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Stan "The Man" Smith

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The Crown Prince  - Dennis Brown

Stan 'The Man' Smith

Stan Evan Smith is currently a music editor for Caribbean Style Newspaper and a contributing writer for the West Indian Times. He is also the co-host and co-producer of "Reggae Roundtable" on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York. His work has been published in various publications including the Jamaica Observer, Vibe Magazine, and the North American Gleaner; and in addition to consulting on the Nyahbinghi project at the Museum of Natural History, he has been an Adjunct Lecturer in Social Science at the City College of New York and Queens College. His pet project is to solicit national recognition for both Dennis Brown and Peter Tosh, both of whom he feels have been greatly overlooked. He is also the former publicist for the NY based Dennis Brown Memorial Committee.

Dennis Brown - Reggae's Most Important Singer
By Stan Evan Smith

Dennis Brown, or D. Brown as he was affectionately known, is one of the greatest singers and performers in the history of Jamaican music. He is reggae music's most important and influential singer. His father, Arthur Brown, was a well-known actor in Jamaican theater circles on Orange Street, a ghetto area located in the downtown Kingston section of Jamaica. His father died on January 12th, 2000, however, very little is known about his mother. Born on February 1st 1957 Dennis Brown attended Central Branch Junior Secondary School in West Kingston. At the age of eight as a singer he became a child prodigy performing his first concert with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires band. Because of his diminutive size, Brown had been placed on beer crates to be able to sing in the mike. Dennis grew from 'Boy Wonder' to 'Teen Sensation' and finally to 'Crown Prince' of reggae music. He recorded his first song in 1969, and this was the beginning of a thirty-year musical career or "a journey" as he described it. This journey took him on sold out concerts in Europe, Asia, Africa, Japan, the Caribbean, Central, South, and North America and established his reputation along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh as one of the pioneers of reggae music. His final concert was in Salvador, Brazil on June 13th 1999. He suffered a brief illness while he was in Brazil with his band, Lloyd Parks We the People, and singers Max Romeo and Gregory Isaac. According to LPWP saxophonist, Tony Green, on June 18, 1999 Brown stopped in Miami where he voiced the song ‘Soon Depart’ for producer Karl Pitterson and when finished voicing the song, he uttered, “and that’s the end of me.” It was, reportedly, the last song Dennis Brown would record. He died of heart failure due to respiratory complications in the University Hospital of the West Indies on July 1st, 1999. He was 42 years old. Devoutly religious, Dennis Brown was a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a branch of the Rastafarian faith, an Ethiopia-centered religion rooted in the liberation of the black man. Dennis was from the tribe of Joseph.

He received a funeral at Jamaica's National Arena attended by dignitaries including Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and then leaders of the opposition Jamaica Labor Party and National Democratic Movement Mr. Edward Seaga and Mr. Bruce Golding. He was given an unofficial burial in the National Heroes Circle the burial site of Jamaica's national eight heroes including Marcus Garvey, Morant Bay rebellion leader Paul Bogle and revolutionary Maroon leader Nanny in the National Heroes Park. Prime Minister PJ Patterson promised that national honor would be bestowed on Dennis Brown. Six years later no award for national recognition has been given, it is long overdue.

Dwarfed by Bob Marley because of his international recognition and cultural influence, Dennis Brown is the most influential and important singer in Reggae music. Bob Marley was Reggae's Classical Troubadour and its most famous figure, but Dennis Brown is, as producer Mickey Bennett noted, “the Reggae singer’s singer.” As a stylist he perfected the vocal sound unique to reggae singing. With His phenomenally huge voice, with its edge and slow tremella, almost perfect tone and timing, he had the ability to make any song sound right on time. It’s originality and uniqueness in sound made his singing style, ‘epitomize what a reggae singer is all about.’ He possessed ‘that rhythmic quality to his voice, the smoothness with which he dominated the rhythm track, making every song he sung sound like a Dennis Brown’ song. His unparalleled significance and influence in defining the style of singing unique to reggae music, and his influence on premier reggae singers Frankie Paul, Luciano, Ritchie Stephens, Sanchez, Bushman, Prince Malachi, and Maxi Priest—who acknowledged Brown’s influence, when asked by Don Cornelius of Soul Train who was his greatest music influence answered unequivocally “Dennis Brown”—is unmatched. They all took a page or two from Browns’ vocal songbook. This makes him, arguably, possibly, the greatest Jamaican singer ever, and the “greatest singing influence in the history of reggae music given his unparallel and disproportionate impact on vocals and singers.” For more than two and a half decades, his vocal style, was the most influential to emerge. It shaped and defined what successful singers in Reggae imitated to achieve success. Unlike most of Jamaica’s leading vocalists, whose most significant influences were R&B legends, Brown’s was local Ska and Rock Steady legend Delroy Wilson.

From early 1970’s to the early 1990’s no other singer in Reggae had as many hit songs, or inspired more imitators than Dennis Brown. He recorded more than 200 singles and approximately 70 albums. Successful singers in Reggae patterned his style as his hit making ability and his career declined in mid 1990’s. However, he toured feverishly, wrote prolifically, and recorded none stop. From his first hit song “No man is an Island” in 1968 to his last hit song “Stop Fighting”, Brown worked with all the major producers in Reggae music and had hit songs for them.

The 1980’s were his most dominant and most commercially successful stint as an artist. His career went international, with his songs competing with each other on ethnic charts in cities in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. As the most sought after Reggae Act for live shows and recording he commanded a staggering, at the time, $25-35,000 per show (working three nights a week) and a percentage of the gate receipt. He signed a recording contract with A & M Recording in the U. S. that produced three of the finest reggae albums ever made. The albums ‘Foul Play’, ‘Love Has Found Its Way’, and ‘The Prophet Rides Again’ received critical acclaim. In New York he headlined major venues like The Red Parrot, The Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden, and the Apollo where he sold out two shows the same night. He recorded prolifically (unwisely causing over exposure) and toured extensively. A series of poor management choices, shady business practices by his producer Joe Gibbs (undercutting the A & M record contract provisions) and the latent effects of drug addiction ushered in the seeds of the decline in his career.

The tapering of his career coincided with the dawn of dance hall music dominated by sing jays and DJs in the1990’s. The torch was passed to a new breed of singers like Garnet Silk, Freddie McGregor, Ritchie Stephens, and Beres Hammond. He recorded in search of a hit and received a Grammy nomination for his album ‘Temperature Rising’.

The musical legacy of Dennis Brown will remain a lasting legacy, and, a testament to his greatness and the music genre he helped pioneer. His music will live forever.

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My memories of the Great One:
Dennis Brown, “The Crown Prince of Reggae Music”

by Stan Evan Smith

DENNIS EMANUEL BROWN was the most influential singer in the history and development of reggae music. All the successful reggae artists tore a page from his singing stylebook. Thus, his was and is the most copied voice in the genre. If Bob Marley is reggae music’s “Classical Troubadour”, then Dennis Brown is, as producer/songwriter Mickey Bennett once noted, “The reggae singer’s singer.” Bob Marley introduced reggae music by defining its form, logic, ethos and content, while Brown’s vocal styling defined its intimate sound. He is reggae music’s quintessential singer. As such, Dennis Brown’s greatest continuations to the world of music were to shape, develop and define the soul of reggae singing. Brown died at 42. Jamaican music still hasn’t seen the like of him since.

There could be no Sanchez, Luciano, Frankie Paul, Ritchie Stevens, Prince Malachi, Bushman or Maxi Priest, to name a few. Priest, when asked by Soul Train’s host, Don Cornelius, who was his greatest influence, replied unequivocally “Dennis Brown.” Brown, when he was asked who was the single greatest influence on his chosen style of singing, replied, the late Delroy Wilson. In a 1989 interview at the New York Ritz, he spoke of his fascination with Wilson’s phrasing and slurring. He also talked about how, in his early years, he practiced to sound like Wilson. Unlike a lot of Jamaica’s great singers, many of whom trace their most significant influences to R&B giants (Beres Hammond, for example, is a cross between Sam Cook and Otis Redding, with some Alton Ellis thrown in) Brown sounds like none of them. This, despite his love of R&B. I can recall stories by Sax man Tony Green (a member of Lloyd Parks and We the People, Brown’s recording and backing band throughout his musical career) of Brown on the tour bus singing hundreds of R&B standards he’d learned growing up.

Though his commercial hit-making slowed at the twilight of his career, he’s the only singer to have completely dominated the reggae charts in the ’80s, when the DJs ruled. With pieces like “Have you Ever Been in Love”, “Revolution”, “Love’s Got a Hold On Me”, “Hold On to What You Have Got”, “Sitting and Watching”, “If I Had the World” during that time, his songs would compete with each other for the number I slot on ethnic charts in major American cities. His last major hit in NY was “Stop Fighting so Early in the Mornings” from the Willie Lindo-produced album Inseparable, in 1987. While he continued to record, write songs, and tour, he never had another hit after that. The highlights of his international career were: “Money in My Pocket”, his first and only global hit song in the late ’70s, charted in Britain and Europe; in the early ’80s he signed an international album deal with Herb Alpert’s A & M Records, making him label mates with groups like the Carpenters and UB40. Three albums came out of this association: ‘Foul Play’, ‘Love Has Found Its Way’, and ‘The Prophet Rises Again’. His much-talked-about performance at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in ’79 established his credentials as a sterling stage performer. As then We the People Sax man Dean “Cannon” Frazer noted, “There was a magic about the whole Dennis Brown experience, you felt like you were going somewhere.” He received Grammy nominations for his albums ‘Temperature Rising’ in 1994 and, his second posthumously for ‘Let Me Be the One’ for which I wrote the albums’ liner notes.

Brown’s nearly 20-year addiction to cocaine played a significant role in the demise of his career as an artist. He wasted huge sums of money on drugs, and his public and private denials of his addiction lost him the respect of many admirers. He denied it in an interview with a Jamaican newspaper, saying “I would be persona non grata if I used drugs.” Drugs affected his performance and punctuality. Opening for Peter Tosh on the Pier in New York City in 1983, his backing band, at the time the Inner Circle, had to carry much of the show without his lead because he arrived on stage with only enough time to sing three songs. Tosh was upset with him. He made several attempts to kick his drug addiction, but was never quite able to rid himself of his weakness and his dark side. Dennis, in some respect was still the little boy from Central Branch Secondary School I met while I was at Mico Practicing School, whose natural passion for singing and extraordinary talent drove him to great heights. He is, arguably, the greatest Jamaican singer to never “hit the big time” in his musical career.

A kind soul, Brown could not say no, even at times when he should have. His warm smile and instant accessibility to his fans made him possibly the most loved entertainer in the history of Jamaican music. This was also a significant factor in his downfall. Brown was charitable, and did not value material things. He gave away more money than he spent on himself. There were leeches and parasites who took him for a ride and he knew it, but he never stopped them. He loved the fans; he loved to sing and came alive when he did. His life was dedicated to music and to the fans whose adoration and approval he desperately craved.

Growing up poor, rejected and estranged from his famous father, who starred in the Jamaican TV series “Life in Hopeful Village”, Brown took comfort in his music, women and possibly drugs. They were the constants of his life. As I look back at the “boy wonder” who was kicked out of Central Branch School for ganja smoking, for not doing his homework because he was out fronting the Falcons band the night before, I could have never dreamed that he would become Jamaica’s most outstanding vocalist, our music’s “ultimate stylist”—or that he, with his songs, would make millions happy the world over. I remember the hurt in his eyes when asked, “Where is your father?” I felt the same because I didn’t know where in my life mine was either. In our infrequent conversations over the years, as singer and journalist, we both remarked constantly how amazed we were at how big the music became and that neither of us ever dreamt in those days this could happen with the music or envisioned his role in it. Well, it became big because of you Dennis. Though the land of your birth, to which you gave your voice, sweat and life to establish its place on the global cultural map, does not see fit to honor your work, rest assured we, the millions in the rest of Reggae’s world who you gave so much joy and happiness to, do. The musical legacy of Dennis Brown will remain a testament to his greatness and the music genre he helped pioneer. His music will live forever. Happy 50th Birthday Sweet Prince, we salute you.

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Good Night Sweet Prince
by Stan Evan Smith

DENNIS EMANUEL BROWN was the most influential singer in the history and development of reggae music. All the successful reggae artists tore a page from his singing stylebook. Thus, his was and is the most copied voice in the genre. If Bob Marley is reggae music's "Classical Troubadour," then Dennis Brown is, as producer/songwriter Mickey Bennett once noted, "The reggae singer's singer." Bob Marley introduced reggae music by defining its form, logic, ethos and content, while Brown's vocal styling defined its intimate sound. As such, Dennis Brown's greatest contributions to the world of music were to shape, develop and define the soul of reggae singing. Brown died in July, at 42. Jamaica mourns, and so does much of the rest of reggae's world. Though his commercial hit-making slowed at the twilight of his career, Dennis Brown's the only singer to have completely dominated the reggae charts in the '80s, when the DJ's ruled.

