Trojan
 

What goes around comes around. Following a chance meeting with Denzil in Trojan's office in 1989, I had always hoped that the label would issue a comprehensive collection of the under-rated artist's work and so it has come to pass.

Growing up in London in the '60s and '70s was a time I now consider one of the most exciting in music. Our home always had a wide variety of music on mostly old 78's and 45s, but it was after hearing Alton Ellis' 'Rock Steady' in 1968 that my love affair with Jamaican music began.

Later, while at secondary school, I would forfeit my bus fare money, which meant having to walk over three miles to get home from my school, but the compensation for that would be visiting the numerous record shops on the way, diverting to Muzik City in Ridley Road to spend my paltry savings on the odd new release and trying Timmy Ridley's patience (although he never showed it) by asking to hear everything in the shop. It was at this time I first became aware of Denzil Dennis through the huge amount of UK recordings that were being released for the home market.

The Denzil Dennis story begins in Manchester, Jamaica, where he was born on the 13th October 1947 as Lynward Denzil Dennis. Following his father's emigration to the US and his mother's move to London, Denzil went to live with his uncle in Waltham Park. He attended Saint Aloysius Catholic School, situated on the corner of Sutton Street and Duke Street in downtown Kingston. Many of the Alpha Boys, including Roland Alphonso, attended this school. Denzil relates a story of his early years:

'In around 1958, me and my elder cousin, Lloyd Dennis used to hide under Coxsone's and Duke Reid's speaker boxes and record their specials. we recorded on a Teac (tape machine) that I owned at the time we used these specials on Lloyd's first sound, known as 'Lloyd's Stereophonic Hi Fi', which I used to work on with Lloyd. Later on, the sound get so popular it became as well known as 'Lloyd the Matador'.

My uncle Stan was an accountant at 'Greg's Service Station' in Harbour Street; they serviced Arthur 'Duke' Reid's car. This is before his famous 'Treasure Isle Studio' that he opened on the second floor of his liquor store. I used to go around all those places, go by Coxsone's place, Prince Buster's and got to know many of the artists who were recording for Duke, Coxsone and Prince Buster In early 1962, Frank Cosmo who lived in my area had fallen out with his singing partner, Eric 'Monty' Morris. Frank asked me to sing some songs with him. We cut six songs for Duke Reid including, 'Take Back Your Belongings', 'Sweet Rosemarie', at Federal Studios, as Cosmo & Dennis. Gladdy Anderson was musical director at these sessions. Duke only checked what had been recorded before he accepted it would be good enough to release.

Some of the Duke Reid productions were being released on Blue Beat in the UK and Emile Shallit, owner of the label, was visiting Jamaica and was so impressed with our songs he arranged for Frank and me to travel to England, but I ended up travelling alone, as Frank Cosmo could not go; he was needed to work in the family business. I was 15, nearly 16. this is June 1962 when I arrived in London. I teamed up with Laurel Aitken who was producing records for Blue Beat and my first solo hit, 'Love Is For Fools' was recorded around this time. Emile Shallit wanted me to sign a contract with Blue Beat, but Jack Price explained to me I did not need to sign as it would not be legal because of my age. (Jack Price, an award winning harmonica player and songwriter, then employed by Shallit, would later become well known to Reggae fans in the late 1960s and early 1970s for his Crystal and Sioux labels).

In 1963, the Rio label was formed by Shallit's old partner, an American called Mr. William Rickard. His wife who was from Trinidad was the person who ran it. I recorded 15 songs for them as Alan Martin; that name Jack Price thought up for me. Denzil's songs released on Rio ranged from ballads to Ska and were recorded from 1963 until the mid-1960s, with many featuring Owen Gray on piano and harmony.

Denzil and Winston 'Pat' Rhoden, (another artist who arrived in England a year later), began freelancing together for various producers utilising the talents of ex-pat musicians and singers, including Milton Hamilton, Eugene Paul, Les Foster and a young unknown who would soon feature prominently in Denzil's story, Robert Thompson, better known as Dandy. When Dandy was called by Lee Gopthal to join him at the newly independent Trojan label in the summer of 1968, the group of musicians that became known as Brother Dan All Stars consisted of Dandy, Denzil and Pat Rhoden as singers, musicians and writers. The line-up also featured, at different times, Owen Gray on vocals and piano, as well as Herbie Grey (member of the Mohawks), Rico and Sonny Binns and members of the Rudies - the cream of UK musicians at the time. A lot of material recorded, much of which was released on singles, but some of it was issued on two albums, 'Follow That Donkey' and 'Let's Catch The Beat'. These have recently been re-issued along with the 'Dandy Returns' set with bonus tracks on a double CD, 'Let's Catch The Beat - The Music That Launched A Legend' (TJDDD133). Many of these tracks demonstrate the UK take on themes and rhythms that were popular in Jamaica, an example being the great 'Everybody Feel Good', written by Denzil and with lead vocals by him over the 'Rough Rider' rhythm. There is also the 'Donkey' series of records, inspired by the Tennors hugely popular hit, 'Ride Your Donkey'. Some of the tracks with Denzil credited with lead vocals included 'Hush Don't You Cry', and the title of this collection, 'Me Nah Worry'; these were issued on the early all-orange Trojan label. On the Downtown label, Denzil & Pat are credited with 'sincerely' and 'Dream', but there were many more recordings by members of Brother Dan all Stars that were not credited to the artist who performed the lead vocals.

