Ken Boothe, singer
I was staying with a friend in Canada. He played me Andy Williams’s version of Everything I Own, and said: “Ken, when you get back home to Jamaica, make sure you do this song.” In those days, you needed 10 or more songs to complete an album. So in 1974, when we were in Federal studios in Kingston searching for a 10th song, I remembered Everything I Own.
The producer wasn’t keen because he liked to keep control and suggest the songs, but when I started singing “You sheltered me from harm …” everyone’s eyes lit up. At the time, there was a lot of violence in Jamaica, so the words meant something to us. The studio owner came in and said: “If that song isn’t a hit, I’m going to sell the whole studio complex.”
I loved the song so much and wanted to bring something to it that people would remember, so I reached inside myself for the vocal. It became a Jamaican No 1 and the Trojan label picked it up for the UK. I was at home when the postman brought a telegram telling me the BBC wanted me on Top of the Pops.
I didn’t have time to go to London because I was playing shows, and we didn’t have a video, so the BBC put a guy at a window with a shadow covering his face, miming to the song – everybody thought it was me. A couple of weeks later I did Top of the Pops for real. I was on the programme 14 times in all with this song and its follow-up Crying Over You, appearing alongside people like Elton John and Hot Chocolate. When the song became a British No 1, Bob Marley called to congratulate me. There were a lot of Jamaican songs in the British charts in that period. It was a happy time for reggae.
After it was a hit, I found out that Trojan were going bankrupt. I flew to London and there was nobody in the office, just record covers strewn everywhere. I hadn’t received my royalties and my career went down the drain for a while – I lost everything I own, just like in the song, but I never gave up on music. I’ve done a lot of songs but I’m always very grateful to David Gates, who wrote it. I’ve just done a new acoustic version for the film Inna De Yard. Today, whenever I sing it live, the entire audience sings it with me.
David Gates, singer-songwriter of original 1972 Bread version
My father was kind and gentle and revered by everyone. He told me: “People will do what you do, not what you say.” He always had time for me and taught me to read and write music, play various instruments and introduced me to classical music, my foundation. One year I sent my mom an orchid for her birthday, which I could scarcely afford. She was so touched – my dad wrote to tell me I could have had “anything she owned” in return.
My father died in 1963 and I wanted to write a song in memory of him. He did live to see some of my early progress towards success, but not the major songs or stardom with Bread. As with all my songs, the music led and the words tried to keep up, but they came pretty quickly. I wrote the lyrics – “I would give everything I own just to have you back again” – so that they could be interpreted as a love song, but when I played it for my wife, she knew right away that it was about my father. She cried.
The recording session with Bread felt pressurised because I wanted to convey the emotion in the vocal that existed when I played it with an acoustic guitar. The covers [by Rod Stewart, Shirley Bassey, Boy George] have all felt genuine, and it is magical to sing. Everything I Own has reached farther than any other song I’ve ever written. It’s a tribute to the song and Ken that it was able to go reggae.
Years after it was written, I started to reveal to audiences what it was about. The song is an opportunity to feel very strong emotions for the loss of a time with someone you loved. I’ve been fortunate to watch it have such an impact on so many people.
• Inna De Yard premieres at the Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House, London, on 21 August and is released in cinemas on 30 August.