For nearly fifty years, legendary guitarist Dwight Pinkney has been a major force in Jamaican music and the development of reggae guitar. Born in Maidstone in the parish of Manchester in 1945, Dwight’s initial guitar inspiration was cowboy movie star Gene Autry. Later influences were Jamaican jazz guitar great Ernest Ranglin and Wes Montgomery. Since his family lacked the funds to buy a guitar, Dwight made his first one by hand, determining the fret spacing by measuring the neck on another instrument.
Dwight later moved to Kingston and started a band, the Sharks, in 1965. The new group promptly became the house band at the legendary producer Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label. During their brief tenure with Dodd, the Sharks backed another young Studio One group, Bob Marley’s original Wailers. Dwight’s homemade guitar can be heard on the intro of the original version of “Put It On.” While at Studio One the Sharks also recorded one of Dwight’s songs, the timeless reggae classic “How Could I Live.” Mislabeled “How Can I Leave,” Dennis Brown’s rerecording of this song in 1978 became one of the biggest crossover hits of the seventies in 1978.
Despite their early recording successes, the Sharks left Studio One in 1966 for a more lucrative hotel residency in the Bahamas, then returned to Jamaica’s hotel circuit for two years after their contract was up. Growning dissatisfied creatively with the hotel grind, Dwight and Mikey Williams, another circuit refugee, hatched plans for a new group, Zap Pow, that would play its own original music and perform its own shows, not just provide music for dancing.
Zap Pow was an immediate hit. Recording its first album, the classic “Mystic Moods,” in 1970, the group was named the top band in Jamaica the next year. Future stars such as Third World and Inner Circle paid close attention from the audience, and drew inspiration from Zap Pow to start their own original bands. The next milestone was the anthemic 1972 smash hit “This Is Reggae Music,” which was the title track for the Island Records anthology that introduced much of the world outside of Jamaica to reggae for the first time. That year Zap Pow also appeared in the cult classic movie “Smile Orange.” Releasing a second album on Island, “Zap Pow Now,” the band continued its dominance of the Jamaican scene, toured Mexico and Canada, and was the highest paid band in Jamaica.
Not satisfied with his band’s success, Dwight continued to study, taking an arranging course with the great jazz musician Melba Liston at the Jamaica School of Music, where he eventually became a part-time instructor. Zap Pow began to wind down operations as Bob Marley borrowed their horn section for his touring band in the late Seventies, and Dwight began planning his next move.
It was not long in coming. A raw young rhythm section called Roots Radics had begun making a name for itself in the Kingston studios, filling the gap left by the touring success of the Wailers and Sly and Robbie. Dwight, who had continued to play sessions while in Zap Pow, began sitting in with them and the combination was magic. His expertise smoothed off the rough edges of the band while not compromising their street feel. Roots Radics became the dominant studio rhythm section of the first half of the Eighties, recording hundreds of hits for nearly every prominent reggae artist. Superstar Gregory Isaacs enlisted them as his road band, and they cut the career-defining “Night Nurse” as well as dozens of other hits for him.
The legendary Bunny Wailer also hired Dwight and the Roots Radics for sessions and concerts, including his 1983 Madison Square Garden US debut.
With his stock high in the industry, Dwight started his own label, Abengg, in 1985 and immediately scored two #1 hits, “Nengeh Nengeh” under the name Brother Dee, and “Bigger Boss” with Shirley McLean. Along with Roots Radics, he then began recording and touring with the great roots vocal trio Israel Vibration. A number one album, “On The Rock,” followed, and Dwight has been working off and on with Israel Vibration ever since.
In 1990 he opened his own Abengg studio, producing a steady stream of top artists in between touring and recording for Israel Vibration, Bunny Wailer, and whoever else needed a hot guitarist. In 1997 he received his first Grammy for his work on Bunny’s “Hall of Fame” album. (Other Grammy recordings followed: Sly and Robbie’s “Friends” in 1999 and Toots and the Maytals’ “True Love” in 2005.)
In 1999 Dwight’s career took a whole new direction. Collaborating with Chalice bassist Keith Francis, an old friend from the hotel circuit, Dwight released his first solo instrumental album, “Memories By The Score.” This collection of covers of Sixties reggae classics was a surprise hit, selling well all over the world and gathering several major awards. Dwight followed it up with a surprising choice: his next album, “Music For All Occasions,” contained reggae instrumental versions of songs for every possible occasion.
Dwight then followed up with another look at Jamaican classics. “More Jamaican Memories” in 2002 was the next move, followed by 2009’s “Home Grown Jamaican,” “Pinkney Picks Marley Melodies” in 2010, and his 2011 release, “Dwight Pinkney Plays The Ventures.”
As the solo albums came in a steady stream, so did the awards. “Memories By The Score” won an award as the Best Instrumental Album of 2000 at the US Reggae/Soca Awards, and the Jamaica Federation of Musicans Awards in 2000, and was selected as Best Reggae Release for 2000 by UK Tower Records. In 2002 Dwight received the Roland Alphonso Memorial Award in Toronto, Canada. In 2007, Zap Pow, including Dwight, received a Prime Minister of Jamaica Award for outstanding contributions to the development of the Jamaican music industry. In 2008 Dwight received the Martins International Award of Honour and performed at the awards ceremony at the Apollo Theatre in New York. And most recently, in 2011 Dwight won both a Tribute to The Great Award of Honour and a JARIA Musician’s Honour Award.
Now into his sixth decade of performing, writing, and recording Jamaican music at the highest level, Dwight Pinkney shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. When not touring with Bunny Wailer, Israel Vibration or playing sessions Dwight keeps busy producing in his studio