Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff OM

Cliff performing in 1997.
Background information
Birth name James Chambers
Born 1 April 1948 (1948-04-01) (age 63)
Somerton District, St. James, Jamaica
Genres Ska, reggae
Occupations Musician, singer, actor
Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano, conga drums, keyboards
Years active 1962–present
Labels Island, MCI, Columbia,
Trojan, EMI, CBS[1]
Website Official site

Jimmy Cliff, OM (born James Chambers on 1 April 1948) is a Jamaican musician, singer and actor. He is the only currently living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences. He is best known among mainstream audiences for songs such as "Sitting in Limbo," "You Can Get It If You Really Want," and "Many Rivers to Cross" from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, which helped popularize reggae across the world;[2] and his covers of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" from the film Cool Runnings. Outside of the reggae world, he is probably best known for his film appearance in The Harder They Come. Jimmy Cliff was one of five performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.


Early life and career

Cliff was born in Somerton District, St. James, Jamaica.[3] He began writing songs while still at primary school in St. James, listening to a neighbour's sound system. In 1962 his father took him to Kingston to go to Kingston Technical school where he ended up sharing his cousin's one rented room in East Kingston. He sought out many producers while still going to school, trying to get his songs recorded without success. He also entered talent contests. "One night I was walking past a record store and restaurant as they were closing, pushed myself in and convinced one of them, Leslie Kong, to go into the recording business, starting with me," he writes in his own website biography.[2] After two singles that failed to make much impression, his career took off when his "Hurricane Hattie" became a hit, while he was aged 14.[4] It was produced by Kong, with whom Cliff remained until Kong's death from a heart attack in 1971. Cliff's later local hit singles included "King of Kings," "Dearest Beverley," "Miss Jamaica," and "Pride and Passion." In 1964, Cliff was chosen as one of the Jamaican representatives at the World's Fair and Cliff soon signed to Island Records and moved to the UK.[4] Island Records initially (and unsuccessfully) tried to sell Cliff to the rock audience, but his career took off in the late 1960s.[5] His international debut album was Hard Road to Travel, which received excellent reviews and included "Waterfall" (composed by Nirvana's Alex Spyropoulos and Patrick Campbell-Lyons), which became a hit in Brazil and won the International Song Festival.[4]

"Waterfall" was followed in 1969 by "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and "Vietnam" in 1970, both popular throughout most of the world. Bob Dylan called "Vietnam" the best protest song he had ever heard.[2] Also during this period, Cliff released a cover of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" as a single, but it was not included on his Wonderful World, Beautiful People album.

The Harder They Come

In 1972, Cliff starred as Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin in the classic reggae film, The Harder They Come, directed by Perry Henzell. As the film tells Martin's story, he is a young man without funds. Arriving in Kingston from the country, he tries to make it in the recording business, but without success. Eventually, he turns to a life of crime. The soundtrack album of the film was a huge success that sold well across the world, bringing reggae to an international audience for the first time. It remains the most significant film to have come out of Jamaica since independence. The film made its debut at London's Notting Hill Gaumont cinema on 1 September 1972.[6] After a series of albums, Cliff took a break and traveled to Africa, and subsequently converted to Islam.[7] He quickly returned to music, touring for several years before he recorded with Kool & the Gang for The Power and the Glory (1983). In 1984 Cliff appeared at the Pinkpop Festival in Landgraaf, Netherlands.

During the 1981 River Tour, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band added Cliff's previously little-known song "Trapped" to their live set; it achieved great prominence when included on 1985's We Are the World benefit album. The follow-up, Cliff Hanger (1985) won a Grammy Award for 'Best Reggae Album', though it was his last major success in the U.S. until 1993. Also in 1985 Cliff contributed to the song "Sun City," a protest song written and composed by Steven Van Zandt and recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid to convey opposition to the South African policy of apartheid.[8] Cliff then provided backing vocals on The Rolling Stones' 1986 album, Dirty Work. In 1988, his song "Shelter of Your Love" was featured in the hit film Cocktail.

In 1991 Cliff appeared at the second Rock in Rio festival in the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He continued to sell well in Jamaica and, to a lesser extent, the UK, returning to the mainstream pop charts in the US and elsewhere (#1 in France) with a version of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" on the Cool Runnings film soundtrack in 1993. In 1995 Cliff released the single "Hakuna Matata," a collaboration with Lebo M, a song from the soundtrack of the film The Lion King.

In 2002, Cliff released the album Fantastic Plastic People in Europe, after first providing free downloads using p2p software. This album featured collaborations with Joe Strummer, Annie Lennox, and Sting as well as new songs that were very reminiscent of Cliff's original hits. In 2004 Cliff completely reworked the songs, dropping the traditional reggae in favour of an electronica sound, for inclusion in Black Magic. He also performed at the closing ceremony to the 2002 Commonwealth Games. In 2003 his song "You Can Get It If You Really Want" was included in the soundtrack to the film, Something's Gotta Give. Cliff appeared in July 2003 at the Paléo Festival in Nyon, Switzerland.

