Trojan
 
Ken Boothe 

First of all, we perhaps should admit that we might have been a tad economical with the truth in subtitling this set.  The artist that it salutes has been making brilliant records since the mid 1960s. and in all honesty it would take much, much more than a 2CD set to assemble the truly "Definitive Collection" of the great Ken Boothe.

Indeed, it's fair to say that a couple of boxed sets - at least! - might just about uphold that claim. But given the limitations of the finite running time of a 2 CD set, and given also that it spans his recorded output, from his first Jamaican hit through to his most recent international one, 'definitive' is perhaps not too strong a word to describe this thorough representation of the work of one of Reggae's top 10 artists of all time.

Like several reggae artists who have had the temerity to enjoy a bit of pop chart success at some stage in their carers, Boothe is occasionally dismissed as a bit of a 'lightweight' among reggae artists (a joke, when you consider that others who would also therefore qualify for the category include John Holt, Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley). It's easy to see how the unenlightened might arrive at such a conclusion when, prior to his massive 1974 hit Everything I Own, he was best known outside of reggae's inner circle for his 1967 near-hot cover of Puppet On A String (a song he was forced into covering by his producer and one that he probably hated). But before, between and since then, Ken has amassed for a body of work that any artist could be proud of and that has embraced everything that reggae has to offer. If you have ever doubted Ken's 'credentials' this set will forever banish such silly notions from your mind...

When Ken Boothe hit the Top of the UK Pops in the late autumn of 1974, he'd already been making records for 12 years. Back in Jamaica he'd been a superstar for at least 7 of those years, since the slowing of the ska beat to that of rocksteady had made it possible for a more expressive kind of vocalist to make his or her mark. Of course, he's sung in the ska era too, both in duet with his friends and contemporaries Wilburn 'Stranger' Cole and Roy Shirley, and as a solo artist. But the new, slower sound was tailor-made for a voice like Ken's to really make itself heard - and once he started hitting with songs like Train Is Coming, Come Running Back and I Don't Want To See You Cry, there was no stopping the irresistible rise of the young man from Denham Town.

Ken Boothe was born into a house full of music on March 22nd 1946 (or 1948, according to some versions of his 'biography'). His mother sang gospel music in church and around the Boothe household, while his sister Hyacinth was a well-known entertainer long before her little brother took his first steps to stardom. As a youth, Ken and another sister would team up to sing duets and as youth turned to early adolescence he began to find the confidence to appear in, and often win, talent competitions at his school.

By his early teens he'd hooked up with the aforementioned Cole and another slightly older lad, Roy Panton, to form a short-lived trio that was soon dismantled when the latter opted for a solo career. undeterred, 'Stranger And Ken' pressed on as a duo and, inevitably, their talents soon came to the attention of several of Jamaica's leading record producers. After weighing up their options they decided to go with Arthur 'Duke' Reid and it was for 'The Trojan' that they cut their first sides in 1962. We kick off our collection with an example of these early recordings, the strident and eternally popular Uno-Duos-Tres.

The youthful duo's excellent harmonies were also captured on wax by producers like Byron Lee (as also heard here) and Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, for whom they recorded one of the all time great vocal ska records Artibella. but in 1966 Stranger and Ken decided to call it a day as a recording duo, with the former going off to record as a solo and, often, in duet with Millicent 'Patsy' Todd. Ken briefly teamed up with another young singer who would also go on to great things that would include the formation of the original Uniques, and the recording of the tune that is generally considered to be the first 'real' rocksteady record, Hold Them - Roy Shirley. Roy and Ken made just a handful of recordings together, most notably for the husband and wife team of Lindon and Sonia Pottinger's SEP imprint, before both decided that their impact on the Jamaican music scene could be doubled by continuing as solo acts. Shirley went off to work with a rookie who would also build his name and reputation on the strength of Hold Them - Joel 'Joe Gibbs' Gibson. Ken, meanwhile, went over to Brentford Road to check out the chances of rekindling his relationship with Coxsone Dodd.

