Interview: Ken Boothe

April 8, 2013

In 1963 when Ken Boothe began singing, ska and rhythm & blues were all the rage while rocksteady and reggae were just around the corner. Five decades later he has dropped his 31st album Journey – which sees him combine all these styles with a taste for modern one-drop and uptempo dancehall.

This year’s European tour schedule includes the chance to see him indulge both his old and new school sides live on stage. Londoners can witness his return to the London International Ska Festival on Sunday 31st March: revisiting the days when he and Stranger Cole recorded the likes of Artibella for Clement Coxsone Dodd’s Studio 1.  In July, he will be at Cologne’s Summerjam: sharing a bill with Busy Signal and Snoop Lion – who used his 70s recut of Artibella for his first post-transformation single La La La.

As warm, serious and soulful as when he sings, Ken Boothe granted Reggaeville this exclusive interview. The forward-minded veteran recalled the multiple musical departures on his Journey album and how they relate to the many stops on his long and illustrious career….


You have released your new album Journey after 50 years in music. How did your musical journey start?

I grew up in a musical family. I was living in Denham Town in the colonial days when parents had bred us and fed us even though they weren’t as well off as other parents. Me and my sister grew up singing the blues. This was my mother’s first child – she is not here with us any more – but she was the first one who opened my eyes to show business. She used to take me to rehearsals and in those days it was a live band – an orchestra.

Tell me about your first break in the business back in 1963.

The person who gave me my first break was Stranger Cole. I met him and we started as a duo. Aged 15-16 it was Stranger who gave me that break because he was already a big star. The first time we went into a studio Stranger took me to Duke Reid at Treasure Isle. There were a lot of people there for audition that day but because Stranger was already singing for Duke Reid and he had told him about me Duke was prepared for the audition. It was kind of easy for me because it was me and Stranger singing the song so Duke Reid just listened. And in those days when producers heard good singing they didn’t even listen to the song all the way. I remember when Stranger and I sang Uno Dos, the first song we did, Duke Reid didn’t even hear the whole song before he pointed upstairs to his studio and said “Gwaan go record”.

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