Dennis Alcapone 

U-Roy may have kick-started the Deejay revolution by jiving up old Duke Reid Rocksteady tracks as the 1970's rolled in, but Dennis 'Alcapone' Smith gave him a close run for his money...

Born in 1947, the young Dennis, a welder by day and an eager sound system follower by night, heard and appreciated the sounds of the pioneering early chatters before taking up the microphone on his small El Paso Hi Fi sound system. Above all he loved King Tubby's Home Town Hi Fi with the original mould-making Deejay U-Roy at the helm.

His first recording was for a young dental technician-cum-producer, Keith Hudson, who liked his sharp jive-talk over the El Paso microphone, and with this his career took a decidedly upward turn. Hudson had already scored with vocalist Ken Boothe with his 'Old Fashioned Way' and was keen to invest in the new up-and-coming sound of the deejay. His instinct was right and the hits started flowing for Dennis Alcapone although initially he recorded under his own name of Dennis Smith. 'Shades Of Hudson' backed with 'Spanish Omigo' appeared in the UK on the Big Shot label in December 1970 mis-credited to producer Keith Hudson.

With an ear for a good rhythm, Dennis moved camp to Clement Dodd's Studio One complex, offering his services to deejay over top tracks of the day. He also was keen to record for Duke Reid, but with U-Roy installed there as the number one deejay, Coxsone was his port of call. 'Nanny Version' was the debut for Dodd, and it proved Dennis' worth by flying straight into the charts. It was also the first record to credit the artist as Dennis Alcapone, a nickname from his childhood, which the deejay decided would be his moniker from that day on. The 'version' being exactly what the word implied with the deejay revamping an existing song with lively jive-talk and creating something new from something old.

Many listeners were convinced that 'Nanny Version' was in fact U-Roy, so alike were the lively phrases and nimble twists of the tongue. A number of other 'Versions' followed, notably 'Home' and 'Forever' before a whole album of Dennis' work was issued by Coxsone titled 'Forever Version' with the deejay sitting on a cannon pictured on the sleeve front. The UK arm of Dodd's Studio One set-up, Bamboo, issued a couple of Alcapone discs notably 'Forever Version' b/w 'Love Me Forever' in 1971, on their Banana label, although the company didn't have the market presence of Trojan Records and the disc sold mainly to West Indians and the reasonably few British aficionados of the Reggae beat who were aware of the small imprint.

Sadly the financial rewards didn't come from his Studio One work so Dennis moved along to Treasure Isle engineer Byron Smith, who produced under his own name as well as working for Duke Reid. Dennis recorded 'Out The Light Baby' and 'Mosquito One' for Byron Smith with the producer  crediting El Paso as the artist, something Alcapone considered a mistake as naming the real artist, he felt, would have gained more sales for the discs. Although by using Smith's hit 'Barbwire' track from Nora Dean as the basis for 'Mosquito One', the record sold in good quantities and found issue as a double S side in the UK on Big Shot in March 1971.

Dennis had been on friendly terms with top producer Bunny Lee for some time and when he was asked to lay down a recording for his friend he did so with pleasure. 'Better Must Come' was the result which was an instant hit, gaining extensive airplay across Jamaica and further elevating the deejay's profile. Other early hits followed for Bunny Lee with 'Ripe Cherry' taking on Eric Donaldson's huge hit 'Cherry Oh Baby' and the very popular (in London) 'Horse And Buggy', on which Dennis fires-up the firm-favourite 'Mule Train'.

Duke Reid had obviously been watching the rise of Dennis Alcapone and soon after the recording session for Bunny Lee called the deejay over to Treasure Isle to record. Running on a Reggae-fied version of Jean Knight's massive soul smash 'Mr Big Stuff', 'Teach The Children' really hit the spot and climbed to number one giving The Duke his first Alcapone hit. It could almost have been U-Roy taking the prize as he was to have laid the deejay chat over the rhythm, but couldn't find the vibe, thus leading Reid to Dennis to finish the project.

There followed a quick trip back to Studio One where 'Power Version' was recorded, before Alcapone mania really hit and the Deejay became the top hot property, rivalling U-Roy as the mic-man of the moment. The lazy Rocksteady and Reggae of Duke Reid continued to inspire Dennis and he recorded a string of hits such as 'Rock To The Beat', 'The Great Woggie' and 'Wake Up Jamaica' as well as working for a host of other top producers most notably Lee Perry, and the most prolific Bunny Lee, his old friend.

Dennis' first outing with Perry in the producer's chair was something of an accident, much like his break with Duke Reid when U-Roy couldn't pick-up the track. In this instance it was Lloyd 'Jammy' James' top deejay, Lizzy, who was in Randy's studio with Perry and Bunny Lee trying to voice the Upsetter take on the 'Cherry Oh Baby' rhythm. It was a rhythm that Bunny Lee had passed a version of on to Scratch.

James, a long term friend of King Tubby, had been running his own small sound system out of the Waterhouse district of Kingston since the mid-1960's, with its star deejay being the strangely named Lizzy. Now Perry wanted Lizzy to ride a cut of 'Cherry Oh Baby', but the deejay just couldn't find the flow. Dennis who already had his version in the charts, tried to guide Lizzy from the control room, but in the end an exasperated Perry told Dennis to voice it himself. So was born 'Well Dread' and the short but fruitful partnership of Alcapone and Perry.

