Jimmy Cliff

Widely recognised as one of the true giants of reggae music, Jimmy Cliff launched his recording career in the early sixties while still in his early teens, recording sides for Count Boysie and Sir Cavaliers before being brought to the attention of producer, Leslie Kong by Derrick Morgan in 1962.

Under Kong’s auspices, Cliff cut a series of Jamaican hits that established him as a major star in Jamaica and led to an invitation to perform at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. His performance led to an approach from Island Records boss, Chris Blackwell, who talked the young singer into moving to the UK, where spent the next year or so gaining experience as a singer on the club circuit. He then resumed his recording career in earnest, cutting a number of well-received singles, most notably ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Hard Road To Travel’, with the latter providing the title for his 1968 debut album.

Early in 1969, Cliff returned to Jamaica where he resumed his working relationship with Leslie Kong, recording a number of superior self-penned songs that were subsequently gathered on the critically acclaimed ‘Jimmy Cliff’ LP. Among the tracks cut during these sessions were future UK hits ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’ and ‘Vietnam’, along with the original version of the beautiful ‘Many Rivers To Cross’, a song later covered to great effect by UB40.

In 1972, Cliff’s profile was further raised following his mesmerising performance as the rebellious rude boy, Ivan in Perry Henzell‘s cult motion picture, ‘The Harder They Come’, and a future as Jamaica’s number one star seemed assured. But sadly, it was not to be and while a move to EMI certainly made financial sense in the short-term, the move ultimately proved disastrous, resulting in a series of hugely disappointing albums.

By the mid-seventies, Jimmy’s star had been well and truly eclipsed by that of Bob Marley and his conversion to Islam and rejection of the more fashionable rasta faith did little to help his cause in terms of commercial success. None the less, his reputation as one of the most accomplished reggae performers was restored somewhat following the release of commendable releases for Warner Brothers/Reprise and MCA.

In the early eighties, Jimmy formed a new backing band, Oneness, and in 1981 gave a series of impressive performances on a North American tour with former Wailer, Peter Tosh. The following year, after over a decade without a major international hit, Cliff finally found success on a significant scale once again when the title track from the LP, ‘Special’ returned him to the US R&B charts. He returned to the listings twice more over the next two years with ‘Reggae Night’ and ‘We All Are One’, while a collaboration with Kool & The Gang resulted in the ‘Cliff Hanger’ album that in 1985 won him a prestigious Grammy Award for ‘Best Reggae Album’.

In 1986, Jimmy played his second major motion picture role in ‘Club Paradise’, co-starring alongside the late US comedian/actor, Robin Williams, but the remainder of the decade failed to produce further mainstream chart success either in Europe and the US. Towards the end of the eighties, he parted company with Columbia and after four hit-free years, he finally returned to the American Pop charts with a fine version of ‘I Can See Clearly Now’, which gave him his biggest selling hit to date, the single peaking at number 18 in 1993.

Since then, he has remained a powerful figure in world music. His popularity in Latin America and Africa is unequalled by any other Jamaican performer, with more recent work serving to remind the world at large that he is far from being a spent force. Highlights from the past two decades include ‘Higher And Higher’, ‘Hakuna Matata’ (from ‘The Lion King’), his second Grammy winning album, ‘Fantastic Plastic People’ and the ‘Rebirth’ collection that marked his long overdue return to Trojan in 2012.

Laurence Cane-Honeysett

Listen to a dozen of Jimmy’s biggest hits for island and Trojan Records from the sixties and seventies: