Winston Holness, better known as Niney the Observer (born George Boswell, 1951, Montego Bay), is a Jamaican record producer and singer who was a key figure in the creation of many classic reggae recordings dating from the 1970s and early 1980s.
Holness gained his nickname “Niney” after losing a thumb in a workshop accident. In the latter half of the 1960s he worked as an engineer at KG records, where he began producing. His first release was his own composition “Come on Baby” issued on his Destroyer label. He moved on to work with Bunny Lee in 1967, then for Lynford Anderson’s studio, then working for Joe Gibbs as chief sound engineer, replacing his friend Lee “Scratch” Perry. While working for Gibbs he produced Dennis Alcapone and Lizzy’s “Mr. Brown”, and played a major role in launching the career of Dennis Brown. After leaving Gibbs’ setup, his first major success as a producer was “Blood & Fire” in December 1970, initially released in a pressing of 200 on his Destroyer label, but reissued the following year on his Observer label, and going on to sell over 30,000 copies in Jamaica. Inspired by Perry’s nickname of “The Upsetter”, Holness adopted “The Observer”, using the name for his new Observer label, and the name of his house band, The Observers (actually the Soul Syndicate). Several singles followed, some reusing the “Blood & Fire” rhythm, including Big Youth’s “Fire Bunn”.
In the early 1970s, Holness became one of Jamaica’s most sought after producers, with the likes of Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson, The Heptones, Johnny Clarke, Slim Smith, Jacob Miller, Junior Delgado, and Freddie McGregor all using his services. He also continued to record himself, on collaborations with Dennis Alcapone, Max Romeo, and Lee Perry. By the mid-1970s, he was also working with Ken Boothe, Junior Byles, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy, I-Roy, and Dillinger. The late 1970s saw him still very active as a producer, but his output in the early 1980s was significantly less after relocating to France. He re-emerged in 1982 with the Ital Dub Observer Style album and returned to Kingston in 1983, taking on the role of house producer for the Hitbound label at Channel One Studios. In this capacity he was one of the first to work with Beenie Man, and also produced Third World and Sugar Minott. In the mid-1980s, he relocated to New York City, returning to Kingston again in 1988, and working with Yami Bolo, Frankie Paul, Andrew Tosh, and Junior Byles. He began an association with Heartbeat Records, working on reissues of much of his back catalogue, as well as new recordings. He continued to produce new material through the 1990s.
In March 2013, he opened his own Observer Soundbox studio on Lyndhurst Road in Kingston.