He could not have chosen his moment better. The new slower rhythms that were coming in were ideally suited to Ken's range and repertoire and although he started off his Studio 1 era with the ferocious ska of You're No Good (aka Crying Over You - but not the Crying Over You that he would have an international hit with 18 years later), it was the new groove of recordings like My Heart Is Gone, Moving Away and When I Fall In Love that would establish Ken as 'Mr. Rocksteady'. Indeed, during these years ken was so popular that, here in the UK, Coxsone's representative Junior Lincoln would often re-credit records that were not by him, and that sounded nothing like him, to 'Ken Boothe' as his name on a label would be a sure-fire guarantee of sales. When Ken came to the UK as part of the groundbreaking Soul Vendors tour of 1967, he often found himself being asked to sing sings that had actually been recorded by the likes of the Heptones, and that had been issued in Boothe's name by Lincoln.

It was while on that tour that Coxsone Dodd picked up a copy of the Eurovision Song Contest winner, Puppet On A String. When they got back to Jamaica, Dodd rushed Ken into Studio One to record a rather forced version of the song. Forced or not, it became a big local hit and, thanks to a surprising amount of radio play on the UK's 'Pirate Radio' stations, it almost gave Ken his first international chart hit, a full seven years before a much better record took him all the way to number one here. Sadly we are contractually unable to bring you anything from this period, but we do have many shining examples here of Ken's vocal prowess over a rocksteady rhythm, including some that have had considerable fewer reissues than his Studio One material, so no one should feel cheated by the absence Ken's Dodd sides.

Our man's departure from Coxsone's camp coincided with the winding down of the rocksteady era. Artist and producer had been collectively responsible for some of the best records of said era. Had the Studio One accounting system been somewhat more favourable to the artists who made plenty of money for the Dodd empire, Ken may well have also stayed to make great reggae records. As it was, he waved goodbye to Brentford Road in late 1968 - and that's really the point where our anthology kicks in.

On leaving Coxsone, Ken hooked up again with Jamaican music's first and only great female record producer, Sonia Pottinger. Her SEP/High Note/Gay Feet operation had also claimed the Gaylads from Studio One at around this time, and Ken probably joined her roster at the urging of his friend, Gaylads leader B.B. Seaton, who had made a similar commitment not long previously. Like the Gaylads, he didn't stay with 'Miss P's operation for too long, but he did cut a handful of classics for her, with the stellar accompaniment of the greatest rocksteady band ever - Lynn Tait and the Jets. Several are included here for your musical pleasure, Ken's own Live Good and his adaptations of the Monitor's Motown recording Say You and Paul Simon's Somewhere (They Can't Find Me) are true genre classics. Lady With The Starlight, meanwhile, may be cheesier than a ripe Gruyere, but it nevertheless has all the sing-along charm of the song from which it was so obviously, ahem, 'borrowed' - Nat 'King' Cole's Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer. During this period, Ken, the Gaylads and their fellow High Note-rs the Melodians also recorded for Links, each producing one classic rocksteady 45. Ken's was Can't You See. It too is featured here, to further demonstrate just why he had been tagged 'Mr Rocksteady'.

His High Note stint completed, Ken briefly label-hopped during the early days of reggae. A session for George 'Phil Pratt' Philpotts included the original recording of the much-loved I'm Not For Sale, while another, for rookie producer Keith Hudson brought forth a number of great sides - including Ken's first true classic of the post-Studio One era, Old Fashioned Way. This massive seller forever established Hudson as one of the eminent mavericks of reggae, and it's island-wide success meant that Ken could pretty much choose who he wanted to work with from there on in...

Probably once again at the recommendation of 'Bibby' Seaton, and possibly with an eye on overseas 'Pop' success, Ken's next producer of choice was the renowned Leslie Kong. Chinese-Jamaican Kong's Beverley's label could boast a higher international profile than any other imprint up to this point. Kong's own close friendship with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell was instrumental in the early worldwide breakthrough acts like Desmond Dekker, the Pioneers and Jimmy Cliff. Thus it was no surprise that anyone with eyes on the bigger picture would want to work with him. (Others who would do so in this period, besides those already mentioned, include the Gaylads, the Wailers, the Melodians and perhaps the definitive 'Beverley's act, the Maytals).

