b. 7 December 1944, Montego Bay, Jamaica, West Indies. Winston ‘Niney’ Holness, aka The Observer, is one of the great characters of reggae music. Nicknamed ‘Niney’ when he lost a thumb in a workshop accident, he has been a singer, producer, engineer, DJ, fixer, arranger, manager and virtually everything else in reggae. Although Holness had organized bands to play at school dances in the 50s, it was not until he came under the tutelage of producer Bunny Lee in the late 60s that he achieved his entry into the professional music business. In 1967/8 he worked with Lee Perry for Joe Gibbs, taking over when Perry left in mid-1968 to start his own label. By 1970 he had set up his own operation, with his first production entitled ‘Mr Brown’/‘Everybody Bawling’ by DJs Dennis Alcapone and Lizzy. It sold modestly, but his next record, ‘Blood & Fire’, released in December 1970, was an immediate smash, eventually selling 30, 000 copies in Jamaica alone. The tune propelled Holness into the front rank of the new ‘rebel’ vanguard, establishing him as a producer fully capable of building original rhythms. The record bore a slight resemblance to Bob Marley’s ‘Duppy Conqueror’ but far outsold it, and the pair clashed when Marley heard the record.
Holness productions of the early 70s were characterized by their sparse simplicity and heaviness, often cultural/political in sentiment, and frequently espousing Rasta themes. During 1973 he began an association with Dennis Brown, with the results released initially by Joe Gibbs, but later that year records began appearing on Holness’ Observer label. Again Holness had changed the beat, and Brown became the hottest singer of 1974. The local hits of the period included ‘Westbound Train’ (1973), ‘Cassandra’, ‘I Am The Conqueror’, and ‘No More Will I Roam’ (all 1974). Brown’s sessions with Holness constitute a high point in the development of reggae during the 70s. Holness also issued records by Gregory Isaacs, Michael Rose, Junior Delgado, Sang Hugh, Horace Andy, Delroy Wilson, Leroy Smart, Junior Byles and Cornell Campbell. He issued a dub album - Dubbing With The Observer - mixed by King Tubby’s, and DJ music by the likes of U-Roy, Big Youth, I. Roy, Dillinger and Trinity. At the end of the 70s Holness vanished from view, only to materialize in Paris in 1982. During the mid-80s he worked at Kingston’s Channel One studio in an unspecified capacity, and issued a few singles and an album. He was next spotted in New York, apparently retired, although he went on to release his first new work in years, with recordings by Frankie Paul and Andrew Tosh.