(Photo: Devon Chin)
Ken Boothe. International recording artiste, singer & songwriter.
Ken Boothe is best remembered for his 1974 Trojan Records
chart topper 'Everything I Own', but his career stretches back over a decade further
to the early sixties, when he was a teenage sensation at Clement Dodd's flourishing
Studio One in Kingston, Jamaica.
Ken was born in 1948 in Denham Town, his musical talent was inherited from his mother who used
to sing in church and his elder sister, Hyacynth Clover was also a singer and later
worked with the comedy duo Bim & Bam. In his teens Ken used to walk to Boys Town in
the Trenchtown area of Kingston, and it was here that he met Stranger Cole.
Cole was immediately struck by Boothe's powerful voice, and the two formed the vocal
duo Stranger and Ken. Their first recording was for Duke Reid and as Ken remembers
"was in some Chinese language and was called 'Mow Sen Wa'...we don't know what it
meant". The pair also cut the superb 'Un Dos Tres' (which can be found easily on the
Trojan Story box set) for Leslie Kong, as well as the scorching 'We Are Rolling On'
before moving on to Dodd's studio One label, where they recorded 'World's Fair',
'Thick In Your Love' and the original version of 'Artibella'.
Dodd was so impressed with Boothe that he encouraged him to record solo, starting with
the uptempo soul number 'You're No Good', which was soon followed by a flurry of hits
in the rocksteady era. 1966 saw the release of 'The Train Is Coming', an original
composition using the then popular train motif with an awesome rhythm section backing
a soulful Ken. Bob Andy penned 'I Don't Want To See You Cry' which was a huge Jamaican
hit, and over the years has been covered by many, but Ken's original remains the
At this time only Alton Ellis could rival Ken as the most popular singer in Jamaica,
and the pair toured the UK together with the Soul Vendors in 1967. An album was also
recorded on this tour to which Ken contributed 'Everybody Knows', a version of the
Dave Clarke 5 ballad. The same year saw the release of 'Feel Good', a Studio One cut
of Roy Shirley's ground breaking 'Hold Them'. Although it was actually Lloyd Charmers
idea, this caused some bad feeling as Roy Shirley explains:
"My song take off so good, in England too, on the Doctor Bird label, and Mr. Dodd
becomes jealous and get Ken Boothe to do that - imitate back the same lines and put
back the same song, and change back the title and confuse the whole market. I heard
but didn't believe he and Ken Boothe would do that to me. They kill off my version
just to sell a few copies. You know, up to now, I never ask Ken a thing about it."
Ken excelled in making rocksteady covers of pop and soul hits. 'Come Tomorrow',
'Mustang Sally' and 'Moving Away' were all exceptionally popular, but his version of
the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest winner 'Puppet On A String' was a huge seller- and
as unlikely as it seems, it's a great piece of rocksteady.
The best of Ken's work from this period is collected on two fabulous Studio One albums
'A Man & His Hits' and 'Mr. Rocksteady', the latter of which was issued on CD in 1998.
1970 saw the release of 'More Of Ken Boothe', a classy reggae album that proved to be
Ken's parting shot for Studio One. Sadly, this album isn't re-issued quite as often as
the other two, but is worth picking up for the original versions of 'Be Yourself'
and 'Just Another Girl' as well as praiseworthy readings of 'Try A Little Tenderness'
and 'Richard Cory'.
In 1968, Ken had moved on to Sonia Pottinger's label, where he cut a handful of sides
of which the most popular was 'Say You'. It was during his sojourn with Pottinger,
that he teamed up with fellow stable mates The Gaylads, The Melodians and Delroy
Wilson to set up their own Links label, although the project floundered after the
release of Ken's 'Can't You See' single.