Ken spent a very productive - and more or less exclusive - year and a bit under the Beverley's umbrella. The relatively sparse and very open sound of Leslie Kong's studio work, characterised by the emphasis on rhythm and the regular absence of a horn section, provided an ideal framework for Ken's yearning vocals. A song writing partnership with Bibby Seaton was also going from strength to strength, as proven by the exhilarating Freedom Street and a no-less superb Drums Of Freedom - both standouts among the excellent and copious selection of Beverley's repertoire herein. Kong's reputation for fair play and fair pay was such that the only other producer of note that Ken worked with in this period was Phil Pratt, for whom he re-cut his and Stranger Cole's Studio One classic, Artibella, and other choice tunes like Give To Me - which were both released on Pratt's Sun Shot label alongside a reissue of Ken's Blondel Calnek-produced, rocksteady version of You Left The Water Running.

The Kong-Boothe association may well have continued further had the still-young producer not unexpectedly died of a heart attack, at the age of just 38, in August 1971. With no label to record for, the Beverley's roster (still including the Maytals, Melodians, and Messrs. Cliff, Dekker and Boothe) all had to move quickly. Ken and Bibby had been moving towards producing their own records anyway. Some of Ken's final Beverley's recordings actually bore no Kong involvement beyond his ownership of the label, including a rugged makeover of his hero Otis Redding's posthumously-released 'Your Feeling And Mine', and the wonderful 'I Wish It Could Be Peaceful Again'.

Although billed as a Boothe solo, 'Wish' is essentially a Conscious Minds record. The CMs were an early attempt at a reggae super group, fashioned by (and sometimes featuring) Bibby Seaton and including in their membership upper echelon singer-cum-melodica player Joe White, Seaton's fellow Gaylad Maurice Roberts and the man like K. Boothe. their beautifully harmonised, lyrically conscious recordings Hotter The Battle and Suffering Through The Nation were released on producer Pete Weston's Soul beat imprint. Ken also cut a few solo sides for Weston in this period, notably a gorgeous remake of one of his final Studio 1 recordings, Thinking, which was re-titled So Nice. The suicide desperation of the original take was replaced by the same kind of aching wistfulness that would inform Ken's future international chart topper, and that renders it no less potent by comparison with the considerably darker first piece. With Weston, Ken was also quick off the mark with what would soon become a hot Jamaican craze for medleys, linking up snatches of six of his original Studio 1 hits as a two-part hit that quickly had Dodd reaching for his master tape, scissors and splicing tape to produce Original Six from those very same Studio 1 hits.

Ken would occasionally reappear on Soul Beat throughout the first half of the 1970s, under his own name and as a member of a second 'super group' the Messengers (which again included Bibby and also Busty Brown, another of the all time great 'unsung heroes' of Jamaican music). But in 1971 he cut his first sessions for and with Lloyd Charmers, thus commencing an association that would span the next six years and that is amply represented by the contents of the second CD in this collection.

Ken's first side for Charmers' Splash label was to be a duet with his new 'boss'. A further exploration of his 'conscious' side, it was also one of the first reggae records to salute the alleged omnipotence of the former Emperor of Ethiopia, the erstwhile Haile Selassie - Jah Ras Tafari to his devotees. Despite an enforced lack of Jamaican radio play, Rasta Never Fails was a huge hit 'back a yard', and it was also the record that Trojan used to launch what was supposed to be their 'prestige' new imprint, Green Door, in 1971. Although Ken never grew locks and has always remained 'clean face', he has always been ready to speak up for Rastafarianism. Even as recently as the 1990s, he could be heard proclaiming Jah Is My Nuclear Bomb for producer Jack Scorpio...

Ken and Lloyd obviously liked working together, as further Splash releases followed at regular intervals over the next couple of years. A cross-section of the very best are featured here. like Leslie Kong, Charmers worked only with top-flight musicians and so Ken never had to battle against lopsided rhythm sections, or off-key horns. Examples of early 70s vocal reggae simply do not get any better than the likes of Ken's soulful remake of Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine or Syl Johnson's Is It Because I'm Black, or songs that really brought out the Otis Redding fan in Ken - such as his takes on Luther Ingram's Missing You and the Independents' Leaving Home. During the early 'Splash' years, Ken was the king of the soul cover. It's easy to imagine him and Charmers tuning into the hi-wattage Miami radio R&B stations that could be heard in Jamaica, in order to work out what they would be versioning a couple of weeks down the line. It says much for Ken's great abilities as a vocalist that it's often hard to choose which version is best, his or the soul original. Several immaculate Charmers-produced albums from this period reinforce this, and are wholeheartedly recommended to anyone who enjoys the selections we've culled for this 2CD set.

