With his wonderful voice that earned him the title Crown Prince of Reggae, Dennis Brown has thrilled many reggae fans worldwide with his records and live performances. Dennis Brown was born on February 1st 1957 in Kingston JA, right at the corner of Orange Street and North Street. In an interview with Roger Steffens, done on October 22nd 1980, he says... There you have a big tenement yard, that was where I grew up, really... Slim Smith and the Techniques used to come in my yard and rehearse... I didn't record as the Falcons. You see, each of us recorded separately. Like Noel Brown and Scotty, they recorded as the Chosen Few, and I recorded as Dennis Brown then... Well, the first record was a song called "Love Grows" which wasn't released until after the second record I did for Coxson, which was "No Man Is An Island"... The rest is Reggae history. On July 1st 1999, at the age of 42, Reggae superstar Dennis Brown tragically died from respiratory failure.

Ten years after his untimely death we pay tribute to one of the greatest Reggae artists, the still sorely missed Dennis "Emmanuel" Brown. The text below -- taken from the sleevenotes from the Blood & Fire cd release "The Promised Land : 1977-79" (BAFCD039), and written by Steve Barrow -- is one of the best and most significant writings published after his passing on to Zion.
It is extremely difficult to objectively evaluate the life and work of Dennis Brown because what he always represented in real terms to the world of reggae was of far greater importance than how the rest of the world saw him. For the best part of thirty years he was the people's choice, 'The Crown Prince Of Reggae', Jamaica's most consistently popular singer. In his own way he was the voice of reggae yet to out siders he was a competent singer who had achieved a couple of crossover hit s during a long career. Dennis Brown's tragic death in 1999 brought forth a series of hastily turned out obituaries that focused on a career supposedly blighted by missed opportunities and alleged inherent weaknesses. They tended to concentrate on what might have been but, for Dennis Brown's entire life, he sang for his public and not for any notions of what might have helped to make him into a 'pop' star or for the demands of an international audience. Of course if he had 'crossed over' then the same critics would have accused him of selling out. In order to be 'authentic' the 'grittier' and 'rougher' an artist sounds then the more 'real' they are perceived to be but a consummate craftsman will continually polish the veneer to a high gloss. To further get his message across they will seduce the listener with the beauty and quality of the sound before the actual message hits home. The international audience seem to prefer their artists to be as far removed as possible from anything that could ever be described as 'easy listening'.

Dennis Brown's work could never be described as 'easy listening' but the crossover audience somehow remained unappreciative of and largely unmoved by his iron fist in a velvet glove approach. When they finally started to take an interest in Reggae music it was invariably the more obvious forms such as dub and deejays that they latched on to. The obituaries missed the point completely and demonstrated once again how little is really understood about Reggae music by mainstream commentators. The emphasis should have been on the celebration of the life of a man who had given the world some of the greatest music ever and the point made that the deceased is important because of what they have achieved in their lifetime rather than because they are now dead. Instead his memory was insulted by demeaning defamation and meaningless criticism and because he was deemed to have 'failed' in the obituary writers' estimation then he must have been a failure. Dennis Brown was a hero to his public and he always will be. This isn't to say that if his achievement was good enough for the Reggae audience then it was good enough. The point is that if it was good enough for them then it should have been good enough for anyone for, as notoriously fickle and hard to please as they can be, Dennis Brown was loved by the Reggae music audience like no other singer. He spent practically the whole of his life singing and he never lost sight of the fact that he was dependent on his public. He loved his people and they loved him back.

A certain amount of interest in an artist's private life away from their work is inevitable and we all like to see the 'real' person behind what it is they are celebrated for. But at what level does this become prurience? Unfortunately with the current cult of celebrity with people simply being famous for being famous the only thing it seems the public are interested in are salacious details of the shortcomings and mistakes of their stars. The background details can be interesting and illuminating and can highlight aspects of an artist's work and outlook but in the end, and this is the most important thing of all, it's their work that has to stand up or fall down on its own merits. Unfortunately for the memory of Dennis Brown the obituary writers seemed only interested in dirt digging and muckraking. They never understood his work in the first place and failed to realise that Dennis Brown's music is essential to an understanding of Reggae. His incredible influence and popularity, both as a singer and as a person, have been seriously overlooked and woefully misunderstood.

