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Jimmy Cliff 

Jimmy Cliff should be a household name, if not a true contender. His beautiful sweet soulful reggae should have us talking about him in the same hushed tones the world talks about Bob Marley in - after all, his 1969 eponymous debut LP was not only musically near perfect, but also sent a political message of peace, love, unity and hope through the sublime 'Vietnam', which Bob Dylan dubbed the greatest protest song of all time, 'Many Rivers To Cross', 'Hard Road To Travel', 'Sufferin' In The Land' and his breakthrough single, the UK Top 10 hit 'Wonderful World, Beautiful People'.

Later came 'I'm No Immigrant' and 'Bongo Man', the latter a homage to the Rastafarian leader Prince Emmanuel Edwards, which consolidated his role as Jamaica's stark social commentator. But Cliff was multi-talented; he was also an extremely gifted actor and should be a regular presence on our cinema screens - as the protagonist, Ivan in the Perry Henzell directed 'The Harder They Come' he turns in a heartfelt, enthralling performance, his natural poise in front of the camera combining with his incredible good looks was a sure-fire, winning mix.

But inexplicably for Cliff, he never reached his full potential.

Born in St. Catherine, Somerton, Jamaica on April 1, 1948 as James Chambers, he honed his craft singing at local talent shows and in church. He told reggae writer David Katz in his superb book 'Solid Foundation: An Oral History Of Reggae'

"I grew up in the countryside about 12 miles from Montego Bay, and I enjoyed that period of my life because there were rivers to go to and the beach. My parents were Christians and I enjoyed the singing of the church but when the preaching came on I slept. My father was a tailor, my mother is a housewife and I also spent a lot of time with my father's sister and her husband, who were farmers. By the time I was 12, my father decided that I should go to Kingston; there was a college there to learn the technical things of radio and TV so I went to Kingston to do that".

A keen music fan, digesting everything from the R&B of Fats Domino, the soul of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, Jamaican folk and mento, Cliff was galvanized into action on his arrival and at 14 with a portfolio of self-penned material he adopted the sobriquet 'Cliff' - referring to the heights he would reach in the music world - and went knocking on local sound system operator Count Boysie's studio door. together they cut Cliff's debut 'Daisy Got Me Crazy' at Federal studios. It was a flop but undeterred he released 'I'm Sorry' with producer Sir Cavalier, another miss. Cliff, putting on his thinking cap decided to pen a song with local interest, an ode to Beverly's record shop. The owner Leslie Kong loved it and released 'Dearest Beverly' in 1962 backed by 'Hurricane Hattie', inspired by the then recent hurricane that had howled around South America. It struck a chord locally. But it was his next record, recorded with Kong that would cement his position in his home country. The bouncy early ska of 'Miss Jamaica', propelled by Cliff's adolescent, jaunty vocal was perfectly-timed to coincide with the country's independence celebrations and catapulted Cliff  into the nation's consciousness. Cliff remained with Kong until the latter's death in 1971 from a heart attack. It was a successful partnership that spawned several more ska hits including 'King Of Kings' and 'One Eyed Jacks'.

In 1964, Cliff played his first gig in the US as part of a promotional tour by the Jamaican government to promote home-grown talent. At the World's Fair in New York's Flushing Meadows Park, accompanied by Prince Buster, Millie Small and Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, he wowed the audience, which included Island Records label boss Chris Blackwell. Blackwell convinced Cliff the time was right to move to England and the following year he did just that, but instead of finding instant fame he was faced with a hard slog. he embarked on a relentless touring schedule most would baulk at, lent his vocals to records by Jackie Edwards and the Spencer Davis Group and in 1968 was finally rewarded when he won first place with his song, 'Waterfall' in a Brazilian song contest. It was while in South America that he penned the majority of what would form his debut LP.

released in 1969 the eponymous outing, produced by Leslie Kong and recorded for Beverly's staked Cliff's claim as Jamaica's biggest export as it spawned the UK Top 10 and US Top 30 hit, 'Wonderful World, Beautiful People', and the UK Top 50 placing 'Vietnam', which Bob Dylan dubbed the greatest protest song of the time.

1970 saw further success. Cliff's take on Cat Steven's 'Wild World' peaked at number 8 in the UK charts. Cliff also notched up hits as composer. The Pioneers scored with his 'Let Your Yeah Be Yeah' in 1971 and the following year with his 'Give And Take', while Desmond Dekker's 1970 version of his 'You Can Get It If You Really Want' hit the UK number 2 spot.

In 1972 Cliff debuted on the silver screen taking the lead role in Perry Henzell's 'The Harder They Come', an expose of Jamaican corruption that traces Jimmy cliff's journey as Ivan from singer to cop killer and features an exemplary musical backdrop of Cliff's title track plus choice Maytals, Melodians and Scotty cuts.

the film, despite being the most successful Jamaican movie up to 2003s 'Third World Cop', and soundtrack, while garnering a cult following, failed to achieve the international acclaim hoped for and after a soul LP, 1971s 'Another Cycle', recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Cliff left Island and signed to EMI. He converted to Islam which alienated many of his Rasta fans and his faith started to influence his music and 1973s 'Unlimited', 1974s 'Struggling Man', and the following year's 'Brave Warrior' failed to find an audience.

With the belated release of the film, 'The Harder They Come' in 1975 in the US Cliff's coinciding release 'Follow My Mind' benefitted from a knock-on effect and became the first of his albums to chart there. It's follow-up 'Live In Concert' was a fine testament to his exhilarating stage performance bizarrely produced by the one time Rolling Stones manager, producer and Immediate label owner Andrew Loog Oldham. In the 80s, Cliff formed a new backing band, Oneness, and toured the US with Peter Tosh and in '83 was nominated for a Grammy for his collaboration with Kool And The Gang, 'The Power And The Glory'. Its follow-up, 'Cliff Hanger' actually bagged a Grammy two years later.

The 90s saw Cliff return to the screen with a performance in 'Club Paradise' and a return to the US Top 20 and UK Top 30 in 1993 with a cover of Johnny Nash's 'I Can See Clearly Now', culled from the soundtrack to Jon Turtletaub's 'Cool Runnings'. He also contributed 'Higher And Higher' his duet with Solda Pop to the score to 'Up In The Air' and 'Hakuna Matata' to Disney's 'The Lion King'. 2004 saw the release of 'Black Magic', an album of duets with Joe Strummer, Sting, Annie Lennox and Wyclef Jean, and Cliff continues to pack out venues through Europe and the States to this day.

LOIS WILSON - MOJO MAGAZINE


I'm Sorry
Hurricane Hatty
Miss Jamaica
I'm Free
King Of Kings
The Man
Miss Universe
One Eyed Jacks
You're The One I Need
Ska All Over The World
Give A Little Take A Little
Waterfall
Let's Dance
Time Will Tell
Hard Road To Travel
Use What I Got
Hello Sunshine
Wonderful World, Beautiful People
Vietnam
Come Into My Life
Sufferin' In The Land
Many Rivers To Cross
Let Your Yeah Be Yeah
You Can Get It If You Really Want
Wild World
Bongo Man (A Come)
Those Good, Good Old Days
Sooner Or Later
Synthetic World
Goodbye Yesterday
Sitting In Limbo
The Harder They Come
Struggling Man
Fundamental Reggae
Special
Love Is All
Treat The Youths Right
Reggae Nights
Sunshine In The Music
We All Are One
Hitting With Music
Club Paradise
I Can See Clearly Now
Fantastic Plastic People

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