Winston Grennan

* true originator of the "one-drop" reggae rhythm *

Winston Grennan (16 September 1944 – 27 October 2000) is believed to have been the only drummer who would play with his cymbals behind the drum kit. He is the true originator of the "one-drop" reggae rhythm.

Authorized Biography

Winston Grennan was born in Duckenfield, in the Parish of St. Thomas, near the southeast coast of Jamaica. He grew up in nearby Dalvey, very close to the sea, to rice and cane fields, and in the midst of a musical family. His mother taught piano, and he learned it very young. His uncles, the Scott brothers, were jazz musicians, who played all around the area. Winston followed them to shows whenever possible, even at a very young age. He and his brother Craswell played "drums", first pots and pans, until they started getting holes in them, which did not sit well with their mother. When the dishes became off limits, they fabricated homemade drums from wood and whatever else they could find. When their mother, Miss Kitty, went off to church events on Saturdays, the two brothers would entertain the neighborhood and passers by in their yard. Apparently they used to draw quite a crowd. Winston's mother wanted him to be a doctor, and often frowned on the drumming and playing.

Winston's mother, Kutura Scott Richards, was Jamaican, and his father, Eugene Grennan, was A Panamanian Jamaican. His parents were never married. He was raised by his mother, and his stepfather John Richards. He found out about his birth father late in his teens, and eventually changed his name to Winston Grennan. There are many, many recordings that he did under the name Winston Richards as both a drummer and a singer. These include early Toots recordings and one hit record in England that an unscrupulous producer had recorded in Jamaica. This producer told him the tapes were no good. Winston sang his hit song, Joe the Killer (or Joe the Lover) and played on it as well. In the 70's, he got a call from a friend who said, "hey man, you got a hit record over here", which Winston knew nothing about. He never even got a copy and never saw a dime from it. He re-recorded this song in the 1990's, yet to be released.

Winston actually began as a studio singer, and keyboardist with Bobby Aitken and the Caribbeats. He realized that in those times, singers were making even less money than the backing musicians, and at the same time, he made the switch from keys to drums during a chance no-show by the drummer of the Caribbeats in Mandeville. After filling in for the drummer that fateful night, Bobby Aitken told him not to bother again with the keyboards, and to stay with the drums. That advice, and Winston's decision to follow it, would change the course of musical history forever.

Winston began his professional career in the early 1960's, and quickly became the most sought-after drummer for this island's studio recording sessions. Albums produced at Studio One, Federal Recording Studios, Pottinger's, Chin Randy Studio, Dynamic and Treasure Isle Studios (and others -- basically all of Kingston's recording studios) feature Grennan's distinctive signature style; his rhythms are found on the majority of the recordings produced in Jamaica between 1963 and 1973 when he came to America to study jazz.

Winston left college (the equivalent of high school) after one year and while working stints briefly as a bus conductor, a truck driver, and a 30-0 undefeated boxer, he quickly became the most sought-after drummer for Kingston's studio recording sessions. Albums produced at Studio One, Federal Recording Studios, Pottinger's, Chin Randy Studio, Dynamic and Treasure Isle Studios (and others -- basically all of Kingston's recording studios) feature Grennan's distinctive signature style; his rhythms are found on the majority of the recordings produced in Jamaica between 1963 and 1973 when he came to America to study jazz.

"Because I wouldn't leave Jamaica then," Grennan remembers, "the American singers would come down (to Jamaica) to get my beat. Paul Simon, Peter Paul and Mary, The Rolling Stones, Robin Kenyatta -- they came down for me to record for them. So many, many sessions -- sometimes I'd be in three recording studios in one day. And I had the honor to play with Dizzy (Gillespie) at the National Arena in Jamaica -- the concert was on TV and made all the papers. A few years later, I played with Dizzy at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and that was great, too."