Reggae writer and producer Chris Lane recounts the story of travelling to Jamaica for the first time in the mid-seventies and meeting up with Dennis Brown in Lee Perry's studio. Whenever they subsequently crossed paths down on Orange Street or North Parade or anywhere else in Kingston Dennis greeted and treated Chris like an old friend. He was one of the in-crowd by association and the goodwill and friendliness that this created for Chris was immeasurable if he was Dennis Brown's friend then he was our friend too. His trip was a resounding success. Everyone who was fortunate enough to meet Dennis Brown will tell similar stories of his warmth and friendliness. He was genuine. As for his influence too far back to even remember exactly when it was I can recall a Talent Night at The Bouncing Ball Club in Peckham when it seemed that every youth who got up to sing that night had studied every last nuance of Dennis Brown's style and delivery and many years later youth singer Yami Bolo would formalise this when he told Boom Shacka Lacka fanzine: Every youth want to sing like Dennis Brown.

He was a charismatic, gifted and supremely confident live performer and as he ran through selections from his vast repertoire his adoring audience would sing along note for note. Backed by bands that would have kept the most demanding audience happy even if the main attraction had failed to show his appearance on stage caused the crowd to erupt and the pressure never let up. He was the voice of Jamaica filtered through the works of Curtis Mayfield and Nat 'King' Cole and his songs of love for everyone were indivisible and inseparable from his love songs. He triumphed at them all.
Dennis Brown started singing at the age of ten in Kingston's National Arena at a political conference and he did a number of shows with Byron Lee before making his first record with Derrick Harriott in 1969. 'It's A Crime' sold reasonably well and its moderate success encouraged the thirteen year old to make more records: "I did quite a few recordings at this time for other producers. With Matador I did 'Things In Life' and 'Baby Don't Do It', and I did one for GG called 'Don't You Cry' then I went and did two numbers for Prince Buster. After that I went to Randy's. In those days it was more like hustling and myself and The Heptones would go round and sing on records as session singers and we'll all get paid separately."

He did make many more records for a whole range of producers: for Derrick Harriott,Coxsone Dodd, Lloyd 'Matador' Daley, the Tafari Syndicate, Randy's, Alvin 'GG' Ranglin, Prince Buster, Herman Chin Loy, and Phil Pratt until he settled into long lasting relationships with Niney The Observer and Joe Gibbs. The standard of his recordings was never less than excellent and many are now rightly regarded as Reggae classics. In fact no one has made more Reggae classics than Dennis Brown or is ever likely to do so. Both as a songwriter and interpreter of other people's songs his mastery was complete:
"Right because you see love songs are nice but when a song really hits you that is factual it makes you think positive. When you hear reality sounds it's a fact. All the time in my songs I try to be on the side of right against wickedness. Really I send a message to youth all over the world to live good."

Towards the latter half of the seventies after an unsurpassed and unsurpassable series of hit records for other producers he embarked on self-productions. He started the D'Augular's Sounds label with a blistering record backed by The Heptones, 'Satisfaction Feeling', which was one of his best ever but nothing too tough happened with that really, however it pointed the direction he would go in when he established DEB in the winter of 1976/77.

"I started to realise that I could be doing all these records for myself but then I didn't understand producing too well, like mixing and what to ask for, so Niney and Gregory Isaacs helped me to get experience of these things, but it's only lately that I really start to get into production."

Although he always gave his best for other producers he would still manage to better this in his self-productions when he was free of all constraints and strictures. It would be easy shorthand to say that Dennis Brown saved all his greatest songs and performances for his own productions but it would not be strictly true. His work for other producers was never a compromise and even his not so well known recordings such as 'The Look Of Love' for New York producer Brad Osbourne are as exciting and as valid as his most popular and well known records such as 'Money In My Pocket'. He never gave less than 100% and he never needed to hold back because he always had talent in abundance and songs to spare. Soon after he completed work on this set he embarked on a series of recordings for Sly & Robbie's Taxi label that included 'Revolution' and 'Have You Ever Been In Love Before' and that were every bit as good as the material he was using for his self-productions.

Dennis Brown's work had nothing to do with gimmicks or hype but musical talent and a personality that shone through in everything that he did. Dennis Brown was the voice of Reggae and his voice still cries out to be heard.
Text : Mr. T / Steve Barrow