Dennis Brown and Joe Gibbs
It was the relationship between Dennis Brown and Joe Gibbs that began in 1972, that would provide the most significant starting point in his breakthrough as an internationally successful artiste. Reportedly Joe Gibbs approached young Dennis Brown to record an album for him, and one of the tracks recorded as a result, "Money in my Pocket" became a hit with UK reggae audiences and quickly became a favourite of his live performances. The song's popularity in the UK was further cemented with the release a deejay version, "A-So We Stay", credited to Big Youth and Dennis Brown which outsold the original single and topped the Jamaican singles charts. In the same year, Brown performed as part of a Christmas morning showcase in Toronto, Canada, along with Delroy Wilson, Scotty, Errol Dunkley, and the Fabulous Flames, where he was billed as the "Boy Wonder of Jamaica" and was considered the star of the show in a local newspaper review. Brown followed this with another collaboration with “Niney” Holness on "Westbound Train," a tune which became the biggest Jamaican hit of summer 1973, and Brown's star status was confirmed when he was voted Jamaica's top male vocalist in a poll by Swing magazine the same year. Brown followed this success with "Cassandra" and "No More Will I Roam,” and tracks such as "Africa" and "Love Jah", displaying Brown's Rastafari beliefs, became staples on London's sound system scene.
Brown took a brief hiatus from the music in 1973 as he recovered from fatigue, returning with a tour of the United Kingdom for the first time in late summer 1974 as part of a Jamaican showcase, along with Cynthia Richards, Al Brown, Sharon Forrester, and The Maytals, after which he was invited to stay on for further three months. This would lay the foundation for his long standing connection to the UK reggae market. The single “No More Will I Roam” was released during this period and realized tremendous success in the UK. Brown soon struck a deal with Trojan Records during the period, under which they released the album “Just Dennis.” The deal quickly soured after Trojan went bankrupt and was bought out by another company. In the wake of the Trojan collapse, Brown and Holness arranged a deal with local independent label owners Castro Brown (who ran Morpheus Records) and Larry Lawrence (Ethnic Fight) to distribute their releases in the UK. Brown saw the UK as the most important market to target and performed for five consecutive nights at the Georgian Club in Croydon to raise funds to start his new DEB Music label with Castro Brown. In early 1976, Castro secured a deal with Radio London disc jockey Charlie Gillett for Morpheus (and hence DEB) output to be issued through the latter's Oval Records, which had a distribution deal with Virgin Records, but after a dispute over Castro's separate supply of these records to London record shops, the deal was scrapped and the early DEB releases suffered from a lack of promotion. Brown would return to Jamaica in 1975, just about the time Joe Gibbs released the album he titled “The Best of Dennis Brown”, a collection of different singles put together. The return to Jamaica resulted in Dennis Brown spending a lot of time in the studios with output such as "So Long Rastafari", "Boasting", and "Open the Gate". During 1975, Brown also recorded one-off sessions for Sonia Pottinger "If You leave Me" and Bunny Lee ("So Much Pain", a duet with Johnny Clarke), and the first recordings began to appear on Brown's new DEB Music label. Later that year, Brown voiced two tracks at Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark studio, "Take a Trip to Zion" and "Wolf and Leopard", the latter of which was a hit in Jamaica and would prove to be one of Brown's most popular songs, with a lyric criticizing those criminals who "rode the natty dread bandwagon". Brown later parted company with “Niney” who he felt was on a different path from himself and returned to Joe Gibbs with a view to producing himself. As part of the agreement with Gibbs, in return for studio time for his own productions, Brown would allow Gibbs use of any rhythm recorded in the process.
The first album from this arrangement, the 1977 release Visions of Dennis Brown, gave him his biggest success so far, blending conscious themes and love songs, and confirming Brown's transformation from child star to grown up artist. The biblical-themed sleeve and portrait of Haile Selassie on the back complemented the roots reggae tracks on the album, including "Repatriation", "Jah Can Do it” and cover versions of Earl 16's "Malcolm X" and Clive Hunt's "Milk and Honey". The album immediately entered the Black Echoes chart and stayed there well into the following year, although it was only available in the UK as an expensive import. Visions... was voted reggae album of the year by Melody Maker writers and was given the same award by readers of Black Echoes. A reissued "Wolf and Leopard" single, and the eventual album release of the same name also sold well in the UK, both topping the Black Echoes chart. Over the next two decades Dennis Brown would turn out scores of singles and at least a dozen albums focusing his attention on the UK where he set up residence and the North American Reggae markets but his strength would always remain in the UK. He appeared on the “One Love Peace Concert" in April 1978 at the National Stadium in Kingston backed by Lloyd Parkes’ “We the People Band” This marked a period of considerable recording success punctuated by his first UK Top 40 hit; a disco 45 “Money in My Pocket” featuring Prince Mohammed’s “Cool Runnings”. This success led to Brown featuring on the cover of the NME in February 1979.With continuing commercial success,
Brown signed an international deal with A&M Records in 1981, and now based permanently in the UK, his first album release for the label was the Gibbs-produced Foul Play, which was followed in 1982 by Love Has Found its Way, a Gibbs/Brown/Willie Lindo production that blended lovers rock with a more pop sound, and again was not a great success. His final album with the label, 1983's “The Prophet Rides Again” was a mix of roots themes with commercial R&B style tracks, and proved to be his best work with the label. Brown would show his adaptability in the mid 1980s -1990s as the music in Kingston shifted to a preference for the dancehall material and Dennis Brown adapted to the new sound, recording for some of the genre's major producers including Prince Jammy and Gussie Clarke. In the early 1980s he also started a new label, Yvonne's Special which was dedicated to his wife. Brown's 1994 album Light My Fire was nominated for a Grammy Award, as was the last album recorded by Brown, Let Me Be the One (in 2001). Brown said of his approach to songwriting in the late 1990s: "When I write a song I try to follow Joseph's way - deliverance through vision from all - true vibration. I want to be a shepherd in my work, teaching and learning, really singing so much. I don't want to sing and not live it. I must live it.
End of the Road
If I can sing songs that people can watch me living, then they can take my work" In the late 1990s, Brown's health began to deteriorate. He had developed respiratory issues falling ill in May 1999 after touring in Brazil where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. After returning to Kingston, Jamaica, on the evening of 30 June 1999, he was rushed to Kingston's University Hospital, suffering from cardiac arrest and died the following day. Prime Minister Patterson paid tribute to Brown, saying: "Over the years, Dennis Brown has distinguished himself as one of the finest and most talented musicians of our time. The Crown Prince of Reggae as he was commonly called. He has left us with a vast repertoire of songs which will continue to satisfy the hearts and minds of us all for generations to come." Dennis Brown inspired and influenced many reggae singers from the late 1970s through to the 2000s, among them Barrington Levy, Junior Reid, Frankie Paul and Luciano. On 26 April 2010, Brown was featured on NPR Morning Edition news program as one of the "50 Great Voices - The stories of awe-inspiring voices from around the world and across time". The NPR "50 Great Voices" list includes Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson and Jackie Wilson among others. On 6 August 2011, the Governor-General of Jamaica posthumously conferred the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD) upon Brown, for his contribution to the Jamaican music industry.
Check out all the Dennis Brown videos on our site as well as our collection of videos on multiple other Jamaican recording artistes at: http://www.yaawdmedia.com/videos
Thanks for taking the time to read our blog, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we appreciate your feedback. We also invite you to check Sunday Scoops our Jamaican music streaming and commentary program every Sunday from 2-4pm on yaawdmedia.com feel free to share with your friends.