Interview - Jimmy Cliff, Shepherd Of Reggae Music The Jamaican musician was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as only the second reggae artist to be welcomed there. He spoke on his childhood fascination with music, which turned into a long and pioneering career.
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Talking With Jimmy Cliff, Shepherd Of Reggae Music

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Talking With Jimmy Cliff, Shepherd Of Reggae Music

Talking With Jimmy Cliff, Shepherd Of Reggae Music

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

: The Stooges.


: The Hollies.


THE HOLLIES: (Singing) Hey, Carrie Anne, what's your game now? Can anybody play?



ABBA: (Singing) You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life, ooh...

: Genesis.


GENESIS: (Singing) Can't you see this is the land of confusion.

: And this man:


JIMMY CLIFF: (Singing) Well, they tell me of a party up in the sky, waiting for me when I die. But between the day and morning when you die, they never seem to hear even your cry.

: That's Jimmy Cliff. He spoke at Monday night's ceremony.

CLIFF: Reggae music is a music that was not conceived in the United States, like most of the music forms that we know. So to be standing here with you today with the music that I was a part of creating, it's a big honor.

: Cliff is the first living reggae artist to be so honored. Marley was inducted posthumously in 1994. My co-host, Michele Norris, spoke to Jimmy Cliff about his induction and his path to reggae.


I just want to begin with a simple question. How was it that you became a musician?

CLIFF: My mother pushed me, but I went ahhh. However, you know, I just knew from school that that's really what I wanted to do. And I started singing in school at a very early age, in church, as well, you know, we had a gospel church in Jamaica.

NORRIS: What would you sing?

CLIFF: Oh, it was, like:

CLIFF: (Singing) Ask me how I'm saved, I'll tell you how.

CLIFF: You know, great Christian songs, and there was a lot of church music around, all different kinds of churches, churches that we call Pocomania, which is like the original African church where they play the drums and chant and that kind of thing. So there was all kind of music around me growing up.

NORRIS: I want to ask you about the influence of rock 'n' roll in your life. When did you first hear rock-'n'-roll music? Was it on the radio?

CLIFF: Yes, but when I really first heard it, I was living in my village up in the hills, and I did not have access to a radio, but one of my friends had access to a radio. And then he would sometimes go to the city, which was Montego Bay, which was like 12 miles. And then he would come back and tell me the latest songs that he heard in Montego Bay, whether it was Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis Presley or Little Richard or Chuck Berry. You know, so yeah, that's how I knew them before my father was able to purchase a radio.

NORRIS: Tell me about that first radio that came into your home.

CLIFF: Well, my father wanted me to be educated - maybe be doctor, or, you know, one of those professions that seems safe. So he said now, which would you prefer: the higher lessons, we have to pay for it, or spend the money to buy a radio? I said, buy the radio.


CLIFF: So he bought the radio, and you know, it was my delight. I had the opportunity to hear music from the U.S., mainly from, like New Orleans and Florida, that area. We could pick up that at nights.

NORRIS: Paint a picture for me. Help me see the young Jimmy Cliff sitting in his house, listening to music. Where were you sitting, and what were you listening to?

CLIFF: And the radio would be on one of the shelves, and I would be sitting on this little stool every time, all the time, any time music comes on. This was my glory.

NORRIS: Is there a song that you particularly remember when you were sitting?

CLIFF: You know, in American music, I think I was, like...

CLIFF: (Singing) Shaboom, shaboom, la, la, la, shaboom, shaboom. Ooh. Every time I look at you, something is on my mind. And if you do what I want you to do, baby you'll weep no more. Shaboom, shaboom...

CLIFF: That was a big hit. It's American song...


NORRIS: And you still remember every detail these years later.

CLIFF: Yes. I got the words off the radio.

NORRIS: You know, you write about difficult subjects often. You write about struggle and war and political strife, and yet so much of your music is so upbeat. I mean, even when you write about the struggling man or Vietnam, it still has a sort of bright tone to it.


CLIFF: (Singing) Struggling man, no time to lose. I'm a struggling man, and I've got to move on.

CLIFF: Yes, I think that comes from the fact that I grew up economically poor, spiritually rich. So even though I had this condition, that kind of balance made me always take the downside and kind of put an up to it. And then when I left my country and went to the city, Kingston, I also lived in the poorer part of the country, the ghetto. And you know, a ghetto environment is tough, you know. So I learned the power of adversity.

NORRIS: You know, you hear reggae so many other places. You hear it in music from The Clash and music from The Police and music from Blondie, from, you know, the Toasters, the Selector. That must be quite pleasing to you.

CLIFF: Quite pleasing and gratifying to know that I was there at the conception of this music, and I contributed my part. I am here, alive and well to see it being played by other people, yes.

NORRIS: Jimmy Cliff, congratulations. Thanks so much for talking to us.

CLIFF: Thank you very much indeed.

: Michele Norris, talking with Jimmy Cliff, who entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this week. He is releasing a new album, entitled "Existence," and he's touring throughout the United States this summer.


CLIFF: (Singing) You can get it if you really want. You can get it if you really want. You can get it if you really want to try and try, try and try, try and try. You'll succeed at last.

: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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