Winston Francis, born 1948, Kingston JA, attended school in Jamaica and began an apprenticeship in the printing trade before relocating to Miami, Florida, USA at the age of 16. In Miami he attended a music school where his teacher, the impresario, writer and performer Chuck Bird, likened his vocals to those of Nat "King" Cole. Bird arranged a performance at the Fountain Blue Hotel in Miami in 1965 with the Jackie Gleason Orchestra, witnessed by noted US politician Spiro Agnew. Francis began his career in earnest, performing with Carlos Malcom alongside Derrick Harriott and Boris Gardiner, touring the USA and Caribbean.
His recording career began at Studio One where he made a number of classic rocksteady hits, including a version of Joe South's "Games People Play", and the captivating "Reggae And Cry", while in combination with Alton Ellis he covered Junior Walker's soul hit "What Does It Take". He had also recorded with producer Joe Gibbs as part of the Mellowtones, noted for their hit "Feel Good". In 1971 he relocated to the UK to promote his version of the Mamas And The Papas' pop hit "California Dreaming", which was chosen as record of the week for two consecutive weeks on national radio. The b-side, "Too Experienced", featured falsetto backing vocals from Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. In 1972 Francis began touring the club circuit and recorded sessions for EMI Records, including "Follow Your Star" and a version of "Blue Moon". Throughout the seventies he recorded a number of sessions in the UK, including a remake of "California Dreaming" with Danny Ray. Between 1980 and 1986 he took a sabbatical from the music business and worked as a youth leader and social worker.
Winston Francis was coaxed back into the recording studio in 1987 when he sang backing vocals for the Melodians and performed for Trevor Star and the Skaticians, with whom he still sings. In 1993 Francis was approached by Dennis Bovell to record as a soul performer under the pseudonym of King Cool for the compilation "Jamaican Soul". He became a prominent performer in France when his interpretation of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" was released as a single, selling in excess of 90,000 copies. Although a celebrity in Europe he remained in relative obscurity in the UK, remembered predominantly as a Studio One veteran.
Francis' European success resulted in collaborations with Sly And Robbie, albeit playing soul tunes for his King Cool album debut. In the nineties Francis was asked by dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson to provide the vocals for a rocksteady revival project under the direction of the distinguished reggae guitarist John Kpiaye. Francis toured Europe and the USA performing rocksteady classics, including a notable performance at the Sierra Nevada Reggae Festival in San Francisco. The project led to a compilation of Jamaican classics entitled "Sweet Rock Steady". The cover featured a photograph of the young Francis that originally appeared on the Studio One various artists compilation Reggae In The Grass, released in the late 60s. Recently Winston Francis has teamed up with A.J. Franklin of the Chosen Few which will lead to the release of an album in the spring of 2003.
Photo : Lee Francis. Text courtesy of Iceberg.com.