Prince of singers

Niney remembers Dennis Brown

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Friday, February 01, 2019

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OF the countless music producers Dennis Brown worked with, he rated Winston “Niney” Holness the highest. Holness guided him on classic songs like Cassandra and Westbound Train, and produced Wolf and Leopards, the singer's outstanding 1977 album.

The chatty Holness considers the Crown Prince a mega talent who was much more than a vocalist.

“Nuh guy couldn't tes' him…D Brown sing jazz, blues, him can play guitar, bass, piano an' drum. Him play some a di wickedest diminished chords an' play wicked bass. A him play bass pon (Little Roy's) Tribal War,” Holness told Jamaica Observer's weekly Splash.

Brown was only 16 when he started working with Holness and the Soul Syndicate Band in 1973. The partnership was instantly successful, yielding Cassandra, Westbound Train and No More Will I Roam, which were all inspired by soul singer Al Green's hit song, Love and Happiness.

Though his breakthrough songs were for Derrick Harriott ( Lips of Wine) and Clement Dodd ( No Man is An Island, If I Follow my Heart), the Niney/Soul Syndicate songs made Brown a massive star. Four years later, he and Holness worked on Wolf and Leopards which contained the title song, Here I Come (original version) and Whip Them Jah Jah.

Brown went on to work for numerous producers, most notably Joe Gibbs, with whom he enjoyed resounding success in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He also did songs for Sly and Robbie, Gussie Clarke, Willie Lindo and Mikey Bennett.

In a 1997 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Brown spoke of his relationship with Holness.

“I would sey Niney is the best producer I work wid. He was more like a big brother, wi had a lotta good times making music. Mi would go over him house an' wi would cook, whole heap a kegs!” he recalled.

Holness was born George Boswell in Montego Bay. He started his career as a singer in the 1960s, and had a massive hit song in the United Kingdom with Blood and Fire in 1970.

Forming the Observer label, he moved into production, with the prodigious Brown among his first clients. His discography includes hit songs like Silver Words by Ken Boothe and Roots With Quality done by Third World.

In 2012, he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his contribution to music.

Holness said he was writing songs with Brown up until his death in July 1999 at age 42. He was aware of the artiste's reputation for doing hard drugs.

“Him used to hide from mi 'cause him know if mi did si him me'd a cuss him. But wi still love him 'cause D Brown did have a different spirit, a different charisma.”

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