Reggae Singer Winston “Niney” Holness’ Reviving his Career

by Howard Campbell

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Because of his impressive credentials as a music producer, even some ardent reggae fans know little of Winston “Niney” Holness’ record as a singer. He hit the British national chart as a vocalist in 1970 with the apocalyptic Blood and Fire.

Nearly 50 years later, Holness is reviving his career as an artist with the self-produced song Thank You. Recently released on his Observer label, it features top musicians such as drummer Sly Dunbar, keyboardist Robbie Lyn and bass guitarist Flabba Holt of the Roots Radics Band.

Reggae Singer Winston “Niney” Holness’ Reviving his Career

Winston ‘Niney’ Holness

Holness, who has lived in the United States for over 30 years, returned to Jamaica 10 years ago and began assembling a recording studio in Kingston, the capital, hoping to unearth fresh singers. That venture was not successful so he decided to do it himself.

“Dem (artists) don’t want to listen to wha’ mi a sey, so mi jus’ stop waste mi time. Bunny Lee an’ Lee (Scratch) Perry tell mi from di start sey mi a waste mi time,” Holness explained.

Lee and Perry are two of reggae’s greatest producers. They mentored Holness in the startup days of Observer in the early 1970s when he worked with Dennis Brown and Ken Boothe.

Though he had some positive feedback producing songs by Jimmy Cliff and emerging roots artist Samory I, Holness said most of the sessions at his Observer Soundbox Studio was unfulfilling.

“Dem jus’ waan do two chord music, an’ dat’s not my style.”

Born George Boswell in Montego Bay, Niney Holness got his moniker after losing a finger in an industrial accident. After Blood and Fire’s success in the United Kingdom, he established himself as a producer through songs like Africa, Westbound Train and Whip Them Jah by Brown. He also produced the singer’s acclaimed Wolf and Leopards album, released in 1977.

Some of his other productions are Silver Words by Boothe, Roots With Quality by Third World and Sugar Minott’s Lovers Race and No Vacancy.

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