There could be no Sanchez, Luciano, Frankie Paul, Ritchie Stephenson, Prince Malachi, Bushman or Maxi Priest, to name a few. Priest, when asked by Soul Train's host, Don Cornelius, who was his greatest influence, replied unequivocally "Dennis Brown." Brown, when he was asked who was the single greatest influence on his chosen style of singing, replied, the late Delroy Wilson. In a 1 989 interview at the New York Ritz, he spoke of his fascination with Wilson's phrasing and slurring. He also talked about how, in his early years, he practiced to sound like Wilson. Unlike a lot of Jamaica's great singers, many of whom trace their most significant influences to R&B giants (Beres Hammond, for example, is a cross between Sam Cook and Otis Redding, with some Alton Ellis thrown in) Brown sounds like none of them. This, despite his love of R&B. I can recall stories by Sax man Tony Green (a member of Lloyd Parks and We the People, Brown's recording and backing band throughout his musical career) of Brown on the tour bus singing hundreds of R&B standards he'd learned growing up.

Brown loved the fans; he loved to sing and came alive when he did. His life was dedicated to music and to the fans, whose adoration and approval he desperately craved. Though his commercial hit-making slowed at the twilight of his career, he's the only singer to have completely dominated the reggae charts in the '80s, when the DJ's ruled. With pieces like "Have you Ever Been in Love," "Revolution," "Love's Got a Hold On Me," "Hold On to What You Have Got," "Sitting and Watching," "If I Had the World" during that time, his songs would compete with each other for the number 1 slot on ethnic charts in major American cities. His last major hit in NY was "Stop Fighting So Early in the Morning," from the Willie Lindo-produced album Inseparable, in 1987. While he continued to record, write songs and tour, he never had another hit after that. The highlights of his international career were "Money in My Pocket," his first and only global hit song in the late 70s, charted in Britain and Europe; in the early '80s he signed an international album deal with Herb Alpert's A.M. Records, making him label mates with groups like the Carpenters and UB40. Three albums came out of this association: Foul Play, Love Has Found Its Way, and The Prophet Rises Again. His much-talked-about performance at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 79 established his credentials as a sterling stage performer. As then We the People sax man Dean "Cannon" Frazer noted, "There was a magic about the whole Dennis Brown experience, you felt like you were going somewhere."

He received a Grammy nomination for his album Temperature Rising. Brown's nearly 20-year addiction to cocaine played a significant role in his demise as a respected artist. He wasted huge sums of money on drugs, and his public and private denials of his addiction lost him the respect of many admirers. He denied it in an interview with a Jamaican newspaper, saying "I would be persona non grata if I used drugs." Drugs affected his performance and punctuality. Opening for Peter Tosh on the Pier in New York City in 1983, his backing band, at the time the Inner Circle, had to carry much of the show without his lead because he arrived on stage with only enough time to sing three songs. Tosh was royally pissed at him. He made several attempts to kick his drug addiction, but was never quite able to rid himself of his weakness and his dark side.

A kind soul, Brown could not say no, even times when he should have. His warm smile and instant accessibility to his fans made him possibly the most loved entertainer in the history of Jamaican music. This was also a significant factor in his downfall. Brown was charitable, and did not value material things. He gave away more money than he spent on himself. There were leeches and parasites who took him for a ride and he knew it, but he never stopped them. He loved the fans; he loved to sing and came alive when he did. His life was dedicated to music and to the fans, whose adoration and approval he desperately craved.

Growing up poor, rejected and estranged from his famous father, who starred in the Jamaican TV series "Life with the little," Brown took comfort in his music, and possibly drugs. They were the constants of his life. As I look back at the "boy wonder" that was kicked out of Central Branch School for ganja smoking, for not doing his homework because he was out fronting the Falcons band the night before, I could have never dreamed this ending. I remember the hurt in his eyes when asked, "Where is your father?" I felt the same because I didn't know where mine was either. In our infrequent conversations over the years, we both remarked constantly how amazed we were at how big the music became. Well Dennis, it became big because of you. Goodnight Sweet Prince.

The above was published in UNFOLD magazine at the time of his death in 1999. go to top

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