Crown Prince rides again
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Though he had been making hit songs since the late 1960s, Dennis Brown was not a big name outside of reggae circles in 1979. It took an outstanding performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival that year to introduce the Crown Prince of Reggae to a new audience.
That memorable show is captured on a DVD which is included in The Crown Prince of Reggae - Singles (1972-1985), a box set to be released on November 16 by 17 North Parade, the reissue subsidiary of VP Records.
The package also includes two compact discs that contains 40 of Brown's biggest hits, going back to the early 1970s when he announced himself as reggae's boy wonder. Brown died in July 1999 at age 42.
Many of the songs that established him as one of reggae's most popular artistes in the 1970s are on the North Parade set. Among them are Silhouettes, What About The Half, No More Will I Roam, Ghetto Girl and Whip Them Jah.
For all his hits, Brown was still largely unknown outside of Jamaica and Caribbean communities in Britain and the United States. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Burning Spear were just some of the reggae acts who had developed major audiences in Europe.
Lloyd Parkes, whose We The People band backed Brown at Montreux, said the singer had just signed to Laser Records, a British company which was keen to break him to a new demographic.
"They did everything to get him on that show. I remember Peter Tosh was on it," Parkes told The Gleaner. He said Brown, then 22 years old, was not overawed by the occasion.
"He took control of the stage, it was a tremendous performance," Parkes recalled.
So Jah Say, Wolves & Leopards, Ain't That Lovin' You, Words Of Wisdom, The Drifter, Milk And Honey, Don't Feel No Way and Money In My Pocket were the songs Brown performed at Montreux. It was his only appearance at the world's premier music festival.
Within a year, Brown was signed to A&M Records, a company that was home to artistes like Joan Baez, The Carpenters and Quincy Jones during the 1970s.
He recorded three albums for A&M, Foul Play, Love Has Found Its Way and The Prophet Rides Again. They were not big sellers but did produce notable songs like If I Had The World, Your Man, Halfway Up, Halfway Down and Love Has Found Its Way.
Brown parted company with the label in the early 1980s and returned to working with Jamaican producers like Sly and Robbie, for whose Taxi label he did two of his biggest hits, Revolution and Sitting and Watching.
'He took control of the stage, it was a tremendous performance.'