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Interview: Ken Boothe in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Ken Boothe in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Ken Boothe in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - 1 comment

"As long as I'm alive there is no era where I'm not going to record"

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview.

In part 2 of our interview with Ken Boothe, he is candid about his personal and financial problems in the 70s and 80s, his relationships with the blues and Rastafari, and how he was once accused of swearing on the set of Top Of The Pops…

Ken Boothe

You also got to appear on Top Of The Pops with many of the big stars of US soul like Michael Jackson. Did you get to meet him or any of them?

I didn’t meet him in person but I went on the programme that he was involved in. He would have the number one song in England so they would zoom them in from America. So I’d be on the same programme as him, Barry White, Three Degrees, Hot Chocolate, Gary Glitter and Elton John. I bumped shoulders with them and said “Hello” but because of the occasion you don’t get to talk. Top Of The Pops is like that. Everybody is in different dressing rooms.

And a part of what took place in my career, everything wasn’t as good as some people think. Because even one time when I was at the BBC someone went and told people that I swore in the BBC. That’s a lie. Where I was in the BBC if I was to swear there was no one there to hear me. Because the BBC at that time when you did Top Of The Pops was down an elevator in a basement – it was the quietest place and each artist had their own dressing room. Some badminded person who probably didn’t want to see my success or like it went back up and spread it all over England that I swore. It was a lie. Why should I swear?

They accused you of swearing on the air? Or just in your dressing room?

As if some people were there and I swore. I hardly saw anybody at the BBC other than the other artists coming into their dressing rooms and the people who come down and tell you when it is your time. But I’ve done Top Of The Pops quite a few times. A whole heap of times. I did it for Everything I Own and Crying Over You. Those were the two songs I’ve always done on Top Of The Pops.

At the time that you were having success via Trojan in England with covers, the music in Jamaica was changing into roots reggae. By the mid to late 70s would also voice songs in that era like a second hard roots cut of You’re No Good for Bunny Lee. Just as today you embraced dancehall on your 2012 album Journey.

I try to in every era. I always take a taste of it. (laughs) I love it. As long as I’m alive and I’m here there is no era where I’m not going to record.

My mother is the one that inspired all of us

By that point Rastafari lyrics and dreadlocks had become quite fashionable. What did you think of that change?

It wasn’t Rasta. Rasta is a different concept. The Rastafarian movement is a spiritual movement where we as Rasta people, defend His Imperial Majesty and his teaching. So if anyone wanted to say “Dreadlocks” – no, not for me. Because I grew up with my mother who was a Rasta woman who taught us about His Imperial Majesty. So all through my career I always had His Majesty as the Godhead, even though I’m what they call baldhead.

Ken BootheThe Rastaman is a man who is always fighting against injustice. And a lot of the people who grew dreadlocks in that period were licking out on exploitation, victimisation, suffering and people in high places who victimised people and put us through suffering. But then Bob came along as a Rastaman, a real Rastaman. So I’m saying nothing about it, I won’t dictate to that, but the roots music was domineered by people who had dreadlocks but some of them were not even Rasta. Some of them were bandwagonists. Because if you asked some of them about His Imperial Majesty, some of them could hardly tell you anything. They’d just ride the bandwagon.

One thing I loved about Peter Tosh was he said the only real man living in this world is the Rastaman. My understanding is the person who fears the living God, who has love within their heart, knows how to treat their fellow men – this is the Rastaman. The Rastaman is the man who started to show people love in Jamaica. My mother was from the 40s coming up with Marcus Garvey and then they started to say “His Majesty” and these people were nothing but love. They preached love, they showed love and then they passed it on to the next generation who did the same thing. You know what I’m talking about.

The Rastaman taught people how to eat. There was a time in Jamaica when you’d see the Rastaman pass through with his callaloo and his greens and people would say “idiot food” while they were eating a lot of meat that was not good for them! (laughs) And now you see it has come right round that everybody has to have some callaloo, everybody has to have some kind of greens, something that would make them healthy – it’s all coming out of the Rastaman.

You spent some time away from Jamaica when the music began to move away from roots reggae towards dancehall.

I used to live in America during that period. Because my career went down when Trojan went bankrupt in England. I started to go back and forth between both places – England and America. I didn’t have any papers or any residence so I had to leave England and go to America with my visa and try not to stay too long and then come back to England again for some more time. I spent about four years between those places and when I came back I found you had people like Ninjaman, Admiral Bailey, Gregory Isaacs and even Dennis Brown. But it didn’t surprise me because I always knew that in every generation there are singers and players of instruments.

My career went down when Trojan went bankrupt in England

Because I used to fool around drugs at one time, so when I came back home people would kind of have you off like thinking you are some druggist. I came back home to that belief. I’m no drug taker but the entertainment world is a mystical world and you can get caught up in things and not even realize and think it’s a beauty when it’s not like that. So I got caught up too. So when I came back home I had to sing and prove to the audience out there that I still had what God gave to me to do. Some people said “Oh, he’s a this that taking drugs”. I’m not a drug taker but I got caught up.

I came back to Jamaica and it was a different thing. But because we could sing, the same producers who were producing these upcoming artists they wanted to record us too because they respected us and knew we were good at our craft. I recorded with Bunny Lee, I recorded with Jammys, I recorded with Redman, I recorded with Bobby Digital and I recorded with Scorpio. All of them wanted a little piece of me because they know you’ve been recording and you’re good at what you do. Some people know that when they have you in their catalogue it makes them feel proud to know that you are a part of it.

Another generation again are here now and I am still involved. I did a song with Shaggy, I did songs with UB40. I always have to thank God that in every era I’m alive so I always have an input into whatever era comes about. But most of all I think that we as singers need to know how to be humble and how to treat people and not be jealous of the next generation over what they are doing – that’s not right. Because, as I said, in every generation there are singers and players of instruments so we must accept the next generation. Not everything is good to we 100% but I think there is more good in it than bad. There are more good singers and good deejays than singers who can’t sing and deejays who can’t deejay.

In every generation there are singers and players of instruments so we must accept the next generation

Both on your last album Journey and on stage you embrace up-tempo dancehall music.

Yes, I have dancehall on the last album because nothing is wrong with it. I think it’s the vocal part of it, the concepts, the expressions. I don’t love vulgar things. I don’t like my little granddaughter to hear it. There is nothing here we are saying now that we should cork up her ears but a lot of the music today is like that. It doesn’t have any stamina. Most of them are not going to stay as long as the ones that are good. I will always say that the good ones are going to stay forever. The ones that have no taste are just for a while.

In our era it was like that too. There was music out there that wasn’t up to date, the standard wasn’t good enough so the artists didn’t really make it. Some of them weren’t strong enough to persevere. Some people get weak in the business and they’re trying and trying and nothing is happening so they just back out. We weren’t like that. We never stopped. Up to now I’m still at it. (laughs)

You mentioned Snoop Lion/Diplo sampled Phil Pratt’s cut of Artibella. Have you been receiving royalties from this?

I guess because that song was registered long ago. Give thanks for these songs that people… that’s what’s nice about a song. We have done it already and someone listens to it again and goes and does it again and then another one listens to it and goes and does it again. That’s the power of a song.

The good ones are going to stay forever. The ones that have no taste are just for a while

When you perform in different countries you sing slightly different songs in your set-lists. In the UK you sing a lot of your big UK and Jamaican hits.

Yes, Nature Planned It, Crying Over You.

One time I saw you at Brixton Academy and you said “Someone asked me specially to sing this song” and you sang Speak Softly Love (The Godfather) a cappella. But I’ve seen you in France and you perform that song all the time with a full band.

Yes, they love it! And it was done originally in England too! At a studio called Chalk Farm.

Tell me more about the different flavours of your catalogue that different audiences around the world like to hear.

Boy, I tell you. It’s like food. Everywhere you go there are different tastes. Because, when Babsy Grange here in Jamaica used to manage me, my roadie was a female called Enid. One night we went to England to do a show. And after my performance, when I came off stage, she looked at me and said “Ken, but this is a whole different thing from what you do in Jamaica!” She didn’t know it was like that. She thought everywhere I go it is the same.

In Europe people want to hear Set Me Free, the Godfather - I have to sing these songs. Some places someone will choose a song that I have not performed on stage for years and I have to go back into myself and remember the words. I’ve been to Brazil and the song they love in Brazil is Friends. So when I go to Brazil I have to go into my hotel room and start to remember it back again. I go to Belize and the song they love is Drums of Freedom so I have to go back into myself again. That’s the power of music. That’s the power of the human race. Music has to be played by people so that is the power of people.

Music has to be played by people so that is the power of people

It’s been 3 years since Journey. What’s your next recorded project?

I am doing two albums but I’m not in the studio now. I wish for things in my career, on my journey and I’ve done Journey now. So I’ve done a soul album, an R&B album, something I had wished for over the years. Because music is music. I don’t have any particular music as 100% for me. I deal with culture. Like in England, look at Puppet On A String which was first done [by Sandy Shaw] in England. And it tastes good – it’s good food – so I’ve done it.

It’s like the blues. The blues is a part of us. That’s what inspired us first here in Jamaica. Because in those days we didn’t have anything but indigenous music which was mento so we had to dance to the blues on sound system. Until we started to identify and fuse both the blues and the mento together into the ska. When Jamaican music first started it was like Easy Snappin’. That’s how the ska came about – from those sounds. That was still the blues but fusing with the little guitar “check, check” and then the drums, everybody just started until how it is today.

Because even the reggae music and rocksteady we’re singing it is blues you know? It’s our music and our culture but it’s blues. Because music has no colour. You might listen and hear some white guy and if you don’t see him you’d think he’s black. Because of that sound that black folks domineer. But it’s not their music alone. Look at Michael Bolton and all these great white singers, David Gates and Bread, when you hear these guys sing, if you don’t know they are white you don’t see colour. You just hear good singing and good music. That’s what it is about – bringing us together. That’s what music does for us. Brings us in one. A oneness. Like in politics, the only time that JLP and PNP came together was at a stage show. Nobody remembered about politics. All they did was enjoy, drink together, talk together. That’s the power of the music.

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Posted by Andrew Jones on 12.19.2015
Excellent interview, only just discover end this site. Keep Up the Good Works
Peace
AJ

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