With Perry he took a new line. Ever aware of the changing view of his audience Alcapone echoed the new rising of Rastafari and alongside the producer laid down some of the first true Rasta-reality deejay sides such as the superb 'Rasta Dub' and the jiving 'Wonderman'. Perry knew how to run the rhythms and Dennis sure knew how to chat, and with this pairing a tight and succinct new sound of the roots 1970's started to emerge. I-Roy and Big Youth were just starting to make inroads, but it was actually Dennis Alcapone who first took reality lyrics to the dancehall starting with 'Rocking To Ethiopia' for producer Sir JJ Johnson.

With Bunny Lee's unlimited stockpile of hits, Dennis was also chatting out such gems as 'Musical Liquidator' running on Lee's re-cut of the immortal Harry J record, and 'Guns Don't Argue', where Dennis moved in on Eric Donaldson's 'Love Of The Common People'. It was the latter recording that gave rise to an album of the same name. It was to be a rush-job prior to Dennis leaving on his first tour, to Guyana, when Bunny Lee took the deejay down to Dynamic Studios on the Sunday prior to his departure on the Monday.

The 'Guns don't Argue' track was already in the bag, but much of the remainder of the album was just one-take over rhythms with Dennis having to formulate his lines as the tape rolled. This wasn't the deejay's normal way of working as he wrote his lyrics prior to any recording taking place, and that coupled with the fact that there was no time to replay any of the tracks back to Dennis in the studio, left him feeling dissatisfied with the quality of much of the album. Not-withstanding Dennis' dissatisfaction with the quality of the 'Guns Don't Argue' album, he was the first deejay to be awarded the Gold Cup by Record Retailer for his high volume of sales and popularity for the years 1971/1972.

A tour of the UK followed in 1973 where he also laid down some tracks for ex-Pioneer now producer Sydney Crooks. The 'Belch It Off' single released by Trojan on their Pyramid offshoot label did moderate business and an album of the same name followed in 1974. The London based Magnet label also issued an album of his work in 1973, 'King Of The Track', which due to the very small nature of the imprint didn't reach as wide an audience as it should have done.

Back in Kingston, Dennis formed a label and started out in production work recording such notable singers as Dennis Brown and Delroy Wilson, but lack of distribution meant his records couldn't be bought by the general public and the project stalled.

By 1975 Dennis had switched residences and made his home London with just a few trips back to Kingston off and on. An Album for the Live & Love label 'Dread Capone', was released in 1975, with two further albums voiced for Third World, 'Six Million Dollar Man' and 'Investigator Rock', both released in 1977 and all using Bunny Lee rhythms.

A handful of singles kept emerging from Dennis, notably 'Sorry Harry' for Sydney Crooks in 1973, (to be found on the 'Belch It Off' album), and one of his best roots slanted toasts, 'Pressure Inna Babylon' cutting up Nathan Skyers harsh 'Down Presser' on Ethnic Fight in 1975.

Sadly, although Dennis continued to record through the 1970's, his output became sporadic and it appeared his fast-witted style of lively chat had passed much like the magical Rocksteady rhythm he rode so well. The heavy roots influenced chanting deejays ruled, although one of the new breed that had usurped him had in fact been first allowed the microphone by Dennis some years before when he ran El Paso. This was a very young Dillinger who, due to Dennis' generosity, was first able to chat his stuff and got his break into recording.

By the late 1980's Dennis Alcapone was treading the boards again and appeared at WOMAD. He returned to Jamaica late in 1990 for an extended stay to record an album over modern digital rhythms for his old pal Bunny Lee. Club dates followed in the 1990's, and have continued. Considerably bolstered by the revival scene of old Reggae and its performers, Dennis Alcapone has again become an in-demand artist.

There can be no argument that the bulk of Dennis Alcapone's finest work was recorded between 1970 and 1973, and with a hindsight of 30 years the tracks he recorded back then are now regarded as magical as the original songs he so deftly moulded to make his own.


Revelation Version
Spanish Omigo
Shades Of Hudson
Mr Browns Coffin (with Lizzy)
Bawlin' For Mercy (with lizzy)
Out Of This World
Ball Of Confusion
Out De Light Baby
Mosquito 1
It Must Come
Upsetter Version
Ripe Cherry
Well Dread
Horse And Buggy
Rocking To Ethiopia
King Of Kings (aka King Of Glory)
Jumping Jack (aka King Of The Track)
Togetherness (aka Black Gold)
Guns Don't Argue
False Prophet
Go Johnny Go
Milk And Honey
The Sky's The Limit (aka Flying Machine)
Jungle Of Crime
Take Your Time
Marka Version
Pop A Version
Seven Day Reggae
Alpha And Omega
Africa Stand
Jah Rastafari (aka Wonder Man)
Master Key
Back Biter
Lock Into Yourself
Majesty In Bed (aka The Harder They Come)
Worldwide Love
East To West
Number One Station (aka Rock To The Beat)
The Great Woggie
You Don't Care (with Lizzy)
Judgement Day (with Hopeton Lewis)
Teach The Children (aka Teacher Teacher)
Wake Up Jamaica
DJ's Choice
Cry Tough (with Lizzy)
The Right Song (with Lizzy)
Engine, Engine, Number Nine
Musical Liquidator
My Voice Is Insured For $½ Million
Musical Alphabet
Rasta Dub
Sorry Harry
Jah Guide Us

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