Grennan has provided the beat for hundreds and hundreds of singles and albums, recorded in Jamaica, Europe and in the US. His credits in Jamaica include many of the songs recorded by Toots (Hibbert) and Jimmy Cliff between 1963 and 1973, and (uncredited until the boxed-set "Songs Of Freedom" was released in 1993) and several Bob Marley albums, including the mega-hits "One Love," "I Shot The Sheriff," "Rock My Boat," "Three Little Birds" and "Concrete Jungle", as well as "Small Axe" and "Duppy Conqueror", and all the other tracks on the LP "The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers". Rereleased albums of Jamaica's "oldies" showcase Grennan's drumming, but more often than not, as is the case for other musicians on the tracks, he hasn't been credited.

Grennan realizes that, "those who truly know the music of Jamaica recognize my style, my technique; they know I was drumming on those songs even if my name isn't listed. They know I was there involved in reggae music from the beginning, and the contributions I made to reggae music. Just ask anyone who was there in Jamaica those years. My name is stilled called in Jamaica, and I am well-recognized when I go down to record with Toots."

Winston is the true originator of the "one-drop" reggae rhythm that gained international recognition when record company mogul/producer Chris Blackwell began promoting Bob Marley. Prior to 1972 and reggae music becoming a world-wide phenomena, Grennan recorded "hundreds and hundreds of songs, hits after hits" in Jamaica for Toots, Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Judy Mowatt, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown -- virtually every Jamaican singer and group (The Clarendonians, The Cables, The Ethiopians, The Techniques, Byron Lee and The Dragonnaires, The Heptones, The I-Threes, The Melodians, and scores of others) who stepped up to a microphone in Jamaica between 1963 and 1973. His discography from those years in Jamaica -- what he remembered -- is lengthy and impressive. In those years, he and his musical colleagues recorded daily, nonstop, and there are hundreds of songs he didn't remember, until sometimes hearing himself, and his signature licks. He never kept a list of artists or songs-playing was his job, and his first love.

After being invited to the States by many of the visiting recording artists, Winston finally made a plan to broaden his horizons, and hoped to study Jazz (which he did for a short time in NYC). He carried his new passport under the driver's seat of his car for many weeks, before making his move. Jimmy Cliff was about to go on tour, and Winston said to him that he was sorry, but couldn't go. The next day he drove a friend to the airport, gave away his car, and flew to New York City. Once in America in 1973, Winston immediately starting recording with jazz saxophonist Robin Kenyatta, (his first rehearsal was the day after he landed) and soon found himself called for recording sessions with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Clive Stevens, Deodato, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Mann, Michael Kamen, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Tomorrow's Children, Garland Jeffreys, Karl Berger - and many others too numerous to list. Grennan's sound can be heard on "Mother And Child Reunion" (Paul Simon), "Roundabout" (Peter Paul and Mary), "Goat's Head Soup" (The Rolling Stones) all recorded in Jamaica. "In The Shade Of A Tree," "Blue Horizon" (Eric Gale), "Terra Nova" and "Stompin at the Savoy" (Robin Kenyatta), "Brainchild" (Clive Stevens) and many more were recorded in the United States. Grennan's "licks" have appeared on CBS, Atlantic, Elektra, Island, JVC, MGM, Motown, RCA and Warner Bros. labels. He performed in venues ranging from Madison Square Garden, London's Palladium, The Paradise Theatre and The Ritz in Paris; in Japan, Australia and in Africa, and performed at the Montreux, Nice and Norway Jazz Festivals many times. Grennan is endorsed by Sonor Drums, Sabian Cymbals, and Pro-Mark Drum Sticks.

