Jimmy Cliff – Reggae Goes International
When most people think of Reggae music, they think of Bob Marley. But it was actually Jimmy Cliff that broke reggae out of Jamaica and presented it to the world! He’s also very instrumental in bringing Ska to an international audience, largely through his touring, and his performance in the landmark film “The Harder They Come” in 1972. At age 73, he’s still going strong and creating beautiful music! Not only has he received his country’s highest honor “The Order of Merit,” But he’s also a Grammy Award-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee along with Bob Marley! As well as a musician, actor, singer, songwriter, producer, and humanitarian. But he if you ask him, he attributes all of his accolades in his life and to luck and magic.
“I feel like there’s something magical about everything,” he smiles. “When my mother was pregnant, she had such a huge stomach that everyone thought she was carrying triplets! That’s why people initially said I was special. In school, I was already doing magic tricks. I don’t know how I learned them. I could also read palms. Nobody taught me how to do that either. There are so many stories like that in my life. The fact that I came out of that hurricane felt significant to me.” – Jimmy Cliff
Early Years – St. James, Jamaica
A lot of people took notice of how gifted Jimmy Cliff was musically at a very early age. However, it’s not until around age fourteen that he really starts performing in local shows and fairs, and honing his craft. Shortly after, he moves to Kingston and changes his name and becomes Jimmy Cliff. Once in Kingston, he doesn’t have much luck at first getting his music in the right hands until he happens by a music store and decides to convince Leslie Kong an influential Chinese-Jamaican reggae producer to take him under his wing.
Now mind you, Kong didn’t need to help him out but as he watched Cliff performing outside of his shop singing a song “Dearest Beverley” (After the record store that Kong owned). He decides to take him under his wing and teach him the ropes. This encounter leads Kong to launch his own record label, Beverley’s, and to record Cliff’s songs, while launching Cliff’s career in the process. The first two singles failed miserably but then his career takes off when “Hurricane Hattie” becomes a hit when he’s still 14! It’s also a song that Kong produced. Furthermore, he work relationship continues until 1971 when Kong passes from a heart attack.
Cliff continues to write and perform locally while keeping his career going. Especially with hit singles like “King of Kings”, “Dearest Beverley”, “Miss Jamaica”, and “Pride and Passion”. In 1964, magic happens again when Cliff is chosen as one of Jamaica’s representatives at the World’s Fair in New York. At the same time, Cliff is featured in a program called “This is Ska!” alongside Prince Buster, Toots and the Maytals, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires.
He catches the eye of Island Records and is signed to Island Records and ends up moving to the United Kingdom. In the late 1960s, his career really takes off with his debut of “Hard Road To Travel” which releases in 1967. The song waterfall is a hit right out of the box! Following up with in 1969 by “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” and “Vietnam” in 1970 as well as the single “Wild World” a cover of the Cat Stevens Song.
Collaborations – Movies – Documentaries
Everyone from the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello to Annie Lennox and Paul Simon has sought Jimmy Cliff out for collaborations, while Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Cher, New Order, and Fiona Apple have recorded notable covers. Springsteen’s “Trapped” even graced the track listing of “We Are The World.” Bob Dylan famously proclaimed “Vietnam,” “the greatest protest song ever written.” An inimitable screen presence, he’s also starred in and figured prominently on the soundtrack of the 1972 classic “The Harder They Come”, which drew an international spotlight to reggae.
Other film appearances include Club Paradise, Muscle Shoals, Marked For Death, and more. Along with performances at Coachella, Bonnaroo, and beyond! In 2007, Cliff performs at the opening ceremony at cricket’s World Cup. In the spring and summer of 2010, Cliff embarks on an extensive tour of the U.S. and Canada. In 2011, Cliff also appears in the 2011 documentary Reggae Got Soul: The Story of Toots and the Maytals which was featured on BBC and described as “The untold story of one of the most influential artists ever to come out of Jamaica”.
“I still haven’t written my best song,” he leaves off. “I’m pursuing that all the time. If my music can uplift someone to make them want to live a better life and not give up, that is a big success for me.” – Jimmy Cliff
Basically what this means is that there’s more magic and more projects to embrace on the horizon! In the meantime, you can check him out on all social media platforms!
Furthermore, be sure, to check out the other blog posts: https://jbonamassa.com/jb-blog/
Video Credits: Jimmy Cliff Live -“Vietnam” – Hey -U Media Group/ Jimmy Cliff-Cool running / Rasta Rocket – rockyfl86 – “The Harder They Fall” – Rocksteady Freddie/ You can Get it if You really Want – dicka101