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Artist Hall of Fame

Ken BootheText by Harry Hawks

Ken Boothe, “one of the quintessential Jamaican soul voices”, possesses the unerring ability to impart heartfelt emotion to even the most innocent, innocuous songs…
Date Added: Jul 10, 2015, Date Updated: Mar 23, 2018 Copyright (C) 2019 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Real Name: Ken Boothe
Mar 22, 1948 -
Place of Birth: Denham Town
Kingston
Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Alton Ellis
Stranger Cole
Jackie Mittoo
Leroy Sibbles
Roland Alphonso
Don Drummond
Tommy Mccook
Johnny Moore
Ken Boothe was born 22nd March 1948 in Denham Town, Kingston, Jamaica where he was raised in a musical family and he "attributes his musical interests and abilities to his mother and older sister". Ken won his first singing contest at the age of eight while still attending Denham Primary Elementary School and was soon completely captivated by the music he heard on Kingston's sound systems and juke boxes. Local vocalist Owen Gray was an early influence but the "musical greats", notably The Drifters, Mahalia Jackson, Wilson Pickett, The Temptations and Otis Redding, were also important in helping to form Ken Boothe's impassioned approach. He made his first recording in 1963 alongside his neighbour, Wilburn 'Stranger' Cole(Stranger Cole), as one half of the vocal duo 'Stranger & Ken' for sound system controller Sir Mike. 'Hush Baby' was a moderate hit and Stranger & Ken then recorded for Vincent 'Randy' Chin and Duke Reid's Treasure Isle before moving on to Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd) at Studio One in 1965.

The hits, including 'World's Fair' and 'All Your Friends', started happening for Stranger & Ken and 'Artibella' was a veritable smash in 1965; after his barnstorming performance on 'Artibella' Coxsone decided that Ken should become a solo singer. He sang some superb transitional ska into rock steady numbers including the defiant 'Crying Over You', also known as 'You're No Good', and the vengeful, though supposedly conciliatory, 'Come Running Back': "I will forgive you but I'll never forget...". After recording 'Calling' and 'Paradise' with Roy Shirley for Sonia Pottinger's Gay Feet label Ken Boothe found his own voice with the arrival of rock steady where the gentler, more measured style of rhythms allowed Jamaican vocalists to show what they were really capable of. One of the first ever rock steady recordings, Roy Shirley's 'Hold Them' for Joe Gibbs(Joel Gibson), was a Number One hit in Jamaica in 1967 and Ken Boothe sung it over for Coxsone and renamed the song 'Feel Good'. It was the first ever seven inch release on Mr Dodd's new London based Studio One label.

His sustained success at Studio One with a string of hits including 'The Train Is Coming' with harmonies from The Wailers, 'My Heart Is Gone', 'Just Another Girl', 'Thinking', 'Moving Away' and Bob Andy's 'I Don't Want To See You Cry' earned Ken Boothe the sobriquet of 'Mr Rock Steady'. In 1967 he toured the UK as a featured vocalist, with Alton Ellis, as a member of the Studio One house band, The Soul Vendors, to great acclaim. His inimitable version of Sandie Shaw's Eurovision winner from that year, 'Puppet On A String', changed the lightweight pop song into a bitter ballad. He released three albums with Coxsone, 'Mr Rock Steady' and 'More Of Ken Boothe' in 1968 and 'A Man & His Hits' two years later... no mean achievement in an era dominated by various artists compilations. It was during his stay at Brentford Road that Ken also recorded 'Say You' for Sonia Pottinger's Gay Feet label, 'The One I Love' backed with 'You Left The Water Running' for Phil Pratt's JonTom label and 'Old Fashioned Way' for Keith Hudson which provided the legendary producer with his first hit before Ken permanently parted company with Mr Dodd in 1970.

"Ken Boothe, already dubbed with the title 'Mr Rock Steady', can now comfortably wear the double crown titled 'Mr Reggae and Mr Soul'." Louis L Gooden

As 1969 gave way to 1970 Leslie Kong's Beverley's(Beverleys) Records became regulars in the upper regions of the UK National Charts with a sterling combination of international pop sensibility and pure, undiluted Jamaican rock steady and reggae music. Desmond Dekker's 'Israelites' and 'It Miek', The Pioneers' 'Long Shot Kick The/De Bucket', The Maytals' 'Monkey Man' and The Melodians' 'Sweet Sensation' had all seen chart action after being released in London on the Pyramid and Trojan labels. Unfortunately Ken Boothe's Beverley's releases, 'Freedom Street' and 'It's Gonna Take A Miracle' which were both huge hits on the UK reggae market, inexplicably failed to cross over into the National Charts.

Ken then worked with Lloyd 'Charmers' Tyrell(Lloyd Charmers) on the duet, 'Rasta Never Fails', released on Lloyd's Splash label in 1971, and hit again with Lloyd's productions of 'Black, Gold & Green' and Syl Johnson's 'Is It Because I'm Black'. He reunited with Phil Pratt on a number of notable recordings including the reproachful 'I'm Not For Sale' and an introspective reggae recut of 'Artibella' before achieving his biggest hit so far, 'Silver Words', for Winston 'Niney The Observer' Holness in 1973.

"One of Ken Boothe's best tunes up until now is Niney's 'Silver Words'..." Bunny 'Striker' Lee(Striker Lee)

However, this association proved to be short lived and Niney began to record with his young protégé, Dennis Brown, as Ken returned to work with Lloyd Charmers under the auspices of the Khouri family's Federal Records. In the autumn of 1974 their beautiful version of 'Everything I Own', after topping the reggae charts, achieved the coveted Number One position in the UK National Charts. David Gates had originally written the song as a tribute to his late father and his group, Bread, had hit with the song in 1972 but Ken Boothe's interpretation invested the song with an irresistible, universal appeal.

"The best current selling records are the Brent Dowe LP 'Build Me Up' and the latest Ken Boothe album 'Let's Get It On' and his single 'Everything I Own'. Ken Boothe outsells John Holt. Girls mostly buy John Holt but everybody buys Ken Boothe."
Melvin 'Mellos' Dockeray quoted in 'The Reggae Underground'

Ken Boothe toured the UK for a second time but, this time, he was the undisputed star of the show and, on his return to Jamaica, detailed his experiences to the readers of Swing magazine who proudly proclaimed "Ken Boothe... the man with the golden voice breaks international ice with 'Everything I Own''". Ken's follow up 'Crying Over You', another excellent Lloyd Charmers production, also rode high in the UK National Charts but stalled just outside the Top Ten in December 1974 while Ken was also appearing on national television.

"The high point was the Annual Christmas show on BBC TV which featured all the Number One songs for 1974. On it were The Three Degrees, Ringo Starr (of The Beatles), Slade and... you know... plenty others. I was given a bligh and I'm thankful for it." Ken Boothe

In addition to countless concert appearances he has remained in tune with the ever changing styles and fashions of Jamaican music and continues to record extensively. His "bravura performances of superbly controlled emotional power" for King Jammy(Lloyd James), Hugh 'Redman' James, Tapper Zukie(Tappa Zukie) and countless others have ensured his place at the peak of his profession. His influence has been profound and in 1987 the former lead singer of Culture Club, Boy George, took 'Everything I Own' to the UK Number One position for a second time; his reading was far closer to Ken Boothe's interpretation than David Gates' original take. In 1995 Ken sung over 'The Train Is Coming' with Shaggy for the Grammy Award winning 'Boombastic' album and the song also appeared on the soundtrack of the film 'Money Train'. And, nearly half a century after Ken had originally impressed Mr Dodd with 'Artibella', the song became a worldwide smash in 2012 for Snoop Dogg. In 2003 the Jamaican government awarded Ken Boothe the Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music. Possessing "one of the most distinctive voices in Jamaican music" Ken Boothe has never, ever looked back...

Sources:
Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton: Reggae The Rough Guide Rough Guides Ltd 1997
Carl Gayle: The Reggae Underground Black Music Volume 1 Issue 8 July 1974
Rob Chapman: Downbeat Special Album Discography Rob Chapman 1996
Noel Hawks & Jah Floyd: Reggae Going International 1967 to 1976
The Bunny 'Striker' Lee Story Jamaican Recordings Publishing 2012
Alan Reid & Johnny Golding: Ken Boothe In England Swing February/March 1975
Michael Turner & Robert Schoenfeld: Roots Knotty Roots Nighthawk Records Publishing 2001

Louis L Gooden: Liner Notes More Of Ken Boothe Studio One LP 1968

www.kenboothemusic.com
Jul 10, 2015 (Mar 23, 2018 Update) Text by Harry Hawks
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Hit titles
Ken Boothe - Mr. Rock Steady
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Ken Boothe - Just Another Girl
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Ken Boothe - Silver Words
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¥700 (US$6.25)
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Ken Boothe - Everything I Own
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¥700 (US$6.25)
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