Jimmy Cliff

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Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff - Festival du Bout du Monde 2012 - 022.jpg
Cliff performing in 2012.
Background information
Birth name James Chambers
Born (1948-04-01) 1 April 1948 (age 66)
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, 1 April 1948)[citation needed] is a Jamaican musician, multi-instrumentalist, 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.

Cliff is best known among mainstream audiences for songs such as "Wonderful World, Beautiful People", "The Harder They Come," "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. He starred in the film The Harder They Come. Cliff was one of five performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

Early life and career[edit]

Jimmy 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.

Cliff 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 Jamaica's representatives at the World's Fair and he 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. It 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 (1972) and subsequent career[edit]

Jimmy Cliff performing at the Picture on festival 2012, Bildein

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 one of the most internationally significant films 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] In 1975 Cliff sang on the first season of Saturday Night Live, episode 12, hosted by Dick Cavett.

After a series of albums, Cliff took a break and traveled to Africa (the Nigeria-based Jamaican writer Lindsay Barrett was instrumental in Cliff's first trip there),[7] and subsequently converted to Islam, and took the new name: El Hadj Naïm Bachir.[8] and [9] 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.[10] 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 Hi World ceremony at Cricket's World Cup. His song "Many Rivers to Cross" references the White Cliffs Of Dover, England.

In the spring and summer of 2010, Cliff embarked on an extensive tour of the US and Canada.[11]

In 2011, Cliff worked with producer Tim Armstrong, singer of the band Rancid, on The Sacred Fire EP and the full-length album Rebirth.[12]

Cliff's 2012 album Rebirth was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.[13] The album was listed at #12 on Rolling Stone's list of the top 50 albums of 2012, saying "There's ska, rock steady, roots reggae, a revelatory cover of The Clash's "Guns of Brixton" delivered in Cliff's trademark soulful tenor, grittier but still lovely more than 40 years after his debut."[14]

Acting career[edit]

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, which was his acting debut.[15]

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,[16] and contributed several songs to the soundtrack, including "Seven Day Weekend", which he sang with Elvis Costello.

Cliff appeared in the film Marked for Death[17] in 1990, performing "John Crow" with the Jimmy Cliff Band.

Awards and honours[edit]

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.[18] Cliff 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.[19] More recently, he 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, he was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, following a campaign on his behalf by the American, Charles Earle.[20] Cliff reacted to the news by saying, "This is good for Cliff, good for Jamaican music and good for my country." On 15 December 2009, he was officially announced as an inductee and was inducted on 15 March 2010[21] by Wyclef Jean.

In December 2012, Cliff was named Artist of the Year [22] by digital newspaper the Caribbean Journal, citing his work on Rebirth.

In February 2013, Cliff won the Best Reggae Album Grammy Award for Rebirth.

Personal life[edit]

Cliff is not a Rasta, and was not even one during the roots era of reggae. He has a 'universal outlook on life', and does not align himself with any particular movement or religion.[23]



  • Hard Road to Travel (January 1968)
  • Can't Get Enough Of It (1968) (exclusive to Jamaica)
  • Jimmy Cliff (UK: December 1969) (aka Wonderful World, Beautiful People) (US: January 1970)
  • Two Worlds (1971) (exclusive to Jamaica) OR Goodbye Yesterday (1971) (exclusive to Holland, with three different tracks)
  • Another Cycle (September 1971) (exclusive to UK)
  • Wild World (1971) (exclusive to France and Italy)
  • The Harder They Come (UK: July 1972) (US: February 1973) #140 US
  • Struggling Man (UK: October 1973) (US: June 1974) (material recorded in 1971)
  • Unlimited (UK: August 1973) (US: 1973) (re-released in 1976 as The King Of Reggae)
  • House Of Exile (UK: December 1974) (aka Music Maker (US: 1974))
  • Brave Warrior (1975)
  • Follow My Mind (November 1976) # 195 US
  • 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) #186 US
  • 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) #11 US World #60 R&B
  • Higher and Higher (May 1998)
  • Journey of Lifetime (1998)
  • Humanitarian (June 1999)
  • Fantastic Plastic People (2002)
  • Black Magic (2004) #11 Reggae
  • Sacred Fire EP (2012) #1 Reggae
  • Rebirth (2012) #83 UK #76 US[24]
  • The KCRW Session (2013), Universal

