Dennis Brown Biography

Dennis Emanuel Brown, 1 February 1957, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies, d. 1 July 1999, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies. Regularly billed as ‘the Crown Prince of Reggae’, it was only Brown’s self-effacing nature that denied him advancement to the office of king. Loved in reggae music like no other singer, Brown was regularly courted by the major record labels, and even enjoyed a couple of token chart hits in Britain. More to the point, he produced more reggae classics than just about anyone else.

Brown began his career at the age of nine as one of the Studio One label’s many child stars. His first hit, ‘No Man Is An Island’ (1969), found him singing in much the same style he was to use throughout his career, only with a far less croaky voice. ‘If I Follow My Heart’, his other chief hit at Studio One, was every bit as good. Brown spent the early 70s freelancing between studios, recording for Lloyd Daley, Impact, Joe Gibbs and Aquarius, before recording his third collection, Super Reggae And Soul Hits, a mature, classic record, full of Derrick Harriott’s soulful arrangements and Brown’s rich tones. A move to Winston ‘Niney’ Holness’ label was no less profitable. The two albums he made there, Just Dennis and Wolf & Leopards, were recorded three years apart but their seamless rootsy artistry made them clearly part of one body of work.

A long, fruitful liaison with Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson resulted in a further series of classic albums, among them Visions, Joseph’s Coat Of Many Colours, Spellbound and Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow. While the rock critics were latching on to dub in the mid-70s, it was Brown who was drawing a mass audience almost unnoticed outside reggae’s heartlands. His combination of serious, ‘message’ songs and soul-wailing love melodies was irresistible. His stage shows, too, were genuine events, and always packed a punch. ‘Money In My Pocket’ (number 14, 1979) was the first of three incursions into UK chart territory, with Brown eventually signing to A&M Records in the early 80s in an unsuccessful attempt to corner the crossover market following the death of Bob Marley. Simultaneously, he became co-owner of the DEB label, successfully producing Junior Delgado and lovers rock trio 15-16-17. Brown gradually spent more time in London as a consequence, eventually settling there for much of the 80s. His Joe Gibbs connection was terminated in 1982, marking the de facto end of Gibbs’ prominence as a producer.

Brown’s series of reggae hits, including ‘To The Foundation’ for Gussie Clarke, ‘Revolution’ for Taxi Records or cuts on his own Yvonne’s Special label (named after his wife), saw him become one of the few established singers to ride the early dancehall boom unscathed. However, when digital music exploded onto reggae in 1985, Brown faltered for the first time in his career, seemingly unsure of his next move. Eventually, he settled into the new style, recording The Exit for King Jammy’s in the digital mode. A move to Gussie Clarke’s Music Works Studio in 1989 gave him more kudos with the youth market, particularly on the duet with Gregory Isaacs, ‘Big All Around’. Once again, Dennis Brown was in demand in Jamaica, back at the roots of the music, and rolling once again, recording everywhere and anywhere for a few months. In 1995, he recorded with Beenie Man and Triston Palma for the hit compilation Three Against War. Sadly, a long-term drug problem led to his untimely death at the age of 42.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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