Today is the start of Reggae Month 2021 and it is also the 64th anniversary of the birth of Jamaica's Crown Prince of Reggae, Dennis Emmanuel Brown, CD. Brown left us more than 22 years ago, but with memories to last generations. Sunday Scoops invites you enjoy this two-part tribute to the man and his music.
He was from a family from which some of its members were accustomed to being in the public’s eye. His father Arthur Brown was a journalist, scriptwriter and actor, and his eldest brother normally appeared in local comedy shows. Dennis Emanuel Brown was born at the Victoria Jubilee Lying-in Hospital in Kingston Jamaica on February 1, 1957 and grew up in a huge tenement yard at the corner of Orange and North streets in the heart of the city with his parents, three elder brothers and a sister. His mother passed on in the early 1960s and at age nine Dennis Brown began a singing career while still at Primary school, with an end-of-term concert accounting for his very first public performance. His interest in singing was fired by the vocal delivery of North American balladeers the likes of Nat King Cole, Brook Benton, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Living in the Orange Street area of downtown Kingston provided him with easy access to the record industry and JJ’s Records was a favourite spot for young Dennis Brown to listen to the recorded works of his own local idols. Brown's first professional appearance came at the age of eleven, when he visited a local club where his brother Basil was performing a comedy routine, and where he made a guest appearance with the club's resident group, the Fabulous Falcons (a group that included Cynthia Richards, David "Scotty" Scott, and Noel Brown). On the strength of this performance he was asked to join the group as a featured vocalist. When the group performed at a JLP conference at the National Arena, Brown sang two songs - Desmond Dekker's "Unity" and Johnnie Taylor's "Ain't That Loving You" - and after the audience showered the stage with money, he was able to buy his first suit with the proceeds. Bandleader Byron Lee performed on the same bill, and was sufficiently impressed with Brown to book him to perform on package shows featuring visiting US artists, where he was billed as the "Boy Wonder".
As a young singer Brown was influenced by older contemporaries such as Delroy Wilson (whom he later cited as the single greatest influence on his style of singing), Errol Dunkley, John Holt, Ken Boothe, and Bob Andy. Brown's first recording was an original song called "Lips of Wine" for the then upcoming producer Derrick Harriott. For reasons unknown Harriot never released the song and Brown subsequently re-recorded it for Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's Studio One label. His first session yielded the single "No Man is an Island" recorded when Brown was aged twelve and released in late 1969. The single received steady airplay for almost a year before becoming a huge hit throughout Jamaica. Dennis Brown recorded up to a dozen sessions for Dodd, amounting to around thirty songs, and also worked as a backing singer on sessions by other artists, including providing harmonies along with Horace Andy and Larry Marshall on Alton Ellis's Sunday Coming album. His relationship with these more experienced artistes proved quite fruitful. Alton Ellis advised him to learn to play the guitar as this would be of great help with his songwriting. Dodd was convinced to purchase the instrument for him and Ellis provided him with some basic lessons. Dennis Brown’s Studio One relationship would produce two albums, “No Man is an Island” and “If I Follow my Heart” even though he departed the studio before the release of the latter.
Dennis went on to record for several producers including Lloyd Daley “Baby Don't Do It" and "Things in Life". With Prince Buster he recorded "One Day Soon" and "If I Had the World", and for Phil Pratt he did "Black Magic Woman", "Let Love In", and "What About the Half" before returning to work with Derrick Harriott, for whom he recorded a string of popular singles including "Silhouettes" , "Concentration", "He Can't Spell", and "Musical Heatwave", with the pick of these tracks collected on the Super Reggae and Soul Hits album in 1973. Brown also recorded “Cheater ”for Vincent "Randy" Chin, for Dennis Alcapone he recorded "I Was Lonely", and for Herman Chin Loy at Aquarius Records "It's Too Late" and "Song My Mother Used to Sing" among others, with Brown still at school at this stage of his career.
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.
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