Compilations (partial list)[edit]

  • The Best Of Jimmy Cliff (Island, 1975) (double vinyl)
  • Oh Jamaica (EMI, 1979)
  • Many Rivers To Cross (Hallmark, 1995)
  • Ultimate Collection (Hip-O/Universal, 1999)
  • We All Are One: The Best Of (Sbme Special Mkts, 2002)
  • Many Rivers To Cross: The Best Of (Trojan, 2003)
  • Anthology (Hip-O/Universal, 2003) (double CD)
  • 20th Century Masters: The Best Of (Universal, 2004)
  • This Is Crucial Reggae (Trojan/Sanctuary, 2004)
  • The EMI Years (Virgin Frontline, 2004)
  • Goodbye Yesterday: The Legendary Lost Album (Hip-O Select/Universal, 2004) (1968-72 rare material)
  • Reggae Night (Planet Song, 2004)
  • Better Days Are Coming: The A&M Years 1969-1971 (Hip-O Select/Universal, 2005)
  • Super Hits (Sony/BMG, 2007)
  • King Of Kings (Sanctuary (Trojan), 2008) (double CD)
  • Reggae Legends (Sanctuary (Trojan), 2008)
  • Harder Road To Travel: The Collection (Sanctuary (Trojan), 2010) (double CD)


Year Single Peak positions Album
1967 "Give a Little, Take a Little"
(Trojan Records)
1969 "Wonderful World, Beautiful People"
(Trojan Records)
6 25 13 12
Wonderful World, Beautiful People
"Come Into My Life"
(Trojan Records)
1970 "Vietnam"
(Trojan Records)
46 26
"Wild World"
(Island Records)
8 20 7 3 2
1972 "You Can Get It If You Really Want"
(Island Records)
1975 "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah"
(Island Records)
1983 "Reggae Night"
(Columbia Records / CBS Records)
5 6 1
"We All Are One"
(Columbia Records / CBS Records)
24 33 48
1985 "Hot Shot"
(CBS Records)
1993 "Many Rivers to Cross"
(Island Records)
"I Can See Clearly Now"
(Columbia Records)
23 18 9 17 32 1 39 1
1995 "Hakuna Matata" (with Lebo M.)
(Columbia Records)
26 46 7 10 32
"Melody Tempo Harmony" (with Bernard Lavilliers) 6

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Jimmy Cliff: Biography". 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 "Jimmy Cliff - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  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. p. 242. CN 5585. 
  7. ^ Caribzone.com.
  8. ^ "Jimmy Cliff – Découvrez de la musique, des vidéos, des concerts, des stats, & des photos sur Last.fm". Lastfm.fr. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  9. ^ "Jimmy Cliff - Toute l'actu !". Purepeople.com. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  10. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 409. CN 5585. 
  11. ^ "Tour « Jimmy Cliff". Jimmycliff.com. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  12. ^ "Jimmy Cliff working on new album with Tim Armstrong". Punknews.org. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  13. ^ "Jimmy Cliff's Rebirth nominated for Reggae Grammy album", Jamaica Observer, 6 December 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2012
  14. ^ "50 Best Albums of 2012: Jimmy Cliff, 'Rebirth'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  15. ^ "The Harder They Come". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  16. ^ "Club Paradise". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  17. ^ "Marked for Death cast". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  18. ^ "Jimmy Cliff Heads List Of 141 Persons To Receive National Honours," Jamaica Information Service, 16 October 2003.
  19. ^ "Independent Music Awards". Independent Music Awards. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  20. ^ "Jimmy Cliff Still a Musical Rebel". Jamaica-gleaner.com. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  21. ^ The 2010 Induction Ceremony, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
  22. ^ "Jimmy Cliff: Caribbean Journal's Artist of the Year for 2012". caribjournal.com. Retrieved 2012-12-31. 
  23. ^ "Interviews - Jimmy Cliff". Reggae News. Retrieved 2013-04-01. 
  24. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 188–190. ISBN 1-84195-017-3. 
  25. ^ LesCharts.com Jimy Cliff discography

External links[edit]