Also in 1968, Denzil's friend Mary Lyn from South London, was running the BAF label, which was famous for the Cats' 'Swan Lake' release. Denzil recorded 'I Guess I Better Start Believing' and 'When Will you Ever Learn', which remained unissued until 1970 on Mary Lyn's own independent label. In 1969, the Laurel Aitken produced 'Worried Over Me', a song written by Denzil and recorded under the name The Classics with Milton Hamilton, was issued on Doctor Bird.

Around this time Denzil was persuaded by Jack Price to record for the Fontana Mercury and the Philips labels. Denzil, Pat Rhoden and Lloyd Campbell, collectively known as Brother Lloyd All Stars, signed a year's contract. Two albums were released; 'Let The Red Wine Flow' on Mercury, 'Rock Steady Hits of '69' on Fontana, and a single called 'Burns' in Philips, which was included on a Pop album, along with tracks by Tom Jones, the Troggs and other mainstream acts of the time. The musicians featured on these Jack Price-produced sessions were none other than UK's top Jamaican band, the Rudies.

With interest in Jamaican music rapidly increasing in the UK, sales of the 'Rock Steady Hits of '69' album in particular proved extremely healthy and the LP even succeeded in breaching the top ten budget-compilation album charts the year of its release.

It was at this time Denzil changed his name yet again, this time to D.D. Dennis, the middle letter representing David, who was his first child, born in 1966. He also saw his music issued under the pseudonym, Mark Wayne, a name seemingly chosen at random by Jack Price, who licensed these recordings seeing issue on Ed Kassner's President label. While recording material for these two major labels, he and Pat Rhoden were also frequently called upon to perform backing vocals for various pop acts and Denzil continued to work in this capacity throughout the 1970s.

Another release around this time was 'If' for producer Joe Mansano, while some of Denzil's self-productions of the time included 'I Wish You Well' (issued under the name Delroy Dunkley) on the Hot Rod label, and tracks for the Torpedo label, credited to Denzil Dennis.

In the early seventies, most of Denzil's records appeared on many of Pama's subsidiary labels, including Crab, New Beat, Ocean and Pama Supreme. Amongst these was a cover version of 'My Way', produced by Laurel Aitken. This shifted a huge amount of units for Pama Records and just missed the British pop charts - not a bad feat considering there were at least 5 versions of the song released at the time. But more importantly, Lee Perry heard his version and was so impressed with it that he voiced Denzil on 'I'm A Believer' at Chalk Farm Studios, having brought the rhythm up from Jamaica. In 1970, Denzil's 'Nothing Has Changed' and his version of 'South Of The Border' (both issued on the Pama Supreme label) sold in considerable amounts - both were solid works, which many believed had been recorded in Jamaica. Denzil was delighted with the response and proudly states, 'from the time I arrive in London in 1962, all the music has been recorded in the UK. This is unique, as most UK-based artists would return to Jamaica for the odd recording at sometime in their careers. I never did; I tried to create the Jamaican sound in UK studios'.

In 1970, 'African Meeting', a recording credited to Jomo & Girlie was released on Trojan's subsidiary label, Duke and subsequently on the company's various artists album, 'Loch Ness Monster'. It transpires that Jomo was none other than Denzil himself, recording under yet another pseudonym! At the time of writing, the highly collectable 'Loch Ness Monster' album is finally being made available again (TJCCD149) - look out for that one! Denzil's version of 'I Forgot To Be Your Lover' was also released as a single on Duke the following year.

The following year, 'Your Testimony' and 'Train Coming', both crediting the Freedom Singers, saw issue on Pama's New Beat imprint. The Singers were in fact an amalgam of some of the leading vocalists on the UK Reggae scene - Denzil, Milton Hamilton, Lloyd Campbell, Laurel Aitken and Tiger. Meanwhile, Denzil's influence during this period was not confined to Britain - Jimmy London, on one of his trips to London, heard his rendering of 'Don't Know Why', and liked it so much that when he returned to Jamaica he recorded a version of the song at Randy's. This version, which appeared on the 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' LP even credited Denzil with the writing.

In 1971, one of the memorable tracks produced by Laurel Aitken was 'History Of Africa', a song that praised President Lumumba of the Republic of the Congo. Released as the Classics, the singers were in fact Denzil with Milton Hamilton, and the African poet who wrote the lyrics. On hearing this song, Lee Perry was so inspired that he created 'Civilisation', which also saw issue crediting the Classics, although Eugene Paul accompanied Denzil on the track, in place of Milton Hamilton. Perry also brought with him the excellent rhythm track 'Cheerio Baby', an Upsetter version of the Eric Donaldson monster hit, 'Cherry Oh Baby'. Another Lee Perry-produced track by the Classics recorded at this time was the less essential 'Sex Education'.

Three years after these sessions, Perry produced Denzil yet again. Having created a rhythm track with the Rudies in Chalk Farm Studios, the producer returned to Jamaica where he had local musicians add overdubs and attempted to lay down a vocal track, using local talent. Unhappy with the efforts of his singers, he returned to London, his work incomplete. A chance meeting with Denzil at Chalk Farm, however, resulted in recording finally getting voiced. Perry himself suggested the opening lyrics of 'riddle me dis, riddle me dat', and the song quickly evolved into 'Woman And Money'. With the addition at Chalk Farm of Moog synthesiser by Ken Elliott, the record was complete and soon after its completion saw issue in the UK on Pama Supreme - the single being the final release on the label - and in Jamaica on Perry's own Upsetter imprint. A mystery still surrounds part of the finished article - quite who provided the scream at the beginning is unknown - most likely it was a remnant of the abandoned voicing session in Jamaica.

Magnet Records was an independent concern launched by the late Mr. Coke in North London around early 1973. Licensing material from a variety of Jamaican and UK-based producers, Magnet quickly expanded its operations, launching the Faith imprint around the beginning of 1974. The first issue on the new label was Denzil's self-produced 'I Do', while another of his own productions, 'I Had To Let It Out', was issued later in 1974. Both discs fared well, but sadly, as with all of Magnet's releases, distribution proved a major obstacle, hampering sales to such an extent that by the mid-seventies, Mr. Coke had effectively ceased trading.

Meanwhile Pat Rhoden and various other Jamaican artists launched their own 'Jama Records' company in November 1974 and went on to issue some fine tracks by Jamaican and UK-based artists - included among the latter is, of course, Denzil Dennis, whose 'As Long As You Love Me' was released on the label in 1975.

As the 1970s made way for the 1980s, Denzil changed musical direction and started recording gospel and country music, styles that remained extremely popular with the older generation. Denzil always had a love of the ballad singer's style and he is not alone; many Jamaican artists have had such a history, including Owen Gray, Ken Parker, Rupie Edwards and the late great Jackie Edwards.

During the eighties and beyond, Denzil has been more active on the live circuit than in the studio, although over the years there has been a steady flow of albums released on his own label and Jet Star. Today, as well as making his own music, he continues to work as a backing vocalist, often recording with long-time friends, Derrick Morgan and Winston Francis - Denzil reciprocates, using Derrick and Winston as vocalists on his recordings.

This collection of Denzil's work should convince new and old fans of his contribution to the UK scene. If you enjoyed the recent double CD 'Let's Catch The Beat', you will undoubtedly love this compilation, which continues the story.

Denzil was there at the beginning; his singing career started the year of Jamaican independence, an exciting time for the music both at home and abroad. Perhaps the sheer amount of pseudonyms used by Denzil in the crucial stages of his career hindered his recognition among a wider audience, but that has been the way of the music for so many artists. As a fan, it has sometimes been fun, and other times frustrating.

Denzil's knowledge of the UK Reggae music scene is vast. He is a joy to listen to, sharing memories and bringing the stories to life; he has a special place in my heart, a singer and musician.

With much love and deep respect to Denzil and his family.

MISS PAT (LACY)

Worried Over You
I Wish You Well
Hush Don't You Cry
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
Me Nah Worry
Because Of You
Beggar In Love
I've Got To Get A Message To You
The Same Old Feeling
So Much Love
South Of The Border
I Had To Let It Out
Honey Bee
I've Got To Settle Down
I Forgot To Be Your Lover
Painful Situation
Man With Ambition
Nothing Has Changed
My Way
Train Is Coming
Women And Money
I'm All Alone
History Of Africa
Your Testimony
Ups And Downs
People Got To Be Free
Cupid
Hold Me Tight
Someone Like You
Zip A Dee Doo Dah
Oh Carol
(All You Have To Do Is) Dream
Where Is My Little Girl Gone
Mama We're All Crazy Now
I'm In A Dancing Mood
Having A Party
Happy Days
Come On In
I Guess I Better Start Believing
When Will You Ever Learn
Rain Is Going To Fall
This Game Ain't Fair
Down By The Riverside
Sincerely
Rome Wasn't Built In A Day
Why Must I Cry
Going Down To Canaan
Donkey Train
Long Long Road
Cheerio Baby (Cherry Oh Baby)
Civilisation
Seven Nights In Rome

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