One of the most unique voices in Jamaican history has belonged to Keith "Slim" Smith. A very gifted singer with a trademark high tenor that no one can even try o emulate, Smith has made his mark on Jamaican music history through his recordings with both The Techniques, The Uniques and as a solo artist. He died on the 9th of October in 1972 of a death still shrouded in mystery, but one things for sure, when he died the world lost one of the most gifted soul singers ever.
Slim Smiths first recordings were made in the early 1960s for producer Duke Reid as part of the influential and highly successful vocal group The Techniques. He was only 17 years old when they recorded hit ska tunes like "Little Did You Know", "I'm In Love", "When You Are Wrong" and "My Whole Life Depends on You" at the famous Treasure Isle studio, and Slim sang lead on them all. But less than a year passed and Slim left the Techniques in 1965 along with fellow Technique Franklyn White.
After leaving the group, Slim and White formed a new vocal group along with the singer Roy Shirley called The Uniques. This line up didn't last long though and split soon after making just a couple of recordings. White went on to a solo career as did Roy Shirley, but in 1967 Smith reformed the group with Jimmy Riley and Lloyd Charmers and this is the line up that is known for making the most well known of the Uniques recording output.
The group recorded many tunes for many different producers and scored hits with songs like "My Woman's Love", "Lesson of Love", "The Beatitude", "Watch This Sound" and the immortal "My Conversation" among many others. Most of the tracks were produced by Bunny Lee, though the group also made recordings with Coxsone Dodd and Sir JJ Johnson as well.
Around the same time, Slim was making ripples as a successful solo artist as well. He made memorable recordings for producers like Coxsone Dodd ("I Will Never Let It Go") and Bunny Lee ("Aint To Proud To Beg") and many others. From 1969 up until his death, most of his tracks were done for Bunny Lee, who at the time was probably the most successful and prolific producer in Jamaica rivaled only by maybe Lee Perry. Slim scored many hits with Bunny recordings songs like "Ginny Come Lately", "I Need Your Loving", "Place In The Sun" and many many others.
Slims solo success is also what broke up The Uniques. Lloyd Charmers later said to reggae archivist Laurence Cane-Honeysett that they group couldn't get along and since Slim was having such a successful solo career, he should went his separate ways and so did Lloyd Charmers and Jimmy Riley.
It was also around this time that Slim became a devout Rasta. Though he didn't ever grow locks, it is said that Slim used to sit around in a circle with other Rastas and smoke herb and reason and pray and talk endlessly about the bible.
Sadly, by the end of the 60s and the early 70s, Slim had started to become slightly mentally disabled. It is said that in 1972, shortly before his death, Slim went to see Bunny Lee but Slim was pretty far gone. So Bunny took Slim to a doctor. Later that night, Slim Smith started having delusions in his sleep and started to punch out windows, severing several arteries in his hands and arms and he bled to death. But this could just be some hearsay, as another story is that Slim locked himself out of his house and had to break a window to get in and that's how he cut his arteries. And yet even more people say that Slim received some poisoned ganja which is what made him mad in the first place. There are many other stories. What is known though, is that on the 9th of October, 1972, the world was robbed of an incredibly talented singer.
Luckily, through the past few years, labels such as Heartbeat, Trojan and Westside have started reissuing some of Slims work in both The Techniques, The Uniques or as a solo artist. His music lives on in many other ways as well. For instance, his songs "My Conversation" and "Never Let It Go" are two of the most constantly versioned tracks in reggae history. There hasn't been much written about Keith "Slim" Smith really, but at least we know his memory will live on through his great music.
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