A prince fittingly crowned - Dennis Brown earns rich legacy and huge popularity

Published: Sunday | February 3, 2013 Comments 0

Two days ago, we celebrated the 56th birth anniversary of perhaps Jamaica's most loved musical icon - Dennis Brown OD.

Although he was crowned 'The prince of reggae', his ardent followers considered him 'The King' insofar as his ability to 'hold and motivate' a dance crowd was concerned.

Brown was known to have kept dance and stage-show crowds dancing non-stop for hours, facilitated by his huge hit catalogue which was numbered in the hundreds of singles and dozens of albums he made during a three-decade career.

Big Yard, a Gothic-looking, Elizabethan-style structure, with predominant red-brick supporting columns and walls, situated almost at the intersection of North and Orange streets in downtown Kingston, is where this musical icon was born on February 1, 1957.

Retaining most of its original shape from those early days, it conjures up memories of Brown's early life, when he lived there with his father, Arthur - a scriptwriter and actor who took Brown, a pre-teen at the time, along with him to many of his performances.

It was the young Brown's earliest inspiration, and as he puts it, "My father was a dramatist who wrote plays, and I feel that is where the performing side of me came from".

EARLY INSPIRATION

No doubt Brown was really inspired by these outings with his father, as he soon became very attached to a guitar he acquired and began amusing himself while still attending Central Branch School along Slipe Pen Road in Kingston.

Brown was not yet 12 years old, but one could easily detect his eagerness to get into a recording studio.

That opportunity arose when he came in contact with the more-established recording artiste and record producer, Derrick Harriott, some time in 1968.

Recognising his potential, Harriott made arrangements to do Brown's first studio work with a song titled Obsession. Initially, it was not released, but Harriott was encouraged by the young man's talent and gave him another song titled No Man Is An Island (originally done by the Van Dykes) to rehearse for recording.

Unfortunately for Harriott, he didn't get the opportunity to act as producer for the recording, because he had to leave the island at about that time. Brown was now faced with the challenge of finding a producer to record the song for him.

That opportunity came soon after when the larger-than-life Clement Dodd spotted him performing, by chance, at a session which he attended with his comedian brother.

Dodd invited the 13-year-old Dennis to Studio One, and the rest is history.

No Man Is An Island became Brown's first hit, a big one in 1969, that launched his career and shot him into prominence on the Jamaican music scene.

He followed up with Going To A Ball, Created By The Father, Make It Easy On Yourself, Love Is Amazing, and others that were included on his first album No man is an Island.

In the interim, Brown appeared on several shows around the island, and did opening acts for visiting overseas artistes.

THE WONDER BOY

His performances brought him further into public attention. So much had he begun to wind his way into the hearts of Jamaicans that he began to be referred to as 'The wonder boy'.

He recorded his second album, If I Follow My Heart, for Dodd at the turn of the decade, and also found time to do a re-recording of his first studio work, Obsession, for producer Derrick Harriott, under the new title, Lips Of Wine.

Quizzed as to the rationale behind the change of title, Harriott replied "Obsession wasn't catchy enough, and since the punchline 'lips of wine' seemed more commercial, I decided to go along with it".

Lips Of Wine, Baby Don't Do It, Things In Life, Black Magic Woman, Casanova, What About The Half, Silhouettes and Money In My Pocket - his biggest hit to date, were but happy preludes to the exciting international career that was to follow.

By age 15, (in 1972), Brown was sought after by a number of producers, including Niney the Observer, Lloyd the Matador, Phil Prat, Randy's and Joe Gibbs.

His run of successes soon established him as Jamaica's premier singing star and the most 'in demand' entertainer, earning for him the title 'The Crown Prince of reggae'.

Brown was now basking in the glory of being a celebrity, ranked alongside others like Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, Alton Ellis and others, but was equally aware of the adverse effect it was having on his school life.

"I was still in school then, and doing well, but I don't know how I did that, because it was so rough, having to do tours around the island several nights of the week and still have to go to school".

He claimed that, although his parents had others ideas as to the direction his career should take, his intention was strictly geared towards music.

By the mid-1970s, his reputation had grown to the extent that he became so much in demand for overseas engagements that he began spending more time away from home than at home.

His remarkable writing skills, coupled with his ability to play drums and guitar, made him quite a rounded entertainer. His self-penned, Sitting And Watching, done for the 'Taxi' label in 1980, was perhaps the most popular recording at the time.

Of all his associations with producers, the one he had with Gibbs was the most fruitful, producing the classic albums, Words of Wisdom, Foul Play and Spellbound, while singles like Coming Home, All Night Long, My Time and Your Love Got A Hold On Me were big chart toppers.

The power of Brown's mid-late 1970s work was underlined by his ability to 'stand his ground' with his lovers rock music, in the face of a massive dub music boom, by continuing to draw massive audiences to overseas shows and generate enormous record sales.

The late great Dennis Brown OD - arguably the artiste with the most charted hits and most recorded albums, has the distinction of being one of, if not the only Jamaican vocalist, to be interred in the National Heroes Park, reserved for dignitaries and heads of state.

broyal_2008@yahoo.com

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