Articles Comments



Observer senior writer—


AS he inducted Jimmy Cliff into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in March 2010, Wyclef Jean recalled the reggae legend’s influence. As a young Haitian in Brooklyn, New York, Cliff made a profound impact on him.

Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff

“I loved Jimmy Cliff so much I would take Jimmy Cliff songs and sing them with Christian words. There are two people in my entire lifetime that bring a certain level to the entire Caribbean people, and we look up to them. One is Bob Marley and the other is Jimmy Cliff,” Jean told the audience.

Among those in the room applauding were Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne, who are also long-time admirers of Cliff’s legacy as a singer/songwriter and for his role as Ivan in The Harder They Come, the 1972 movie that made him a superstar.

The road from Somerton district in St James to the glitzy Waldorf-Astoria in New York City (where the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame ceremony took place) was a long one for James Chambers (Cliff’s real name).


He started as a child star with Leslie Kong in the early 1960s before exploding late that decade with a rush of songs that helped announce a sensational sound called reggae.

You Can Get It (If You Really Want), which Cliff and Jean performed after his induction, was one of the songs that made him a star in the United Kingdom, as the 1970s beckoned. It was preceded by Wonderful World, Beautiful People; both made it on The Harder They Come soundtrack.

Not as charismatic as Marley or as controversial as Tosh, Cliff was a World Beat artist before the term became popular. Thanks to The Harder They Come, he established a cult following in the United States before those artists, and had an eclectic list of admirers — from Paul McCartney to Fela Kuti.

Guitarist Wayne Armond toured as a member of Jimmy Cliff’s band. Being on the road with the living legend was an eye-opener.


“Just to see how people react to Jimmy is something else. In certain countries he’s like a god,” said Armond.

Moving from one record company to another hurt the quality of Cliff’s music over the years. As a result, his catalogue is not as formidable as that of Marley, Tosh or Burning Spear, but his presence in countries like Brazil opened new markets for reggae.

Cliff performed in apartheid South Africa in 1980, a move that did not go down well with some of the country’s oppressed blacks. Five years later, he was part of the Sun City song that protested artists performing at the South African resort.

jimmy-cliff (1)

In 2012, Cliff released Rebirth, an album critics described as his best work in years. Rolling Stone magazine rated the set as one of the year’s best 50 albums.

At the end of 2012, Rebirth sold 30,000 copies, miniscule in these days of mega-selling hip hop and pop albums. But for old stagers like Cliff, Springsteen, and Browne, producing quality transcends sales at this stage of their careers.

Cliff, who is working on his 32nd album with producer Clive Hunt, has won two Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 2003 by the Jamaican Government.



Written by

Filed under: BREAKING NEWS, Featured

%d bloggers like this: