The August 31st issue of the Jamaica Gleaner featured a wonderful article by music historian and journalist Roy Black on the legendary career of Deadly Headley Bennett who passed away on August 24, 2016. I post this article here, along with one from Howard Campbell at the Jamaica Observer, and will save my own writings on Bennett for my forthcoming book on Alpha Boys School. Let it be said though that we have lost another fine musician whose music will live long beyond his years. Thank you, Mr. Bennett, for your contributions to music all over the world.
Saxophonist Felix Headley ‘Deadly Headley’ Bennett’s mid-song solos were largely responsible for the success of several hit recordings, particularly during the ska era of the 1960s. He passed away at his home, 6B Lincoln Road, Franklyn Town, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. He was 85 years old.
There have been so many great solos by Bennett that it becomes difficult to single out one for special commendation, but perhaps his solo in Delroy Wilson’s Dancing Mood would take the cake. Bennett’s involvement with the song was crucial, as I believe the recording became the single most important one that heralded the start of the rocksteady era.
Bennett, a dancer himself, seems fascinated by dancing as he also got himself involved with Dancing Shoes, sung by The Wailers (Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Constantine Walker) about that same time. It was a masterful introductory solo, followed by a mid-song solo that resulted in many vocalists and bands of the day requesting Bennett’s inclusion in their recordings. As it turned out, Dancing Shoes became one of the most beautifully executed songs by The Wailers.
Bennett’s solos again decorated another exclusive recording by that same Wailers combinations, titled What Am I To Do, shortly after. Bennett’s saxophone solo can again be heard on Jimmy Cliff’s Hurricane Hattie after an introductory guitar rang out to the tune of a vintage classic called Forty Miles of Bad Road.
But perhaps unknown to many is that it was Bennett’s instrumental solo in Derrick Morgan’s Independence song Forward March that started the musical war between Morgan and Prince Buster. Buster claimed that he had created the solo, which he had earlier used, and Morgan stole his ‘belongings’.
Housewives Choice by Derrick and Patsy in 1963 is another of the public’s favourite in which Bennett’s saxophone can he heard.
Among Bennett’s instrumental hits is Full Up, the origins of which was dramatically related to me in an interview I did with Bennett more than 10 years ago: Studio One boss Clement Dodd had introduced a rhythm to Bennett for him to work on, but it seemed bare – no vocals, no horns. When Bennett enquired of Dodd about the song, Dodd’s response was “just full it up, man”. Full Up, originally created by Leroy Sibbles and featuring Bennett on saxophone, became a big hit for The Sound Dimension Band.
Green Moon, a beautiful mid-tempo, kette drum-dominated instrumental, is shrouded in controversy insofar as the performer is concerned, but Bennett vehemently asserted that he blew the saxophone in the recording.
There were others, including his well-executed albums Poolside Reggae and Victory, which showcase a variety of ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub selections.
Bennett, who earned the moniker ‘Deadly Headley’ after one of his bewildering performances elicited the comment ‘boy, what a deadly sound’, remains one of the most unsung heroes of Jamaican music.
Jamaica Observer: Howard Campbell
Felix “Deadly Headley” Bennett, a prolific saxophonist who played on Bob Marley’s first song, died on Sunday at age 85.
His daughter, Carol Bennett, said he passed away at home in Rollington Town, East Kingston. He had suffered from hypertension for years and was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Born in Central Kingston, Bennett learned music at the Alpha Boys School. Leaving after 12 years at age 16, he played in several bands and was an established session musician by the early 1960s.
He was a member of producer Leslie Kong’s house band in February 1962 when a 16-year-old singer named Robert Nesta Marley approached Kong to record songs for his Beverley’s Records.
Kong produced Marley’s first song, Judge Not, with Bennett on sax.
Bennett played on other Kong classics, including Derrick Morgan’s Forward March and Hurricane Hattie done by Jimmy Cliff, another teen singer destined for greatness.
Throughout the 1960s, he played on some of the biggest songs from the ska and rocksteady eras, including Delroy Wilson’s
Dancing Mood which featured his signature solo.
Other noted songs Bennett played on are I Want To Go Back Home (Bob Andy); Dancing Shoes — The Wailers; I’m The Toughest — Peter Tosh; Love I Can Feel — John Holt; I Shall Be Released — The Heptones; and Full Up — Soul Defenders.
He lived in Canada for several years before returning to Jamaica in the mid-1970s. His career got a second wind during the early 1980s when he recorded and toured with the Roots Radics Band.
It was during that period that he got the nickname ‘Deadly Headley’. In 2005, he was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government for his contribution to Jamaican music.
Headley Bennett is survived by a brother, two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
— Howard Campbell