Boris Gardiner was born on 13 January 1946. The youngest of three children, his father was a plumbing contractor and he spent his early years in Rollington Town, moving with his father to Vineyard Town when he was thirteen, following the divorce of after his parents. At seventeen he was diagnosed with the heart condition, tachycardia and he spent some time in hospital, but within a year of being discharged joined Delano Stewart, Richard Ace and Richard Moss as lead vocalist in a group known as the Rhythm Aces. The quartet subsequently played for tourists at hotels and clubs along Jamaica's North Coast and during 1962 and into 1963 they made their mark as recording artists, cutting 'A Thousand Teardrops', 'Wherever You May Go', 'Oh My Darling', 'Please Don't Go Away' and 'Christmas' for Chris Blackwell's R&B label, 'Joy Bells For Independence' for Studio One, and 'Together' for Gay Feet. They proved to be a popular group, but disbanded due to lack of real financial rewards, with Boris joining another band plying its trade with the North Coast tourists, Kes Chin & the Souvenirs, a fourteen piece orchestra that included saxophonist Val Bennett in the line up. Boris sang lead for the Souvenirs, but he also began to play guitar for the band and after a while graduated to the bass. Some early examples of his guitar work, 'Memories Of Flora' and 'Don't Speak To Me Of Love' (which he also wrote) can be found on the Premiere Records long player, 'Let's Have A Red Stripe Party'.
In 1964, the Souvenirs began to fall apart when members of the band began defecting to rival group, the Caribs, and Boris was asked to join Carlos Malcolm's Afro Cubans, who specialised in Ska and movie and T.V. themes - their 'Bonanza Ska' is an all time classic. When Boris joined, the group consisted of Carlos Malcolm on trombone and percussion, Derrick Harriott on lead vocals, Carl 'Cannonball' Bryan on saxophone, Trevor Lopez on guitar, Winston Turner on trumpet, Freddy Campbell on drums and Audley Williams on bass, steel guitar and piano. Boris not only sang, but also played percussion and danced the bossa nova and the cha cha! Audley Williams left the band and, for a while, Carlos Malcolm took over the bass player's role but he was never comfortable with the instrument and soon convinced Boris to take a break from singing and dancing and to take up the bass again. It was at this time that Boris learnt to read music, still something of a rarity among Reggae musicians, and he soon became competent enough to sight-read and to write all the parts for the members of the band. In 1966, the Afro Cubans went to the Bahamas where they stayed for a year working between Freeport and Nassau. They subsequently moved on to New York where Boris discovered that he was expected to get a job to subsidise his musician's wages and so moved still further north to Canada, joining Leslie Butler's house band at Club Jamaica in Toronto. The harsh Canadian winter proved far too cold for Boris and he returned to Kingston where he became part of the resident trio at a new club named The Bronco in Cross Roads.
Boris began to work as a session player at Coxsone's Studio One, where he laid many memorable rhythms, now rightly regarded as classics, in the company of Jackie Mittoo and Fil Callender. He filled the same role at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle crafting a series of bass lines many of which have subsequently gone on to become part of the rhythmic vocabulary of Reggae music. He also freelanced as a session musician for Sonia Pottinger's High Note label, Federal Records, Lloyd 'Matador' Daley and as one of Derrick Harriott's Crystalites amongst numerous others and, while working for Harry J, laid the bass line for Bob & Marcia's crossover hit 'Young, Gifted And Black'. This followed his very own crossover success, 'Elizabethan Reggae', into the U.K. National Charts, as the first ever wave of Jamaican records broke internationally. 'Elizabethan Reggae' was, at first, erroneously credited to Byron Lee, but it was Boris Gardiner that played on the record and later pressings corrected the credits. It finally reached Number 14 in January 1970 and in the wake of its success, Boris toured the U.K. to promote the hit and his Byron Lee-produced debut album 'Reggae Happening'. But Boris soon returned to Jamaica to concentrate on his session work and live dates with the Broncos.
By now the Broncos had expanded to include Keith Sterling on keyboards and Hux Brown on guitar, and their sound was so impressive that Robert Lake Junior, the manager of the uptown Courtney Manor Hotel, persuaded them to leave the Bronco Club and come and work for him. With the change of venue came a change of name and the Broncos became The Boris Gardiner Happening. Paul Douglas was recruited on drums and Tinga Stewart was drafted in on lead vocals, as the band rapidly established a reputation as one of the island's top live acts, alongside Byron Lee's Dragonaires and Lloyd Parks' We The People. When Tinga won the Festival Song Contest in 1974 with 'Play De Music', he left the band and Boris recruited Earl 'Sixteen' Daley to take over the lead singer's role. Earl described The Boris Gardiner Happening as 'a touristy kind of thing' specialising in the 'cabaret treatment' of current top Jamaican tunes, as they played at balls, hotels and nurseries, and on campaigns for politicians.
Meanwhile, Aston and Carlton Barrett had left Lee Perry's Upsetters to join Bob Marley's Wailers in 1972 and Scratch had started to look for replacements for this dynamic duo. The musicianship of Boris Gardiner was already well known - Earl Sixteen said he was 'one of the best bass players at the time' and it was not long before Lee Perry recruited Boris as one of his Upsetters. His approach was always 100% professional coupled with an almost innate ability to play any style of music from Calypso through to sophisticated Soul, but he made his mark at the Black Ark with the deep, dark rhythms of uncompromising Roots Reggae. His stubborn bass parts were never ostentatious, but inevitably impressive and amongst Boris Gardner's lengthy Upsetter repertoire are countless classics such as 'Police & Thieves' and the almighty 'Heart Of The Congos' album.
As Reggae moved into the digital era in the mid eighties, a casual observer might well have thought that the days of multi-talented musicians, such as Boris Gardiner, were finally over, as technology took the centre stage. But nothing could have been further from the truth. All his years of working for the more relaxed and mellow hotel crowds with The Boris Gardiner Happening were distilled into his biggest crossover hit ever, 'I Want To Wake Up With You', a slow ballad that made it to Number One in the U.K. National Charts in July 1986. It was rather disparagingly described as 'middle of the road', but of course that all depends on the direction you're actually driving in. The follow up took the same direction and 'You're Everything To Me' made it to eleventh place that Autumn. His seasonal offering, 'The Meaning Of Christmas' only made the lower reaches of the charts that year, but it has proved to be a perennial festive favourite ever since.
For more than three decades Boris Gardiner has been a permanent fixture in a music fixated with the here and now, with three major U.K. chart hits to his credit and a roll call of achievements as long as it is lustrous. It is still difficult to understand why his reputation outside of the Reggae cognoscenti has never seemed able to match his consummate musicianship, but perhaps he has been overlooked precisely because he has always been around. His major contribution has been to the sound of Jamaican music, rather than wasting any time polishing his public profile, and it is no exaggeration to say that Reggae would have been all the poorer without his outstanding contribution over the years.