Trojan
 
Dennis Brown

The majority of tracks on this album were recorded between 1972 and 1982, when Dennis Emmanuel Brown, the Crown Prince of Reggae, was at the peak of his artistic powers. Not content with being Bob Marley's favourite singer, he could also rival him in the popularity stakes, which took some doing during the Rockers era. The core of his legacy rests with the dazzling selection of tracks recorded for Niney the Observer and Joe Gibbs throughout the seventies, together with certain earlier material gathered here. Dennis would voice a good many other hits before succumbing to respiratory problems at the University Hospital, Kingston on July 1st 1999 but these are the songs that established his reputation, and which listeners discovering him for the first time really shouldn't be without.

In true showbiz tradition, Dennis was a child star, and came from a family of entertainers. His father Arthur was an actor who also wrote scripts for local radio and television, while brother Basil was a popular comedian in Jamaica. Dennis himself was born in Jubilee Hospital, Kingston on February 1st 1957, and grew up in a tenement yard in the downtown section of the city, near Orange Street. Influenced by Brook Benton, Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole as well as Rocksteady stars like Alton Ellis, John Holt and Ken Boothe, he first sang in the public at the age of nine. Two years later he was lead vocalist with the Fabulous Falcons and occasionally performing with Byron Lee, who dubbed him the 'Boy Wonder'.

Derrick Harriott began rehearsals with him although Dennis, eager to record, switched to Studio One instead where he voiced his debut hit 'No Man Is An Island', in 1971. After recording two albums for Coxsone (who was slow in releasing them), Dennis left Studio One and begun voicing for producers such as Lloyd Daley ('Baby Don't Do It' and 'Things In Life'), Prince Buster and Phil Pratt, who coaxed the unforgettable 'What About The Half' and 'Black Magic Woman' from him a year later. by then, Dennis - in-between attending central Branch Primary School - was lead singer with Now Generation and had finally got around to recording for Derrick Harriott, who licensed his debut album, 'Super Reggae And Soul Hits' to Trojan for release in 1973.

Harriott had introduced him to standards such as 'Silhouettes', a song first performed by Doo Woppers, The Rays, Jim Webb's 'Wichita Linesman' and Van McCoy's 'Let Me Down Easy', and the ease with which he interprets them is astonishing for one so young, as is the precocious songwriting talent displayed on 'Lips Of Wine', 'Concentration', 'Musical Heatwave' and 'He Can't Spell'. Already popular with Kingston audiences, he'd received several local industry awards by this time and also supported visiting US stars like King Curtis, Junior Walker & The All Stars and Sweet Inspirations on their trips to Jamaica, despite having only just celebrated his sixteenth birthday.

Recordings for Randy's ('Cheater'), Herman Chin Loy, Tafari, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Alcapone, Eddie Wong, Alvin 'GG' Ranglin, Bunny Lee ('Stick By Me'), and Alton Ellis were to follow, but it was songs produced by Niney The Observer, beginning with the original 1972 cut of 'Money In My Pocket', that had most impact. Working out of Randy's studio on North Parade, Niney produced an unrivalled run of hits with Dennis between 1973-76, including 'Westbound Train', 'Cassandra', 'I Am The Conqueror' and 'No More Will I Roam'. These groundbreaking sides, inspired by Al Green's hits with Willie Mitchell, were voiced whilst Dennis was supposed to be recuperating from a respiratory illness, although you'd never know it from the joyous way he sings them!

'Tribulation' was from a batch of tracks recorded in London with the Cimarons during Dennis' first UK tour in late 1974. The Cimarons also play on 'Here I Come' although it was mixed at Lee 'Scratch' Perry's Black Ark, where Dennis and Niney recorded the equally classic 'Wolf And Leopard'. 'Whip Them Jah' came next; Dennis then returned to Joe Gibbs for work on his 'Visions Of' album, which heralded his conversion to Rastafari after joining the Twelve Tribes Of Israel.

He was still only nineteen, and had just seen two further album released, namely 'Best Of' (produced by Joe Gibbs) and the Trojan set, 'Just Dennis'. Trojan folded soon afterwards so Dennis and Niney teamed up with Castro Brown of Morpheus, based in Thornton Heath, who would distribute material produced by Dennis for his own DEB label from 1975 onwards. One such release was 'Here I Come Again (Have No Fear)', which they pressed just in time for the riot-torn Notting Hill Carnival of 1976. The other, classic 'Here I Come' was released by Morpheus a year later when it formed the centrepiece of their 'Wolf And Leopard' album, which many still regard as Dennis Brown's best-ever set, despite a series of quality contenders from Joe Gibbs. 'Funny Feelings', released on Gussie Clarke's Puppy label, dates from 1978, by which time Dennis was in London overseeing various DEB projects such as Junior Delgado's debut 'Taste Of The Young Heart' album and tracks by 15, 16 & 17. 'Ain't That Loving You' and 'Equal Rights' were both hits on 12" that year.

Work had also commenced on his next Joe Gibbs' album, 'Words Of Wisdom', when a re-cut version of 'Money In My Pocket' gifted Dennis his first ever cross-over hit after being licensed to Lightening Records and then soaring to the dizzy heights of No.14 on the UK charts in March 1979.

It would be three years before he graced the pop charts again, by which time 'Man Next Door', revisiting the Paragons' 'A Quiet Place', had previewed the 'Joseph Coat of Many Colours' album and Gibbs had brokered him a deal with A&M, who would release three of his albums in total. In the meantime, Dennis had visited Sly & Robbie at Channel One where they recorded a trio of hits - 'Revolution', 'Sitting And Watching' and 'Have You Ever' - in the one inspired session. The first two (like 'Revolution's' matching cuts, 'If This World Were Mine' and 'Revolution Part 2') were released on Sly & Robbie's own Taxi label, whilst 'Have You Ever' appeared on Powerhouse, owned by George Phang. All enjoy classic status among Reggae fans worldwide, and especially 'Revolution' with its rallying call not to arms, but to righteousness.

Alas, the results of Dennis' A&M deal only served to dismay his grassroots following, despite two singles, 'Love Has Found Its Way' and 'Halfway Up Halfway Down', briefly hovering around the UK Top 50 during 1982. His sound was now more polished than before, and incorporated Funk, Soul and Disco into the Reggae mix. 'The Prophet rides Again', inspired by a recent trip to Ethiopia, was the exception to such blatant commercialism and so too 'Promised Land', which Aswad produced at Channel One using the 'Love Fire' rhythm and then issued on 12" once Dennis' major label deal was over.

Also from around this time was the self-produced 'Rocking Time', a recording now rightly regarded as one of his last pre-digital classics. Within a year or so, Dennis had demonstrated his newfound mastery of all things digital by voicing an album for Prince Jammy featuring computerised rhythms by Steely & Clevie. depending on whether you bought the World Enterprise or Trojan edition, the lead track was either 'history' or 'The Exit', and both were superb. 'Wildfire' shared with John Holt; 'Hold Tight', voiced for Delroy Wright of Live & Learn and the salutary 'Death Before Dishonour', produced by Tapper Zukie, all date from the same period, i.e., the mid-eighties. Dennis was still a major crowd puller by then, and together with Gregory Isaacs, rated among Reggae music's greatest living singers. His stature would fade thereon as illness and fatigue took hold, and Jamaican music changed out of all recognition with the advent of Ragga and the dominance of deejays. There was still time for occasional triumphs however, and especially when old school acquaintances like Roots Radic bassist Flabba Holt were holding the reins. 'Wisdom' is a cut of Ernest Wilsons' 'I Know Myself', and first appeared on the RAS album 'Milk And Honey', released in 1996. It's among the best of Dennis Brown's final recordings, and well deserving of its place on this unmissable testament to Reggae's late Crown Prince.

JOHN MASOURI


Lips Of Wine
He Can't Spell
Silhouettes
Baby Don't Do It
Things In Life
Concentration
Musical Heatwave
What About The Half
Black Magic Woman
Money In My Pocket (Original Version)
Stages In Life
Westbound Train
Cassandra
(I Am The) Conqueror
No More Will I Roam
Why Seek More (Give A Helping Hand)
This Tribulation
Take A Trip
Wolves And Leopards
Whip Them Jah Jah
Here I Come Again (aka Have No Fear)
Here I Come
Funny Feelings
Blood Sun
Tenement Yard
Ain't That Loving You
Equal rights
Money In My Pocket (1978 Version)
Man Next Door
Sitting And Watching
Have You Ever
Love Has Found Its Way
Halfway Up, Halfway Down
The Prophet Rides Again
Hold On To What You've Got
Rocking Time
Promised Land
Revolution
History
The Exit
Wildfire (feat. John Holt)
Revolution Part 2
Hold Tight
Death Before Dishonour
Wisdom

Trojan
All material © Trojan Records