Barry Brown has passed away....
The quintessential roots/dancehall singer Barry Brown (b. 1962), a consistent hit-maker in the late '70s, died Saturday May 29, 2004, on the premises of the Soundwave Recording Studio at Ivy Green Crecent in Kingston where it was reported that he fell and hit his head. For some time now, Brown had been battling a substance abuse problem in addition to his asthmatic condition which led to a gradual deterioration of his health. Barry Brown, whose death follows closely on the heels of his legendary producer Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd with whom he recorded album Roots and Culture, is credited for such hits as "Far East", "Step It Up Youth Man", "Natty Rootsman", "Not So Lucky", "We Just Can't Live Like This", "Politician", "Cool Pon Your Corner", "Jah Jah Fire", "Mafia", "Jah Jah Say" among others.
BARRY BROWN...HOLD THEM ROOTSMAN.
Following on the heels of Johnny Clarke and Linval Thompson, youth singer Barry Brown penetrated the early dancehall scene of the late '70s with a slue of durable roots records that today stand as evergreen gems. Like Clarke, Thompson, Sammy Dread, Rod Taylor, Sugar Minott and other popular vocalists of the day, Brown brought an immediate, street-level atmosphere to his records. His passionately raw delivery wasn't candy-coated sweet or silky smooth. It was simple, direct, amicable and real. Listening to records like "No Wicked Shall Enter The Kingdom Of Zion" and "Politician" you knew this young brother wasn't from uptown.
Barry Brown was no stranger to Bunny Lee when the record producer finally agreed to record the young singer in the late '70s. Like so many other ghetto youths yearning for an opportunity to grab a hold of the brass ring, Brown was a constant fixture along Idler's Rest and outside King Tubby's and Randy's, persistently approaching Bunny Lee and other producers for a break. Brown was a pre-teen when he first started hanging out on Lee's Yard in Greenwich Town. To get his foot in the door, Brown had to pay some dues which included running a variety of errands for Lee such as delivering food to the musicians during a long recording session. After years of observing sessions for other artists, Brown grew to understand how the recording business operated. He also worked on developing his singing skills. Then Brown was ready to make his debut.
Lee sensed that the right time had come and eventually gave Brown the nod. After releasing a string of successful singles in the late '70s, beginning with "Girl You're Always On My Mind", Lee issued the albums Barry Brown Showcase", Step It Up Youth Man" and "Barry Brown Superstar" (the latter released only in Canada). Each contained hit singles such as "Big Big Pollution", "No Wicked Shall Enter" and "Lead Us Jah Jah". Before the '80s Barry Brown was a dancehall star with a proven track record of hit singles.
Other producers approached him about making a tune or two. One of the first was Lloyd Daley. Three days before Halloween 1979, in the midst of turbulent political violence, Brown recorded a plea for peace and calm in Jamaica, "Put Down Your Guns" for Daley's Matador label, followed by "We Will All Feel The Pain". These topical songs brought forth a new nickname for Brown - The Jamaican Bob Dylan. By 1980 Brown had several disco mixes on the market including combination 12inches with deejays like Toyan ("Peace & Love"), Jah Thomas ("Jealous Lover") and Ranking Joe ("Don't Take No Steps"). Brown also recorded for two of his role models - singer / producers Linval Thompson and Sugar Minott (I'm Not So Lucky). Inspired by Thompson and Minott's enterprising approach to the record business, Brown resolved to produce his own records.
He released a couple of singles on his Jabba Roots label and in 1980 put out the now classic roots album Cool Pon Your Corner on Trojan Records. Now considered a classic this album has yet to be reissued although the Love And Protection CD from Prestige Records includes several retitled tracks from Cool Pon Your Corner. His next self-produced album was Barry Brown - Superstar (different from the Bunny Lee produced album) also released in 1980. Brown's self-produced material was as great as his material for other producers, but wasn't as commercially successful.
The singer was still relatively new to the business and hadn't developed the right kinds of behind the scenes connections. Unlike established producers, Brown didn't have the promotional network for sufficient finances needed to push his records. Disheartened but not defeated Barry Brown returned to the top of the charts with records produced by Henry "Junjo" Lawes, Coxsone Dodd, Ernest Hoo Kim and Winston Holness. Probably his best known hit is the Hoo Kim / Channel One production "Far East". The album of the same name is another early dancehall masterpeace featuring crucial tracks like "Run Wicked Man", "Stand Firm" and "So Jah Jah Say".
Whether it was Stur Gav, Prince Jammy's Hi-Fi, Black Scorpio or any other top sound, Brown's exceptional voice was always part of the mix during the dawn of the dancehall. Except for the 1991 album Same Sound, the 2001 released Mafia & Fluxy Present Barry Brown - Reggae Heights, the Studio One Lp "Roots & Culture" from 2003 and the Moll-Selekta compilation cd Rich Man Poor Man - 1978-1980, we haven't seen that many releases from Barry Brown in the past decade.
In a 1980 interview with Black Echoes, Brown described his philosophy behind making music. "You have plenty of singers singing about righteousness and reality, but they don't live to it, you know. Anything you sing about you are supposed to live. Me personally, I try to be progressive. I have to insist on progress in everything I'm doing, and set a foundation for the youth that is coming. Any work you do you have to know what you're doing it for. And you have to know where you're going."
Barry Brown (R.I.P.)
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