A true Jamaican musical icon, Ken Booth is known as the “voice of choice” for many generations of Jamaicans at home and abroad. Though his name may not be known in all circles, certainly his music is. With over 21 albums recorded and released, his repertoire includes ska, rocksteady, reggae and gospel. His story is remarkable and he remains an icon in the Jamaican music scene even in 2016.
In 1962, when he paired with Stranger Cole to form the duo “Stranger and Ken,” he began his career now spanning over 50 years. With their first track recorded in 1963 entitled “Hush Baby” landing on the B-side of Stranger Cole’s Island Record’s single “Last Love” he made his first of many marks on the music scene. The duo went on to record several popular singles between 1963-1965 including “World’s Fair”, “Hush” and “Artibella”.
In 1966, Sir Clement “Coxsone” Dodd signed him to the Studio One record label which dominated the Jamaican airwaves at that time and for many years to come. He had immediate success with songs such as “The Train is Coming” backed by the soon to be famous Wailers band. The following year, Ken went on tour of the UK with Alton Ellis and was promoted by Coxsone as “Mr. Rocksteady”. His rocksteady hit “Moving Away” was released in 1967 and has been since covered or sampled by artists from every genre including greats like Dennis Brown, Jackie Mittoo, I-Roy, U-Roy, Garnett Silk, Al Campbell and Bruno Mars to name a few.
In 1968, at the age of 17, Ken Boothe released his first full-length album “Mr. Rocksteady” which included numerous hits such as “The Girl I Left Behind”. In 1970, Boothe jumped ship and began recording for Beverly’s Records and the iconic producer Leslie Kong. He gained further notoriety with tracks such as “Freedom Street” and “Why Baby Why”. In 1974, while recording for Trojan Records, Boothe topped the UK Charts at #1 with the cover song by the band Bread “Everything I Own” – success came again with a #11 song later that year with “Crying Over You”.
Lyricist Joe Strummer from the Clash famously referenced Ken Boothe in his 1978 song “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais” bringing his name to modern day awareness once more. In 1987, Brittish pop icon Boy George would cover “Everything I Own” whose rendition owed more in styling to Boothe than to the originators Bread. Boothe’s version was re-released and emerged on the UK top 100 pop chart hitting #88.
In 1995, Boothe re-made “The Train is Coming” with Shaggy which was featured in Money Train, a Wesley Snipes/Woody Harleson feature film. In 2012, Boothe was referenced by Snoop Dogg in a Rollingstone article as he made his transition to his Rastafarian identity “Snoop Lion” when he sampled “Artibella” in his song “La La La”.
In 2003, Ken was bestowed the honor of Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government for his contribution to Jamaican music. Over the past few years, Ken has continued to tour internationally, including Japan, Brazil, Costa Rica, Trinidad and throughout Europe as well as major festivals in the US and Canada. He continues to record and released a 12-track album in 2012 entitled “Journey” which commemorates over 50 years as a living legend of Jamaican music.
At age 67, Ken Boothe still commands the stage better than many of his younger contemporaries. It is both amazing and admirable that he is on the road entertaining and capturing the hearts of new audiences in 2016.