Melody unchained

Feb 15, 2006 at 12:00 am

"Lover's rock" is filled with enough romantic sexual innuendo to make anyone disrobe once the needle drops. See, lover's rock is the Jamaican version of baby-making soul.

One of the genre's pioneers, Ken Boothe, is flying in straight from Jamaica and headlining an evening of total, um, geniality, with area rocksteady singers Willie Ferguson, Clement Gordon and Tuffaz.

True fans of lover's rock or rocksteady (or even the Clash, who name-checked him in "White Man in Hammersmith Palais") should be well familiar with this guy Ken Boothe and his string of (passionate) hits that span nearly four decades. Boothe's music first graced the world during rocksteady's heyday — the mid-'60s, before reggae took over — due mostly to his timeless studio work with Jamaican super-producer Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, who died late last year. Like many Caribbean singers of his era, Boothe originally got his feet wet harmonizing during the '60s ska era and covering American soul standards.

During his tenure with Dodd, Boothe recorded hit after hit, including 1966's "The Train is Coming," which featured backing by a barely known studio band called the Wailers. The song shot up the Jamaican charts. Though Bob Marley and his roots-rock sound obviously went on to find greater success, at that time Boothe was still known as king of the lover's rock. Other Boothe songs, such as "Everything I Own," hit No. 1 on the U.K. charts and Boothe became a bona fide pinup, a heartthrob known as Mr. Rock Steady, Jamaica's answer to Wilson Pickett.

Throughout the '70s and '80s, Boothe continued to be the lover's rock backbone on the island and recorded a litany of hits, many of which have been shamelessly covered by UB40, Boy George and others.

So why should you go see Boothe? One, because he's a living legend — up-to-the-moment lover's rock sages like Sanchez, Barrington Levy and Beres Hammond all owe their success to the way-paving Boothe. Second, Detroit's underrated Universal Xpression is backing up all the singers, laying down the sexed-up "umph."

What's more, Willie Ferguson and Clement Gordon — both "Yardies" (Jamaicans) now based in Windsor and Detroit respectively, have played lover's rock shows on both sides of the Detroit River since the mid-'70s — are not to be missed. When reached for comment, Ferguson, whose patois is as smooth as his lyrics, puts lover's rock — and the show — in perspective: "All of us sing about love in our songs, yah understand? It's a bit different than the dancehall vibes people are more accustomed to," Ferguson says. "But if you can appreciate love, you can appreciate lover's rock."

Former WDTR radio host, O.C. "Caribbean Mouth" Roberts will host the event, and the Gemini Sound System will be at the controls all night long.


Friday, Feb. 17, at Caribbean Center, 2410 Central Ave., Windsor, Ontario; 519-890-5544.

Jonathan Cunningham is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]