His ongoing musical monogamy with Charmers notwithstanding, Ken did briefly break ranks in 1972 to cut a one-away session that resulted in the recording and release of what many would regard as one if his 'career songs'. Producer Niney Holness had discovered and fallen in love with a US album on Sussex Records by an obscure-ish US-based singer-songwriter called Sixto Rodriguez. Two tracks off Coming From Reality had particularly tickled Niney's fancy - one, Halfway Up The Stairs, the producer would later lick over with Delroy Wilson. The other was Silver Words, which became Ken's only Observer record of this era, and which he sang so convincingly that, for years many reggae fans believed that he wrote himself. Others, including Dennis Brown have remade Silver Words in subsequent years, but none to such devastating effect. In fact, it's such a good record that not even the Rodriguez original could touch it. Ken himself remade it in 1976 for Charmers - in what is considered by some to be an even better version - but it's the Observer cut that's regarded as a 100% bonafide classic of 70s reggae.

Ken's run of soul covers with Charmers culminated with his killer take on Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On. Shortly after its release, a song that had been a US pop hit a couple of years previously came to the pairs attention. Composer David Gates had cut Everything I Own with his group Bread and had a US hit with it. However Gates and Bread had little visibility in the soul and reggae markets, and so the song was not that well known beyond the realms of pop music. The reggae world was just about to be taken by storm by the arrival of the 'Flying Cymbal' style rhythm and the advent of dub, as created by the great King Tubby's. Charmers chose to ignore these epochal events and instead sketched out a slow rocksteady groove to anchor what will probably always be Ken's most affecting, and best-ever vocal performance. Released in Jamaica in the summer of 1974 on Federal Records' new imprint Wild Flower, Everything I Own quickly shot to the top in Jamaica, proving that quality will always over-ride any current trends in music.

Wild Flower's UK outlet of the period, much like it is now, was Trojan. Obviously the A&R team of the day realised that they might have a sniff of a hit as they put Everything I Own on the main Trojan imprint, rather than one of the many smaller subsidiaries. Helped by the fact that the Bread version had not been a big hit in the UK, and bolstered by one of reggae's occasional general groundswells of popularity, they took the track to Radio 1 where the producers liked it enough to playlist it.

After favourable airplay and a modest chart start, 'Everything I Own' started to make significant strides in the hit stakes, eventually and deservedly attaining pole position on October 28th 1974. There it remained for three weeks before being toppled by UK teen hero David Essex' Gonna Make You A Star, and starting a slow descent of the Top 75.

Unlike many UK reggae hits up to that point, there was no aspect of 'novelty' about Everything I Own. It was simply a great song, beautifully sung and played and exquisitely produced. It doesn't wear off as the year went on. And, at long last, it gave Ken Boothe the international profile that the previous 10 years of excellence had fully earned him.

it also led to a successful follow-up single. While we were watching Everything... rise to the top, Ken and Charmers were mashing up JA. with their answer version to the Three Degrees worldwide hit When Will I See You - or as Ken sung it 'Now You Can See Me' - 'Again'. Here in the UK, where it had only been a matter of weeks since the Philly fillies' own version had topped the charts, we were treated to a Boothe/Charmers original, another supreme slice of rocksteady entitled 'Crying Over You'. A lot of people like it (and why wouldn't they?) and it ended up peaking at a still noteworthy #11 in early 1975. It may have done better than that, had the original Trojan empire not been crumbling rapidly at that point, with sales being lost due to inadequate promotion and distribution difficulties. Ken's second UK hit on Trojan was also among his last releases on the label...

