Greenwich Farm roots producer Bertram Brown has passed away.
Bertram Brown, a significant name when it comes to roots music produced in the late 1970s, died on Monday morning September 8th 2008 at the age of 58. He was the producer of many roots classics and worked with people like Prince Alla, Earl Zero, Rod Taylor, and Philip Frazer to name only four.
FOUNDER OF THE ACCLAIMED FREEDOM SOUNDS LABEL.
It was at 14 East Avenue in the ghetto of Greenwich Town, Western Kingston, that Bertram Brown ran the Freedom Sounds setup. The story of Bertram Brown and Freedom Sounds began in 1975 when the label founder/producer took singer Philip Frazer into the studio with the local band, Soul Syndicate, led by guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith. They recorded a tune called "This Time Won't Be The Last Time", which then became the first release on the Freedom Sounds label.
Over the next five years Bertram Brown would record some of the best roots music of the decade, mostly with singers who were based in in his own area. They included roots wailers such as the aforementioned Philip Frazer, Sylvan White, Rod Taylor, Prince Alla, and Earl Zero. Rod Taylor cut two of is most important his for Brown, "Ethiopian Kings" and "In The Right Way", both of which were helped by the rugged Soul Syndicate riddims employed, as well as their deadly dub sides. Prince Alla, with whom Bertram Brown had grown up from boyhood days. When Prince Alla came back to Greenwich Farm after having lived in the Rasta camp of Prince Emmanuel Edwards at Bull Bay for six years, Brown persuaded him to begin serious recordings. It resulted in a series of utterly convincing sufferer's laments such as "Stone", "Bucket Bottom", and "Lot's Wife", by the most consistently successful artist recording for Bertram Brown.
In an interview with Steve Milne of Full Watts magazine, Earl Zero recalls... "Bertram Brown used to be a foreman, like a bossman to make money and ting. And him used to have a liquor store where him distribute beer and stuff for the neighborhood. So he have someting going on all de time because when dance keep, people drink beer." Greenwich Farm resident and devout Rastaman Earl Zero released a string of consummate roots singles for Bertram Brown's label including "Shackles & Chains", "The Coming Of Jah", and "Pure & Clean".
Bertram Brown used Channel One studio at Maxfield Avenue and Randy's on North Parade for his recording sessions with his artists and the Soul Sydicate band. For mixing he used King Tubby at Dromilly Avenue in Waterhouse. He had employed the dub originator King Tubby himself for all the version sides on his Freedom Sounds label. Often Bertram Brown and friends would have to lock themselves in with Tubby - the studio was located near to a gully which marked the boundary between two warring political zones. The heavy Soul Syndicate riddims -- in contrast to the reworkings of classics utilized for productions from Channel One, Joe Gibbs and also Greenwich Farm based Errol "Don" Mais, all originally purpose-built for the songs -- inspired King Tubby to return to vintage form. Versions of many of the best-loved Freedom Sounds hits are gathered on the Blood & Fire release "Freedom Sounds In Dub", including the stunning dub to Prince Alla's "Stone".
When you listen to singles and albums released on Bertram Brown's Freedom Sounds imprint, you'll hear intense, creative and powerful roots music. Brown didn't have an extensive catalog and thus he only played a minor part in the history of Jamaican Music... however what he contributed is stamped with class all over.
Sources: "The Rough Guide To Reggae", "Full Watts #5 - 1998", and Steve Barrow's sleevenotes of "Freedom Sounds In Dub".