Cliff has also covered Solomon Linda's, "Mbube," which has been re-recorded by The Tokens as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Cliff name checked the Welsh privateer, Henry Morgan, in his song "Oh, Jamaica." Joe Strummer recorded "Over The Border" with Cliff on the latter's album Black Magic. In 2007 Cliff performed at the opening ceremony at Cricket's World Cup. His song "Many Rivers to Cross" references the White Cliffs Of Dover, England.

Awards and honors

The Jamaican government under P.J. Patterson honoured Cliff on 20 October 2003, by awarding him The Order of Merit, the nation's third-highest honour, in recognition of his contributions to the film and music of Jamaica.[9] He and Mervyn Morris are the only currently living figures from the arts to hold this distinction and he is the only living musician to do so.

Cliff was also an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards' judging panel to support independent artists.[10] More recently, Cliff appeared on the Jazz World Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 2008 and again at Glastonbury in 2011.

Cliff's recording of "You Can Get It If You Really Want" was used as a campaign anthem by the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the 1990 election in Nicaragua. It was also adopted by the British Conservative Party during their annual conference in October 2007. It is unclear whether Cliff endorsed either political party.

In September 2009, Cliff was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following a campaign on his behalf by the American, Charles Earle.[11] Cliff reacted to the news by saying, "This is good for Cliff, good for Jamaican music and good for my country." On December 15, 2009, Cliff was officially announced as an inductee and was inducted on March 15, 2010[12] by Wyclef Jean.

2010 North American tour

In the spring and summer of 2010, Cliff embarked on an extensive tour of the US and Canada.[13]

Acting career

In addition to providing the music for The Harder They Come, Cliff also had the film's starring role as the struggling reggae singer, Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin.[14]

Cliff also appeared as the Jamaican musician and revolutionary, Ernest Reed, in the 1986 comedy Club Paradise, co-starring with Robin Williams and Peter O'Toole,[15] and contributed several songs to the soundtrack, including "Seven Day Weekend," which he sang with Elvis Costello.

Cliff appeared in Marked for Death[16] in 1990, performing "John Crow" with the Jimmy Cliff Band.

Cover versions of Cliff songs

"The Harder They Come"

Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones recorded "The Harder They Come", as a b-side to his single featuring "Run, Rudolph, Run," written by Chuck Berry, in 1978.[17] It has also been covered by Madness (1992),[18] Joe Jackson (1980),[19] Rancid,[20] Willie Nelson,[20] Joe Strummer,[20] Jerry Garcia Band,[20] Me First & The Gimme Gimmes,[21] Cher,[21] Poison Idea,[22] Kahimi Karie,[23] moe.,[21] Widespread Panic,[21] State Radio,[24] Guster,[21] and the Brazilian band Titãs, who covered it on their unplugged album with the participation of Cliff.[25]

"Many Rivers to Cross"

The song "Many Rivers to Cross" was covered in 1974 by Martha Reeves in her solo self-titled debut album; in 1982 by Joe Cocker on his album, Sheffield Steel with the Compass Point All Stars. This song was also recorded by The Animals in their 1982 reunion album Ark, and by Arthur Lee on his 1981 solo album Arthur Lee. "Many Rivers to Cross" was also covered in 1974 by Harry Nilsson, on his album Pussy Cats, which was produced by John Lennon. Nilsson's version of "Many Rivers to Cross" was itself covered by The Walkmen on their track-by-track cover of Nilsson's Pussy Cats, released in 2006. "Many Rivers to Cross" was also successfully covered by the British reggae act UB40, gaining a Top 20 spot in the UK Singles Chart in 1983. "Many Rivers to Cross" was remixed by Cafe del Mar DJs for the Cafe del Mar 9 compilation album. Oleta Adams is featured singing "Many Rivers to Cross" during the closing credits of the 1994 film, Jason's Lyric. Adams' cover is also featured on her 1996 album, The Very Best of Oleta Adams. Annie Lennox sang "Many Rivers to Cross" for American Idol's charity special Idol Gives Back in 2008. The performance was sold on iTunes, with proceeds going to the charity. In 2008 Lenny Kravitz covered "Many Rivers to Cross" on Clear Channel's Stripped Raw and Real. Linda Ronstadt covered "Many Rivers To Cross" on 1975's Prisoner in Disguise. Both Gov't Mule and Steve Kimock cover the song on a regular basis. During a track-by-track reveal, Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman admitted that the song "Fix You" takes "a bit of inspiration" from "Many Rivers to Cross".


New Order covered "Vietnam" on the 2003 War Child compilation album, Hope. Paul Simon covered "Vietnam" during an extensive 2011 tour of his album, So Beautiful or So What.


From 1981 on, Bruce Springsteen performed "Trapped" in concert, and one such rendition appeared on the 1985 benefit album We Are the World.

"Reggae Nights"

La Toya Jackson covered "Reggae Nights," a Grammy Award nominated song that she co-wrote, for her album No Relations. Tony Holiday recorded a version titled "Urlaubsreif."

