Singer Jimmy Cliff Interview 1986 – Reggae History

Jimmy Cliff…. Just Playing His Part

By M. Peggy Quattro   V4#2 1986

Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff at his New Kingston home * © M Peggy Quattro 1986

Prelude 2020:  Jimmy Cliff plays an important part in my evolutionary journey inside  Reggae and Reggae Report.  He was the first Reggae artist I ever heard in 1976 and became my first Reggae friend while working with Don Taylor in 1981. When the magazine took off in ’83, Jimmy most kindly invited me to stay at his home whenever I went to Kingston to conduct business. He wasn’t there most of those times but my hospitable friend Shiela and their young sons, Sayeed and Hassan, were. ♥ This interview  – and accompanying cover shot for V4#2 – were done with Jimmy at his New Kingston home in 1986. ↓

Jimmy Cliff is, without a doubt, the most internationally known Reggae artist alive. In more than 20 years in the music arena, this active, talented youth from Somerton, St. James, Jamaica, has developed exemplary discipline and staying power.

The Early Days

Jimmy CliffAt age 14, James Chambers left for Kingston. But following his first recording, “Daisy Got Me Crazy,” in 1962, James Chambers became Jimmy Cliff – teenage Ska star! Under the wing of famed producer Leslie Kong, Jimmy Cliff skyrocketed to early success with “Hurricane Hattie.” He toured the Caribbean and performed at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair before moving to England to seek his fame and fortune.

Even before his involvement in the sensational cult film The Harder They Come, Jimmy racked up several international hits in his early years, including “Wonderful World” and “Vietnam.” He toured and thrilled audiences in South America, England, and Europe.

Following a break up with Island Records, Jimmy Cliff signed with EMI-England and Warner/Reprise–U.S. It was during this period that Jimmy became a student of Islam and traveled to Africa for the first time in 1974. His love for Africa and Africans runs deep. In the ensuing years, the “dark continent” has become Jimmy’s strongest audience ever.

Wins A Reggae Grammy

He recorded for a while for MCA before moving on to CBS. His first two albums (of a 5-album deal,) Special and The Power and The Glory for CBS, were mildly successful in the U.S., but massive in Europe. The second LP, containing the smash “Reggae Night,” earned Jimmy a place in the first-everJimmy Cliff Reggae Night Reggae Recording Grammy nominations. The third album, Cliffhanger, brought Jimmy Cliff a second nomination, and finally, the Grammy itself.

While in Kingston the other day, I had the opportunity to talk with Jimmy regarding the Grammy and other Jimmy Cliff projects. When asked how it feels to have brought home a Grammy, he quietly replied, “Encouraging.” A patient man, Jimmy awaits the actual Grammy, as he was not (nor a representative) in L.A. to receive his award. Actually, he was “content with being nominated.” I asked how he rated Cliffhanger with his other LPs, he replied, “With every album I make I try to take a step ahead of the other ones… in terms of consciousness… or sound.” “I see this one a step ahead of the others,” he went on “especially in terms of sound.”

Watch the official 1983 “Reggae Night” video below or on our YouTube playlist here

Reggae Greats!  The creators & pioneers, the visionaries & luminaries! From the Golden Era thru the Global Era!

The album, recorded in Jamaica and the U.S., has respectable sales (over 300,000) but, as Jimmy feels, could have sold more. “I’m in the process of doing a marketing analysis” he informs us “so my records are sold more.” He is not comfortable with CBS’s sales.

“When asked how it feels to have brought home a Grammy, he quietly replied, ‘Encouraging.'”

Jimmy Cliff cover by M Peggy QuattroThe first Cliffhanger single released, “Hot Shot,” fared well and also became a music video. The next, “Hitting with Music,” is now released, with other tracks, “Arrival,” “Brown Eyes,” and “American Sweet,” gaining radio airplay. Not only was Jimmy Cliff the featured singer on Cliffhanger, but he also acted as producer and co-producer on certain tracks. “I’m just playing my part,” he states quite simply. He’s pleased that Reggae has “grown” and is being recognized as a music form, continually making “positive movements.”

A World Tour is being planned to coincide with the July release of the film Club Paradise. Not only was Jimmy Cliff able to act again, along with such greats as Peter O’Toole and Robin Williams, but he also penned the film’s soundtrack. Look for this album to be released soon (or soon come.)

“…he also acted as producer and co-producer on certain tracks. ‘I’m just playing my part,’ he states quite simply.”

Fans in North America have long-awaited a Jimmy Cliff and Oneness [his band] performance. This summer Jimmy says will be it, so look for them in your corner of the world.

Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff as “Ivanhoe Martin” in the cult classic film The Harder They Come

As Jimmy Cliff grows so does his Sunpower Productions. With its own 8-track demo studio, Sunpower is able to produce other acts as well. Half seriously he quips, “Maybe we’ll do a Jimmy Cliff album on Sunpower.”

His advice to other Grammy-aspiring students of Reggae-ology is “always give your best in every area.” From a man who obviously has the key, “make your plans, work accordingly to your plan, and never give in.” Asked about his own plan, he states emphatically, I always look (plan) for excellence.” He agrees with the old adage “shoot for the moon and you might land on a star.”

“His advice to aspiring artists…’make your plans, work accordingly to your plan, and never give in.'”

The Sun City video was great exposure for Jimmy, a man who once years ago played South Africa in hopes of raising controversy regarding apartheid. He was invited by [famed rock guitarist] Stevie Van Zandt, who Jimmy claims had “studied my work, singing about struggle,” to join in the sun-sational video. He has also been invited to perform on the anti-apartheid concert slated for Nashville on April 12. Travel plans will determine whether Jimmy will do the show but he is “interested if available.”

We closed talking about the worldwide anti-apartheid movement. As a forerunner of the outspoken, Jimmy looks reasonably pleased with the direction that his, and many others, efforts have taken. A fighter to the end, he relaxes a moment to quietly declare “It’s just a matter of time… Yes, it’s on its way out.”  Give thanks.