|"Deadly" Headley Bennett (Photo: Saxsemilla Inc.)
Steve Barker on Headley Bennett's only solo album to date:
Being a big fan of the many manifestations of the late (?) Sun Ra inevitably meant that I've also been particularly fond of the only solo album from "Deadly" Headley Bennett. With the artist portrayed on the album cover like a refugee from an Arkestral incarnation "35 Years From Alpha" (ON-U LP 14) could have meant a relatively short trip to a far distant galactic destination. Instead the literal meaning was a reference to the time since Headley Bennett left the place of his musical schooling - the Alpha Cottage School in East Kingston, Jamaica.
The Alpha School is justifiably legendary in the annals of Jamaican musical history, initially being an institution for the education of untamed youth, music has been central to its curriculum for over a century. A list of its graduates whose names grace the record sleeves of classic Jamaican music would need its own period of dedicated study to produce. Nevertheless, mention of Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Johnny "Dizzy" Moore, Rico Rodriguez and Lester Stirling would convince any fan of the music that followed on from ska that this particular institution did its job well.
When Headley Bennett left Alpha he joined another educational academy whose headmaster was Clement Dodd - Studio One. Along with Roland Alphonso and Cedric "Im" Brooks, Headley constituted the fluid saxophony input to the session bands such as Sound Dimension which, under the tutelage of Jackie Mittoo, created the greatest and most enduring rhythms in reggae.
Unlike many of his contemporaries Headley Bennett remained strictly a session or live ensemble player - part of the band. It was as part of Prince Far I's backing band (the Arabs) that he came to the UK to tour in the late 70s and on that tour where he met and became involved in Creation Rebel via its lead guitarist "Crucial" Tony. He contributed horn to many of the Creation Rebel tracks of the period staying on in the UK after the Far I gigs were complete.
As Headley was about fifty years of age in the early late 70s / early 80s Adrian Sherwood quite rightly felt that the time was well past when his name should feature as an album's headline artist. In the style of the time 35 Years from Alpha was thrown together, gathering a batch of rhythms recorded over the previous two years in studios between London and Kingston, and although Headley takes the album credit three of the tracks are in fact Bim Sherman vocals.
|The original LP
The title track was in fact knocked together from an old Barry White tune and also emerged later as the title track of Dr Pablo's album "North Of The River Thames" (ON-U LP30) ! "The Danger" was making a concurrent appearance, but without the indefinite article, with a version on the flip of On-U's 10" discoplate debut (ON-U DP1) credited to the Singers And Players with Bim on vocal.
"Head Charge", perversely only in retrospect, did not feature Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah (of African Head Charge) but did have Sherwood as the "Prisoner" on particularly freeform Jew's harp. The second of the Bim Sherman tunes "Without A Love Like Yours" was a version of "Devious Woman" [Rhythm 11], whilst as the title implies "Two From Alpha" found Headley's old school friend Rico Rodriguez joining him on the track with a vintage trombone contribution. "Another Satta" is exactly that - a fine version of a classic reggae tune and rhythm [Rhythm 12].
One specifically unusual attribute of the original vinyl release of "35 Years From Alpha" was the uncredited sleeve notes from the young Sherwood, in fact so unusual it's worth reprinting his words here:
"Alpha is the name of a Roman Catholic school in Kingston, Jamaica. Over the years Alpha has produced so many legendary musicians and singers. Headley Bennett attended the Alpha School up to the age of fifteen, and despite a seven year semi-professional existence in Canada he has been playing music professionally ever since.
Headley has played on far too many recording sessions to possibly begin to mention. Sessions for virtually every Jamaican artist and producer you may know of. He was at one time a full-time employee of a certain producer and studio owner, for which, requiring of him to simply "blow" on demand, he received a none too awe inspiring wage.
Headley can in no way be called a capitalist or a politician. All he does is play a saxophone. He has provided at least two generations of music with a lot of music pleasure, but remained an unsung hero. In such a long period of discipline and dedication in his understated role in music, so many others have received acclaim and fame. Headley has always been the unrecognised session man, receiving nearly always a sufferer's fee in what is traditionally a sufferer's music.
To this date "Deadly Headley" Bennett has not had an album or much less a 12" or 7" record credited to him in his own right. This record is a "minor" tribute to Deadly Headley. As we were unable to make a true solo L.P., included are recently finished tracks featuring Style Scott and Bim Sherman.
Here is a good record anyway seen."
Since Adrian wrote those words in 1982, I've been reminded that Headley has, in fact, had at least one more record credited to him - a little pressed Jamaican 7" single in 1985 backed by The Commission.