Winston Grennan was a famous Jamaican drummer whose work spanned over some of the most iconic times in music history.
Grennan was born in Duckenfield St. Thomas on September 16th, 1944. He was exposed to music at an early age as he was brought up in a musically gifted household as his mother played piano and his uncles, The Scott brothers were jazz musicians. He and his brother Craswell both began playing drums with various items around the house, much to his mother's displeasure. This prompted them to make their own drum sets which they fashioned out of wood and they practiced on these on Sundays when their mother left for church. They began to attract crowds as their talents grew.
When Grennan was old enough he whole-heartedly entered the music industry starting out as a studio singer and keyboardist with Bobby Aitken and the Caribbeats. However, he soon realised that the backing musicians made even more money than singers, so he made the switch from keys to drums when a chance opportunity arose by the absence of the band's drummer. That night Aitken advised him to stick to the drums, and this inevitably changed the course of musical history.
Grennan soon became the most sought-after drummer in Kingston and his beats were featured in numerous albums produced at Studio One, Pottinger's, Chin Randy Studio, Federal Recording Studios and many more. His rhythms were found on the majority of records produced in Jamaica between 1962 and 1973. During that time he played on sessions for notable Jamaican acts such as Toots and The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, and Bob Marley and The Wailers. He even worked on recordings for international acts who sought him out in Jamaica, since at the time, he refused to leave the island. These included Paul Simon, Eddie Kendricks, Booker T and the MGs, and Peter Paul & Mary.
It was in 1973 that he moved to the US due to his passion to study jazz. Grennan immediately started recording with jazz saxophonist Robin Kenyatta (the day after he landed) and quickly found himself in recording sessions with people such as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Mann, Deodato, Michael Kamen and Garland Jeffreys. He ended up performing in venues that ranged from Madison Square Garden, London's Palladium, The Ritz in Paris, Japan, Australia and even Africa. His tracks have appeared on CBS, Atlantic, Eleaktra, Island, JVC, RCA and Warner Bros. labels.
During this time his music also appeared in a few movies such as "Nine and a Half Weeks" ( "Saviour"), "The Harder They Come" and "Sleepy Heads". Grennan's work appears on every song in the soundtrack for The Harder They Come which went on to be cited as one of the top 500 albums and top 15 soundtracks of all time (Vanity Fair Magazine).
Winston Grennan was the original drummer for Kid Creole and The Coconuts, a famous American-based band. He also worked on two albums with Garland Jeffreys in the 70's, but soon broke away to form his own band known as Winston Grennan Ska Rocks Band which operated for over 15 years backing local Jamaican artistes. The band was popular for playing "Swegway" music which was an incorporation of ska, reggae, rock, jazz and R&B.
Grennan is most famous for creating the "One Drop" beat in the late 1960's which became the foundation for reggae music as it evolved out of ska and rocksteady. He also developed the "Flyers" beat in the 60's and this went on to become the rhythm that became known as disco in the US.
In April of 2000, Grennan was diagnosed with the incurable metastatic lung and bone cancer. He quickly succumbed to the illness and he passed away on October 27th of the same year. Grennan's influence however will live on as it is said that his reach was so wide, that anyone with access to a radio is familiar with Grennan's work, even thought they might not know it.
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