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The Music Diaries | Dwight Pinkney - a musical genius

Published:Friday | December 16, 2016 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Karen Smith (left) and Dwight Pinkney performing together.
Dwight Pinkney
Dwight Pinkney

The Jamaican guitarist Dwight Pinkney is known to many as an extraordinary talent who has thrilled millions worldwide with his guitar skills. Pinkney, who has completed 50 years in the music business, has played guitar on hundreds of Jamaican hit recordings, including the majority of Gregory Isaacs' and Dennis Brown's hit songs, and scores of other artistes. But if we were to judge Pinkney's achievements solely on his work as a guitarist, we would surely be doing him an injustice.

Pinkney is an accomplished music arranger with credentials from The Jamaica School of Music. In addition, he is a vocalist with a number-one hit, a bandleader, and a songwriter of great repute.

Coming from very humble beginnings, Pinkney attended the Swallowfield, Whitfield Town, and Trench Town schools, where his vocal talents were first observed.

The Church was also a factor. According to Pinkney, "Growing up in the Church was all music, and people used to tell me that I had a good voice."

He first sang publicly at birthday parties, weddings, and socials. However, group-singing, which was the order of the day, inspired the youngster to form his first group The Mighty Cleos, at age 12.

By the early 1960s, Beatlemania was taking the world by storm, and Pinkney, now an 18-year- old, dreamt of forming a group like the Beatles one that sang and played its own instruments. The formation of The Sharks realised that dream, and by the mid-1960s, the group entered the gates of Studio 1 for its first recording session.

The circumstances that led to the group's arrival there were most interesting. It was a Roman Catholic priest Father Dunstan, an ardent music lover who took them to producer Clement Dodd with the introduction: "These guys are good. You should listen to them."

The other interesting aspect about the group was its ingeniousness in constructing its own instruments. According to Pinkney in an August 2011 interview with him: "At the time, we were so poor we couldn't purchase instruments, so we had to make our own the guitar from wood and the drum from used garbage bins. We saved our lunch money, begged donations, and bought goat skin at Coronation Market, nuts and bolts at the hardware, and constructed a nice drum-set. At Music Mart, we bought strings and tuning pegs to complete the guitar," Pinkney said.

The quartet's first effort at Studio 1 was a classic 1966 rocksteady piece titled How Could I Live. Written by Pinkney and sung in duet with Dwight Robinson, it was later adopted by Dennis Brown and renamed How Could I Leave a big hit for Brown in the 1970s.

In almost no time, music fans were dancing and prancing to Ken Boothe's You're No Good, The Gaylads' Lady With The Red Dress ,and the Wailers' I'm Gonna Put It On (all number one hits) without even realising that The Sharks was the backing band. Theirs was a unique sound, particularly exemplified by the last piece, as the Wailers sang:

"I'm not boasting

Feel like toasting

Simply 'cause I'm gonna put it on in the morning

I'm gonna put it on at night

I'm gonna put it on, anytime, anywhere

Good Lord help me."

While with Studio 1 for about three weeks, their exuberance was spotted by a Bahamian hotel manager who took them to work at a hotel in The Bahamas. After 18 months, the group returned home "as we still wanted to explore the possibilities of making it big in Jamaica", Pinkney said. His proceeds from the trip, however, allowed him to build a home in Jamaica. Utilising the experience gained in the Bahamas between 1968 and 1969, The Sharks suddenly graduated into a premier entertainment band, doing resident gigs on the north coast.

Pinkney's next step was to form the Zap Pow band in 1970 with bassist Mike Williams. The band, at one time or another, also consisted of drummers Danny Mowatt and Max Edwards; rhythm pianist Aubrey Adams; horns men Glen DaCosta and David Madden; and all-rounder Peter Ashbourne. They comprised one of the most formidable ensembles in Jamaica's music history.

Their recording of Mystic Mood, with its enthralling mid-song monologue by Dwight Pinkney and a musical accompaniment that sounded like a big string orchestra in full flight, represented one of the best instrumental pieces ever executed by a Jamaican group. Other hits included This Is Reggae Music, Sweet Loving Love, and Scandal Corner.




Zap Pow dissolved in 1978, and the following year, after a 'musical arrangement' course, Pinkney joined The Roots Raddix band. It was here that he did the bulk of his work during a near 20-year stay and gained his greatest experiences through several overseas tours, while providing guitar backing on some of the biggest hits of the 1980s.

Consistent chart-toppers like Night Nurse by Gregory Isaacs, Big Ship by Freddie McGregor, and the Rock and Groove album by Bunny Wailer are just a few of those that benefited from Pinkney's craft.

During this period, he pioneered the introduction of the 'wah wah' guitar into reggae music.

Pinkney still believes that his greatest asset is his ability to compose songs.

He extended his skills into the vocal field with his number one composition Nengeh Nengeh in 1985. It irked the opposite sex, but Pinkney was adamant: "It wasn't a personal experience, but I thought there was a need for it because men, on the whole, was getting a bashing. The song however, grew on the ladies so much that they started using it against each other," Pinkney revealed.

By 1997, Pinkney decided to go the solo route as a guitarist. While being in demand for overseas engagements, he was in and out of studio doing several albums, Jamaican Memories by the Score being the first. Other interesting follow-ups included Dwight Pinkney All Occasions, Dwight Pinkney Picks 'Marley Melodies', Home Grown Jamaican, More Jamaican Memories, Scientist Meets the Roots Raddix, and more recently, Dwight Sings Originals Vol. 2 (2015) and Reggae Christmas Hits (2016).