Winston Grennan has a few movie credits to his name, too. He performed his original song, "Savior," for "NINE AND A HALF WEEKS", the movie that established Kim Bassinger and Mickey Rourke (unfortunately, the song did not appear on the soundtrack, but is on Winston's "Clean Slate" CD) Filmed on location in Norway during a concert, Winston is featured in Kid Creole's FRESH FRUIT IN FOREIGN PLACES (soon to be re-released) and he performed and acted in Perry Henzell and Chris Blackwell's film, THE HARDER THEY COME. Winston's drumming is also on every track of the same soundtrack album, which is listed as one of the top 500 albums, and top 15 soundtracks of all time, by Vanity Fair Magazine. Although filmed in Jamaica in the early 70's, THE HARDER THEY COME continues to be one of the most popular films ever to come out of Jamaica. Two of his songs are featured in the 1995 movie, SLEEPY HEADS, by cinematographer Yoshifumi Hosoya, whose films have been selected for inclusion in -- and won major awards in international film festivals around the world. Winston made a live musical appearance in the soon to be released movie SOHO, filmed in NYC in 1999.

Grennan was also the original drummer for Kid Creole and the Coconuts, an American-based group that shot to fame in the early 1980's. He did at least two and several tours with Garland Jeffreys in the late 70's, including the highly acclaimed "Ghostwriter" LP. Breaking away from his own album's recording schedule and recording for others, WINSTON GRENNAN SKA ROCKS BAND backed renowned Jamaican singer Pat Kelly and The Clarendonians, King Bravo and others. He was the primary drummer for Toots and the Maytals for 37 years. He was hoping to do a jazz album in the future, stating that "jazz in my blood. I was raised in a family of jazz musicians, so it's natural for me."

In his last year, Winston recorded drums on several tracks of the Martha's Vineyard local reggae anthology "Back To the Island", produced by Peter Simon, the well known photographer and reggae aficionado. Winston also sang the title track on this compilation, "Island Vibrations", a hauntingly sweet tribute to island life and love written by Vineyarder Mike Benjamin. Winston played the drums and did some vocals for Anthony Pierre's new CD, "Obeah Accompong- Mind Revolution" also recorded in late winter 2000. Winston's own "Clean Slate" album, consisting of 8 tracks recorded in 1999 and an additional four re-released from 1980's archives, was released on Niki records in March of 2000. He also recorded a number of new tracks, and continued working on the "Time Flies" album, all of which will be released in the future.

In April of 2000, Winston was diagnosed with "incurable" lung and bone cancer. The treatments that had the greatest likelihood of curing him or prolonging his life were very expensive, and were only available in Mexico and Germany. Although a great effort was made on his behalf, Winston never received the sought treatments, because of their prohibitive expense. Winston Grennan passed away on October 27, 2000, with his wife, on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. He was 56 years old.

A recipient of a Certificate of Appreciation for Music Development for his "pioneering efforts in music" from Jamaica's Prime Minister, Winston Grennan was nominated to the Jamaican Music Hall of Fame. He has posthumously been awarded a Special Honor by the International Reggae and World Music Association, and Outstanding Musical Contribution by the Jamaica Federation of Musicians.

Winston Grennan is believed to have been the only drummer who would play with his cymbals behind the drum kit. It has been said that anyone in the world who has access to a radio has heard the rhythms from this gifted and talented musician. "Yeah, that's probably true," confirmed Grennan, "but I've no mind with that. I just want to continue making music. Hopefully they'll listen to what I have to say- help each other, educate our children, don't be prejudiced against one another and live right." Winston's music, and the one-drop beat that he created, have gone far around the world, and changed the course of musical history forever. For a life well-lived, and for Winston's wonderful gifts to the Musical World, we give thanks.

"Swegway" music, as he likes to call it, is more than reggae - it is a blend of many kinds of music that Winston has played over his distinguished career- jazz, rock, R&B, ska, and reggae- elements that add freshness and vitality to complement the traditional feel of the reggae grooves...

-- Authorized Biography (courtesy of Ellie Hiteshew Grennan) --

"Winston told me he wanted the music to live on. I tell him now in my prayers and meditation that the music he made can't help but live on - it is everywhere - here in Jamaica and all around the world...."

One love,

Ellie