Garnett Silk was one of the most promising young talents that had emerged through the 1980s dancehall scene, before establishing himself as one of Jamaica’s most powerful singers. He started off his career as a young deejay and ended it one of the most promising and powerful singers Jamaica has ever seen. Before his life was cut short in 1996, Garnett Silk seemed to be on the brink of superstardom and had taken Jamaica by storm.
Born Garnett Damion Smith in Manchester, Jamaica on the 2nd of April 1966, Garnett Silk had been destined to pursue a career in music since he was a child. First taking the stage at age 12, under the name Little Bimbo.
His skill at such a young age was so impressive that he quickly became a regular at local soundsystems. First at Soul Remembrance, and then towards the beginning of the 1980s, at Pepper’s Disco. Which was swiftly followed by regular appearances at Stereophonic and then Destiny Outernational.
It was at Destiny Outernational, where Silk met Tony Rebel for the first time. Rebel as being a Manchester native, was also making a name for himself at local soundsystems. Tony Rebel would go on to have a huge influence on Garnett Silk’s career.
Garnett Silk was still a teenager when he recorded his first song, recording ‘Ram Dance Master’ in 1985, it is believed that there may be songs that predate or are recorded around the same time as this, but nothing has surfaced yet.
Garnett Silk’s first official single was released two years later, whilst still performing under the name Little Bimbo, the single ‘Problems Everywhere’ was recorded with producer Delroy Collins. ‘Problems Everywhere’ would later go on to feature on the posthumous ‘Journey’ album, which is a whole album of recordings by the two around this time.
1987, saw Garnett Silk, at this point still under the name Little Bimbo linking up with Sugar Minott recording the single ‘No Disrespect’ for Minott’s Youth Promotion Label. At the time Tony Rebel was the star deejay for Minott’s label, which lead to Silk and Rebel linking back up.
Tony Rebel and Garnett Silk then went on to perform at soundsystems as a duo. The ‘Garnett Silk Meets the Conquering Lion: A Dub Plate Selection’ album dates back to around this period, featuring an exclusive set of Dub Plates which Silk cut for the soundsystem.
Tony Rebel, a devout Rasta, eventually converted Garnett Silk to the religion with the help of dub poet Yasus Afari, who was a close friend of both Silk and Rebel.
In 1989, the legendary singing star and producer Derrick Morgan, brought both Tony Rebel and Garnett Silk into Bunny Lee’s Dunhaney Park, to record them as a duo, but also to record them individually.
Whilst working with Garnett Silk, who was still performing under the name Little Bimbo, Derrick Morgan sat him down and gave him possibly the most influential piece of advice in Garnett Silk’s career, telling him to stop deejayng and start singing.
Heartbeat’s ‘Tony Rebel meets Garnett Silk in a dancehall conference’ album is a compilation of these recording with Morgan, and shows the beginning of Silk’s transition from toasting to singing.
Over the next year, Garnett Silk began working with a variety of producers including King Tubby, Donovan Germain and Prince Jammy, before hooking up with Steely & Clevie in 1990.
Silk signed a contract with the production team and recorded a whole album worth of songs. However, only one was ever released during the singer’s lifetime with ‘We Could Belong Together’ a duet with Chevelle Franklin.
Discouraged from his experiences, Silk returned to Manchester to focus on songwriting, often partnering with Anthony ‘Fire’ Rochester.
This period under Steely & Clevie wasn’t a total waste, as it saw Silk dropping his old moniker Little Bimbo, with his new name, referring to his silky smooth tones when singing.
During his time in Manchester, another run in with Tony Rebel, led to Rebel introducing him to Courtney Cole, who owned the Roof International label. Silk would go on to record various singles at his Ocho Rios studio, amongst them being hits ‘Mama’, ‘Seven Spanish Angels’ and his incredible cover of Johnny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. Roof International would go on to bundle up these singles and other material recorded around this time and produce the ‘Nothing Can Divide Us’ album which would be internationally distributed by VP Records.
By 1992, Garnett Silk was back in Kingston with producer Bobby Digital and working on his debut album ‘It’s Growing’. ‘It’s Growing’ was split between cultural, romantic and spiritual songs and went on to become one of the best selling albums in Jamaica in 1992. With standout tracks in ‘It’s Growing’, ‘Move On Slow’, ‘Come To Me’, ‘Bless Me’ and ‘Keep Them Talking’, ‘It’s Growing’ was Silk’s only ‘true’ album released whilst he was alive and really just shows the amazing talent that we all lost.
Over the next two years, Silk would go on to work with almost every big producer in Jamaica, both on his own and in partnership with Tony Rebel.
He cut a number of songs with Prince Jammy, including the incredible songs ‘Fill Us Up With Your Mercy’ and ‘Lord Watch Over Our Shoulders’.
‘Lord Watch Over Our Shoulders’ titled a 1994 compilation released by the Greensleeves label in the UK.
Gold, released by the UK Charm label in 1993, bundled up more hits from this period. Including the incredible inspirational track ‘Zion In a Vision’, a Jamaican number one produced by Jack Scorpio, as well as Silk’s first international hit ‘Hello Mama Africa’ produced by Richard Bell.
Garnett Silk has also recorded incredible tracks with Sly & Robbie, including the deeply spiritual ‘Thank You, Jah’ and ‘Green Light’.
Garnett Silk’s prolific recording pace eventually caught up with him, when the signer collapsed at a show at the Ritz in New York. The exhausted singer was forced to cancel all his upcoming appearances for six months.
Garnett Silk bounced back in 1994 and once again signed with Steely & Clevie and cut the hit ‘Love is the Answer’.
‘Fight Back’ produced by and featuring Richie Stephens followed.
Garnett Silk then signed an international distribution deal with Atlantic Records. He then began work on his second album at Tuff Gong Studios with producer Errol Brown and some of the best session band members in Jamaica. He had recorded ten songs for the album and it was nearing completion, when he decided to take a trip home to see his mother.
Silk has borrowed two guns from his attorney after his home has been burgled, Silk did not know how to use the guns, but felt like he needed them for his own protection. Whilst sitting with a couple of his friends at his mother’s house, one of his friends offered to show him how they worked. When his friend began to handle the gun it misfired, hitting a propane tank and setting the house ablaze. The singer, his friends and his two brothers initially all made it out of the house safely. Only to find out that Silk’s mother was still trapped inside the house. Silk ran in to save his mother, but it was too late, both Garnett Silk and his mother perished in the fire.
In 2000, Atlantic Records released ‘The Definitive Collection’ a two-set CD showcasing the ten tracks the singer had recorded during sessions for his second album. Garnett Silk is one of the most promising and talented artists to ever come out of Jamaica, who we lost far far too soon. His prolific recording has given us a plethora of material, but we will never know how far he would have been able to go as an artist. He will always be remembered for his namesake, his incredibly smooth vocals and incredible ability as an artist.
Check out more music from the incredible Garnett Silk below.