Brent Dowe

Lead singer with the Melodians


Brent Dowe, singer and songwriter: born Point District, Jamaica 29 June 1946; married (four children); died Kingston, Jamaica 29 January 2006.

Brent Dowe made his mark on Jamaican popular music as lead singer with the Melodians, one of the most consistently popular harmony groups of the 1960s and 1970s; he also enjoyed a prosperous solo career.

Born in the hillside community of Point District in north-west Jamaica, Dowe was raised by his mother, who worked for the Coffee Industry Board. They moved to the capital when Dowe was seven, and settled in the west Kingston ghetto of Greenwich Town, a dilapidated neighbourhood squeezed between industrial quarters and the main railway line; he started singing at an early age during church services and at school, where he was known as "Porky" because of his chubbiness.

In 1962, Dowe became friendly with the tenor singer Tony Brevett, a downtown street tough based in a slum yard at Salt Lane and nephew of Lloyd Brevett, bass player with the Skatalites. Tony Brevett had been singing informally with Bob Marley and another youth, George Allison, at a local youth club, but, after Marley began recording as a soloist, Brevett formed a new group with another tenor, Trevor McNaughton, and a baritone, Bradfield Brown. When Dowe joined the group, the sound was impressive, as his clear, deeper tones contrasted nicely with the higher, tremulous voice of Tony Brevett.

The Melodians quickly bagged a weekly spot at the Kittymat Club and made their recording début for Prince Buster, but the songs were retained solely for sound-system airplay; then, after Brown left the group, some of their best material was co-written by a silent partner, Renford Cogle. The handful of Melodians discs issued by Studio One in 1966 failed to make an impact so, the following year, the group moved to higher wages at the rival Treasure Isle. There they became one of the leading groups of the day, through hits such as "You Have Caught Me", their first Jamaican No 1, "You Don't Need Me", "I Will Get Along", "Expo 67" and "Come On Little Girl".

Moving to the growing production stable of Sonia Pottinger, as rock steady gave way to reggae, the Melodians again reached the top of the charts with "Little Nut Tree", adapted from the nursery rhyme, and the original "Swing and Dine", while the self-produced "It Comes and Goes", issued on a short-lived label called Links, co-founded with the Gaylads and Ken Boothe, was also a chart-topper.

Then, in 1969, they started working with the producer Leslie Kong, which brought them overseas hits in the form of the harmonically brilliant "Sweet Sensation" and the spiritual "Rivers of Babylon", which sold more than 75,000 copies on release in the UK; it later became a pop/disco sensation when covered by Boney M.

In the early 1970s, the Melodians signed a contract with Byron Lee's Dynamic Sounds company, resulting in the popular "Round and Round", arranged by Lee "Scratch" Perry, and "Without You", arranged by Warwick Lyn. Dowe had recorded sporadically as a solo vocalist since 1969, but in 1973, the group temporarily disbanded when he cut the solo album Build Me Up for Sonia Pottinger; after reforming, the Melodians recorded the Pre-Meditation album for Pottinger, mostly at Lee Perry's recently opened Black Ark studio, but Pottinger shelved the album for a few years when disputes arose, so Dowe continued to record as a soloist for producers such as Niney the Observer and Lee Perry, with whom he recorded the censorious "Down Here in Babylon".

In 1976, the Melodians' collective fortunes were revived with the album Sweet Sensations, cut for the producer Harry J, but the group then drifted into semi-retirement, with only sporadic singles appearing during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Meanwhile, during the same period, Dowe continued his solo career, cutting strong singles for a range of producers, including Prince Tony Robinson, Tinga Stewart and Joe Gibbs, along with self-produced work.

Although largely inactive on the recording scene, during the last two decades the group was often featured on vintage reggae shows, both in Jamaica and elsewhere.

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