“Deadly” Headley Bennett on UK Unity Label
Hello Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Listeners,
It is with great sadness that we must report the passing of legendary saxophonist, Deadly Headley Bennett.
Deadly Headley passed away at his home on August 21st at the age of 85. He had been suffering from back and prostate issues since 2013, and two Sundays ago, he passed away suddenly after being up and about earlier in the day. We will pay tribute to Deadly Headley’s impressively prolific career for the full two hours of this week’s show. Headley received the Order of Distinction in 2005 for all of his contributions to the progress of Jamaican music, and in this program, you’re going to hear some of the biggest tracks in Jamaican music because Deadly Headley was there for those history changing moments.
Born as Felix Bennett in Kingston, Deadly Headley started his music education at an exceptionally young age, enrolling in the Alpha Boys Catholic school at the age of five. With the education and support of the school’s music program, Deadly Headley emerged from the school ten years later, at the mere age of 15, as an accomplished saxophone player.
As the fifties arrived, Bennett performed primarily in jazz, and as the sixties arrived, he had established himself as an excellent performer and session musician. Bennett’s recording career had a sudden and surprise beginning. Bennett performed and hung out with Rico, and when Rico was invited to play Coxsone’s sound system, Deadly Headley was part of the horn section. During this performance, Coxsone’s friend spotted him, and suggested that Bennett should be playing for Coxsone’s recordings.
Coxsone invited Bennett to Federal Studios, and Deadly Headley first recorded “Independence Blues” for him, with Lester Sterling also on the recording, which created a battle for solos between Lester and Deadly Headley. “Independence Blues” was cut for Coxsone’s D. Darling label and features the voice and guitar of Basil Gabbidon, and it is the track that would start Bennett’s many decade career in the recording industry. Consequently, it is the track that will started tonight’s memorial on Deadly Headley Bennett.
In addition to recording in the studio in 1962, Deadly Headley also performed as a member of The Shieks in their performance to welcome Princess Margaret when she visited Jamaica to mark the nation’s independence. It is unclear as to what tracks Deadly Headley would play on for Coxsone in 1962, but his role was certain on recordings for a young producer named Leslie Kong and his Beverley’s label. It is well documented that Headley was a featured player for Leslie Kong, who insisted that Headley play a solo for the more prominent singles to come out on the label during its beginning We then heard tracks on Beverley’s from not only a young Jimmy Cliff, Derrick Morgan and Eric Morris but also the very first recording of Bob Marley prior to his time with the Wailers. Four tracks were cut at Beverley’s with Marley from that session with Headley in 1963, including “One Cup of Coffee,” “Do You Still Love Me,” “Terror”, and the track played for our tribute, “Judge Not”
In the early 1960s, Deadly Headley would play for a multitude of producers in the ska era and Bennett would continue to record for Studio One during this time. Included in the tracks recorded for Coxsone Dodd is Wailer Peter Tosh’s “Maga Dog,” which features a wonderful solo from Headley Bennett. That was the track we played next on the show.
In 1966, rocksteady would become the preferred beat of the time, and Deadly Headley would play on some of the era’s finest tracks. Of course, during the rocksteady, the band that was most in demand bore the name of the man who invented the rhythm, Lyn Taitt. We then heard two instrumental tracks that feature Taitt’s guitar and Headley’s beautiful sax sound.
“Satta Massagana” was recorded at 7 am at Coxsone’s studio through Carlton Manning, who arranged for his brother Donald Manning and his group The Abyssinians to record in Coxsone’s studio without his approval or knowledge. “Satta Massagana” was the first recording of the session. In the short session, three tracks were quickly recorded, and shortly thereafter, “Satta Massagana” became a hit rhythm that would get versions many many times
In 1969, Deadly Headley went to Canada and returned in 1977 and when Headley returned to Jamaica in ‘77, he was in as much demand as ever and performs on some of the most legendary albums of the era. We went through album after album of his recordings from 1977 to 1979 and selected our favorite performances from Headley from those full length records.
Only one full length album bears Headley’s name in the title as the featured artist…35 Years From Alpha was produced in 1982 by the king of On-U Sound, Adrian Sherwood and featured Headley on alto sax, Bim Sherman on vocals, and fittingly his former horn section partner Rico on trombone. To end this two hour tribute to Headley, we played two selections from that amazing album.
Here is the August 30th, 2016 edition of Generoso and Lily’s Bovine Ska and Rocksteady and our two hour tribute to the late, great Felix “Deadly” Headley Bennett: