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Saxophonist Felix 'Deadly Headley' Bennett is dead

Published:Friday | August 26, 2016 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small

After a lengthy struggle with back and prostate health issues, saxophonist Felix 'Deadly Headley' Bennett passed away at home on Sunday, August 21. He has left a list of accomplishments that testify to his music career's longevity and being an 'elder' who was associated with some of Jamaica's legendary recording artistes.

Although known as a session musician who had a hand in Bob Marley's career, playing on the single Judge Not, chairman of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA) Frankie Campbell said it should be noted that Bennett's work was extensive, and evolved along with various genres of Jamaican popular music.

"He was integral in the development of reggae music through the saxophone. He had a lot of experience from the jazz days, from the '50s right through until reggae started in the '60s," Campbell said, referring to Bennett's status as an Alpha old boy.

Margaret 'Auntie Pet' Williams said although Bennett was ill he was not bedridden, as the musician was up and about on the day he died. Williams was away for a week, returning on Sunday evening to find that he had already retired upstairs and was not answering a call for tea. "How we know how he died ... my neighbour's son took a cup of tea for him. He was feeling pain in the back. When he went back to check on him, he was calling, but it's like he's not hearing", Williams told The Gleaner. "We touched him and he was hot, but not breathing. So we called the police."

"We know seh him did sick," said Carol Bennett, daughter of the late musician."Him do him best to us and we must understand seh this is a must."

Bennett worked as a session musician at Lesley Kong's Beverley Records and is credited for recording on Judge Not, the first track ever laid by a 17 year-old Robert Nesta Marley. Bennett also recorded on 14-year-old James Chambers' Hurricane Hattie. Chambers is now the legendary singer and actor known as Jimmy Cliff. Bennett's other recording credits include work with pioneering rocksteady and reggae acts like The Abyssinians, Alton Ellis and Prince Far I.

Bennett's work as a saxophonist has been immortalised in classic songs like Delroy Wilson's Dancing Mood, The Abyssinians' Satta Massagana and Bob Andy's I've Got To Go Back Home.

In 1962, as a member of The Sheiks band, the late saxophonist was among those who played to welcome Princess Margaret on her visit to lead the ceremony marking Jamaica's Independence. He adapted to changing music genres, from ska to rocksteady to reggae. Bennett is recognised for recording songs throughout the 1970s with hitmakers such as Gregory Isaacs and Bunny Wailer.

Bennett's music education began at Alpha Boys' School when he was five years old. He graduated 10 years later, having mastered the saxophone. Bennett could boast association with other musical greats before his career truly started, having studied in the same space as renowned saxophonist Tommy McCook and trombonist Don Drummond.

He was awarded the Order of Distinction in 2005 for his contribution to the development of music.

"There was an Alpha album on which he was featured as one of the greats," Campbell told The Gleaner, referring to 35 Years of Alpha, released in 1982.

"On behalf of Fab Five Band and JAVAA and the music industry on a whole, I wish Headley farewell," Campbell said.

- Information on Bennett's career taken from The Gleaner's archives.