Back in Jamaica, the Boothe-Charmers partnership continued to be potent. Excellent sides like Let Go and a magnificent version of the Spinners' Love Don't Love Nobody would disappoint no-one. As mentioned above, Charmers also built his own Silver Words rhythm. we haven't included it here as we didn't want to feature any song twice on the same CD, but its flipside. the just-as-worthy I'm Singing Home, will provide excellent musical compensation for you all. Things were still moving sweetly when, in 1976, Lloyd Charmers decided that he was going to shift his permanent base of operations to the UK. Ken, however, had no intention of moving to our shores, and thus ended one of the most prolific, and high quality, partnerships in the history of reggae.

With Charmers gone, Ken did eventually start moving from producer to producer with, it must be said, no drop in the quality of his records. Working with old friends Phil Pratt and Niney again must have been easy to do, and at the very end of the 1970s he teamed with Bunny Lee to create an absolutely monstrous remake of his breakthrough Studio 1 hit You're No Good, one of the high water marks of his whole career. Things got a bit quieter in the early 80s, as dancehall swept in to shake up the scene. But even then ken could still cut it with the new kids. Dancehall don Sugar Minott captured Ken singing over a sound system in 1983, on the essential Live At Harchos Hall single on Black Roots. Ken raised both the roof and the standards by which every dancehall star who came to prominence in that era (and I'm thinking the likes of Barrington Levy and Frankie Paul here) would forever be judged.

Even the arrival of the digital reggae sound in the mid-1980s did not sideline Ken's career. While many of those who started at the same time as he were, by this time, seen as 'oldies' acts, the next generation of producers were queuing up to have him sing over their computerised rhythms. Many of these records admittedly do not hold a candle to those presented on this CD. However, the very best of them - such as ken's 1988 smash for Gussie Clarke's Anchor Records. A Man Is A Man, and his 1992 cut to U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - can stand tall and strong beside any of his more readily acknowledged masterpieces. He was rightly considered to be 'contemporary' enough to be featured alongside the biggest international reggae success of the 1990s, Shaggy, when the latter wanted to remake the former's old Studio 1 gem Train Is Coming - and he barely sounded a day older than when he laid down the first cut of the song, almost 40 years earlier.

Like Old Man River, Ken Boothe just keeps rolling along. At 61 his voice is still as dynamically unique as it was when he made his first duets with Stranger Cole. He has outlive most of his contemporaries as a reggae superstar - and, having looked after himself and his health, he also physically outlived most of those artists who started out at Brentford Road at the same time as he did.

Although he was once sneeringly and totally inaccurately dismissed by the Clash's Joe Strummer - in the song White Man In Hammersmith Palais - as 'UK Pop Reggae', Ken is now rightfully viewed as one of the cornerstone artists of an international music scene that he's been a part of across five decades. In this essential 2CD collection we get to hear a comprehensive selection of incredible music that explains in song why this is so. he is as important to his genre as many artists with twice his international profile and, in many cases, barely half his talent. Anyone who tells you that they don't like Ken Boothe really doesn't like reggae, it's as simple as that...

TONY ROUNCE

Unos Dos Tres (Stranger & Ken)
What A Day (Stranger, Ken & Patsy)
Suzie (Stranger & Ken)
Paradise (Roy & Ken)
The One I Love
You Left The Water Running
Say You
Lady With The Starlight
Can't You See
Somewhere
Live Good
Can't Fight Me Down
I'm Not For Sale
Old Fashioned Way
Why Baby Why
Keep My Love From Fading
Freedom Street
Artibella
Now I Know
It's Gonna Take A Miracle
Drums Of Freedom
Give It To Me
Your Feeling And Mine
I Wish It Could Be Peaceful Again
Trying To Reach
Hallelujah
Stop Your Crying
So Nice
Make Me Feel Alright
Rasta Never Fail (Lloyd & Ken)
Missing You
Have I Sinned
Ain't No Sunshine
Look What You've Done For Me
Silver Words
Black, Gold And Green
Is It Because I'm Black
(You're) Leaving Me
Let's Get It On
(That's The Way) Nature Planned It
Everything I Own
Crying Over You
Let Go
Grandma
Freedom Time (aka Freedom Day)
Love Don't Love Nobody
I'm Singing Home
Blood Brothers
Left With A Broken Heart
You're No Good
Who Gets Your Love
Give Me Back My Heart
The Train Is Coming (Shaggy & Ken Boothe)

Trojan
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