"You Can Get It If You Really Want"

Desmond Dekker's version of "You Can Get It If You Really Want" featured the same arrangement, but the vocal work is quite different.

"Sittin' In Limbo"

"Sittin' In Limbo" has been covered by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Willie Nelson, Fiona Apple, Three Dog Night, The Neville Brothers, John Sebastian, and Trey Anastasio.

"Going Back West"

Boney M. covered "Going Back West" in 1982, and it was included on their 1984 album Kalimba de Luna - 16 Happy Songs.

"Struggling Man"

"Struggling Man" was covered by the Jerry Garcia Band frequently during live shows from 1990 to 1995.



  • Hard Road to Travel (January 1968)
  • Jimmy Cliff (December 1969) (aka Wonderful World, Beautiful People)
  • Goodbye Yesterday (1970)
  • Another Cycle (September 1971)
  • The Harder They Come (1972)
  • Unlimited (August 1973)
  • Struggling Man (June 1974)
  • House of Exile (December 1974)
  • Brave Warrior (1975)
  • Follow My Mind (November 1976)
  • In Concert: The Best of Jimmy Cliff (1976)
  • Give Thankx (1978)
  • I Am The Living (July 1980)
  • Give the People What They Want (September 1981, with the Compass Point All Stars)
  • Special (July 1982)
  • The Power and the Glory (October 1983)
  • Cliff Hanger (August 1985)
  • Club Paradise (1986)
  • Hanging Fire (March 1988)
  • Images (October 1989)
  • Save Our Planet Earth (October 1990)
  • Breakout (1992)
  • Higher and Higher (May 1998)
  • Journey of Lifetime (1998)
  • Humanitarian (June 1999)
  • Fantastic Plastic People (2002)
  • Black Magic (2004)
  • Existence (2011?)




See also


  1. ^ "Jimmy Cliff: Biography". http://www.answers.com/topic/jimmy-cliff. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Larkin, Colin: The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae, 1998, Virgin Books, ISBN 0-7535-0242-9.
  3. ^ Thompson, Dave (2002). Reggae & Caribbean Music. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-655-6. 
  4. ^ a b c Allmusic.com biography
  5. ^ Barrow, Steve & Dalton, Peter: "Reggae: The Rough Guide," 1997, Rough Guides, ISBN 1-85828-247-0
  6. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. pp. 242. CN 5585. 
  7. ^ Jamaica Hall Of Fame: Jimmy Cliff, Reggae Superstar Retrieved on 2010-01-25.
  8. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. pp. 409. CN 5585. 
  9. ^ "Jimmy Cliff Heads List Of 141 Persons To Receive National Honours," Jamaica Information Service, 16 October 2003
  10. ^ Independent Music Awards - Past Judges
  11. ^ Jimmy Cliff Still a Musical Rebel http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20090927/ent/ent7.html
  12. ^ "Congratulations to the 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees!" Rockhall.com, 17 December 2009
  13. ^ Jimmycliff.com
  14. ^ IMDb.com database 1
  15. ^ IMDb.com database 2
  16. ^ IMDb.com database 3
  17. ^ Goodman, Dean (6 December 2007). "Keith Richards reissues rare single on iTunes". Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/12/07/us-richards-idUSN0626203020071207. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  18. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (2006). The Essential Rock Discography. Canongate U.S.. p. 658. ISBN 9781841958606. http://books.google.com/books?id=CsooY_e1w8kC&pg=PA658. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  19. ^ Gimarc, George (2005). Punk Diary: the Ultimate Trainspotter's Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 337. ISBN 9780879308483. http://books.google.com/books?id=4WM6Cb1z-PwC&pg=PA337. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  20. ^ a b c d Kanner, Matt (9 September 2010). "'The Harder They Come'". The Wire. http://www.wirenh.com/music-mainmenu-5/long-play-mainmenu-77/4404-the-harder-they-come.html. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  21. ^ a b c d e McGrath, Hali (19 August 2010). "In Pictures: Jimmy Cliff in San Francisco". SoundSpike.com. http://www.soundspike.com/news/article/505-jimmy-cliff-news-in-pictures-jimmy-cliff-in-san-francisco/. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  22. ^ Robbins, Ira A. (1997). The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock (5 ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 569. ISBN 9780684814377. 
  23. ^ Vanderloo, Lydia (15 November 1999). "The girlish and irresistible Kahimi Karie spins delicious pop confections". Salon.com. http://www.salon.com/entertainment/music/review/1999/11/15/karie. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  24. ^ Hirsh, Marc (2 May 2006). "More party than protest". The Boston Globe. http://articles.boston.com/2006-05-02/news/29247126_1_mike-najarian-white-buffalo-songs. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  25. ^ Dapieve, Arthur (1996) (in Portuguese). Brock: o rock brasileiro dos anos 80. Editora 34. p. 91. ISBN 9788573260083. http://books.google.com/books?id=xCig3wjpgj4C&pg=PA91. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  26. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 188–190. ISBN 1-84195-017-3. 
  27. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 110. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

External links

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