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Ken Boothe is Jamaican music's best kept secret. The sheer intensity ofhis bravado vibrato has cut through some of Jamaica's most timeless,beloved and dangerous sides. At the top of the Jamaican charts in thelate 60's, Ken could do no wrong first as one of Coxsone Dodd's mostfavorite Studio One artists and then at Leslie Kong's classy Beverley'slabel. He racked up an international hit with his cover of David Gates'middle-of-the-road "Everything I Own."

Today, Ken is a stand-aloneartist who still puts on a great show, with rivers of water running fromhis body. He is one of the very few Reggae singers left from thatvintage tradition of Jamaican soul-reggae singing which evolvedseperately from that of Rasta reggae.

Ken got his start in the business in 1963 when he teamed up with skasinger Stranger Cole, and the two set out as the duo Stranger and Ken.Ken recalls: "The first recording we do was for Duke Reid. The song wasin some Chinese language, and was called "Mow Sen Wa." We don't knowwhat it meant, but Stranger made a song from the words, and we both singit!" The beginning of Ken's successful solo relationship with Coxsoneand Studio One wsa cemented when the duo voiced "At the World's Fair"for Coxsone iin 1963.

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

Ken Boothe

By the time Ken and Stranger parted ways, Dodd waswell aware of Ken's tremendous singing talents and retained him atStudio One, coaching and developing him until he was releasing hit afterhit in the late Ska and Rocksteady years of 1966-68. Cuts like "PuppetOn a String," "Live Good," "Moving Away," "The Train Is Coming"(featuring the Wailers on backing vocals) the aching "Lonely Teardrops,"and the enormous "My Heart Is Gone" were huge sellers and earned Coxsonemoney. During this period he earned the moniker "The Jamaican WilsonPickett" and, most probably, the adoration of many a young Jamaicanwoman. (During his sojourn at Studio One, he also donned a preacher'srobe and became "Brother Boothe" for the excellent, Toots-esque gospelsingle "I Am Willing To Wait [For Jesus]")

By 1968, looking better money, Ken moved to Mrs. Pottinger's Tip Toplabel, where he continued his hit-making career with "Say You," are-make of "Live Good," and others. In 1969 he continued to record forPottinger and also moved up to Leslie Kong and Beverley's, where, alongwith Toots and the Melodians, he continued to sit on the charts with"Freedom Street," which proved a hit in the UK in 1970.The early seventies and the death of Leslie Kong saw Ken starting towork with other producers such as upstart Keith Hudson, with whom he cutthe killer "Old Fashioned Way" (1970), versioned supremely by bothDennis Alcapone and U Roy. A few years later he also licked over StudioOne hits "The Train Is Coming" and "Moving Away" for Herman Chin-Loy andhis Aquarius label. In 1973 he teamed up with producer Winston 'Niney'Holness and the Soul Syndicate band, singing "Silver Words": "Baby I'mnot joking/And it's not what I'm smoking..." (When "Silver Words"released in the UK, the second verse was dubbed out.)In 1974 Boothe began working with talented producer/arranger LloydCharmers. In 1974 they hit with a Ken's first moment in the globalspotlight came in 1974 with his sublime cover of David Gates' not thatgreat "Everything I Own." Boothe cuts tracks for producer Bunny Lee,featuring Sly and Robbie, between 1976-78, but by the time the DJ andRoots explosion hit its stride in the late 70s and early 80s, Ken fellfrom the limelight and his distinctive, soulful act became overshadowedby the militant, revolutionary trends of the time. He did continue torecord and perform throughout the 80s, but never toured the US or builtup an Americanfollowing as Bob Marley, Toots, and Burning Spear were able to.

The nineties have proved the Jamaican maxim "Old time something comeback again," as he has now become popular on Oldiesshows in Jamaica. In 1996, he scored a hit with a remake of "The TrainIs Coming," this time with DJ Shaggy. The song was featured in the film"Money Train."

Ken has been an all-too infrequent performer on these shores, and forthose not familar with him and his force-to-be-reckoned voice, this keyfigure in the pantheon of Jamaican singers and JA musical history is anact not to be missed.

Artist Biography courtesy of Mark Gorney

 

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