It was at a place called 'Big Yard' - a Gothic-looking structure with predominant red bricks that supported columns and walls, situated almost at the intersection of Orange and North streets in downtown Kingston - that Brown was
born on February 1, 1957. He attended the Central Branch School along Slipe Road in Kingston as a pre-teen, and even from that early age, one could detect his eagerness to get into the music business.
His earliest influence and inspiration was his father, Arthur, a scriptwriter and actor who frequently took the youngster to his performances. According to Dennis, "My father was a dramatist who wrote plays, and I feel that is where the performing side of me came from."
Clement 'Coxson' Dodd - Studio 1's boss - rightly claimed that he brought Brown into the music business with a recording titled No Man Is an Island, in 1969, but were it not for the efforts of the legendary singer-record producer Derrick Harriott, that might never have been a reality. A Van Dykes original, the song was given to Brown by Harriot to rehearse and prepare for a recording session, with Harriott as producer.
As destiny would have it, Harriott had to leave the island about that time, and Brown, in his eagerness, took the song to producer Dodd. and it created history. No Man Is an Island became Dennis Brown's first No. 1 hit, launched his career, and shot him to prominence on the Jamaican music scene. But unknown to many, that wasn't Brown's first studio work. A year earlier, Brown recorded for Harriott a recording titled Obsession, which was never released but was re-recorded and later released in 1970 under the title Lips of Wine.
Quizzed as to the rationale behind the change of title, Harriott said, "Obsession wasn't catchy enough, and since the punch line 'lips of wine', seemed more commercial, I decided to go along with it." It was one of the gems from Brown's earlier days, mounted on a sweet reggae rhythm with equally romantic lyrics:
"I've been thinking lately, much of my baby
Thinking how she needs me, yeah
And I don't seem to know if she's feeling so bad
Feeling so bad, feeling so bad
Maybe it's better if I forget her
Let her go on.
How I long to hold her
How I long to hold her close to me
Maybe someday she will change her mind
And let me taste her lips of wine"
While with Studio 1, Brown recorded the hit songs Going to a Ball, Created by the Father, and Love is Amazing and appeared on several shows around the island. His second album for Studio 1, If I Follow My Heart, in 1970, followed No Man Is an Island. The floodgates then began to open with his sojourns to several local producers, including Niney the Observer, Lloyd the Matador, Phil Pratt, and Joe Gibbs, which produced the hits, Baby Don't Do It, Things in Life, Silhouettes, Black Magic Woman, What About The Half, and Money in My Pocket, which rode high on the UK charts and became his biggest hit to date, all this happening before he had exited his teens.
His remarkable writing skills, along with his ability to play drums and guitar, augured well for his later career, and by the mid-1970s, Brown became so much in demand for overseas engagements that he spent much of his time away from home.
In the meantime, he continued his forays into the recording studios with a plethora of hit singles and albums. Perhaps his association with producer Joe Gibbs was his most fruitful, producing the classic albums Words of Wisdom, Foul Play, and Spellbound, while the singles Sitting and Watching, for the Taxi label, Inseparable, Coming Home, and Love Has Found Its Way were big chart toppers.
Brown died on July 1, 1999, from what was described as respiratory issues, which led to pneumonia.