TELLURIDE – “I got one more shot at the goal/Straight from my soul/I’m in control,” Grammy-winning musician, actor, singer, songwriter, producer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Cliff sings on “One More,” the lead track from Rebirth, his new Universal Music Enterprises album.
Cliff comes to the Telluride Conference Center Wednesday, July 30, in a joint venture between the Sheridan Opera House and Telluride Ski and Golf Co.
Rebirth, Cliff’s first studio album in seven years, comes on the heels of last year’s Sacred Fire EP, which Rolling Stone dubbed Cliff’s “best music in decades,” in which his “tenor still soars.”
With the groundbreaking 1972 film The Harder They Come celebrating its 40th anniversary, Cliff – who starred in the movie and contributed the title cut, “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” as well as the classics “Many Rivers to Cross” and “Sitting in Limbo,” to the soundtrack – is still going strong in a career that has spanned almost 50 years.
A native Jamaican, he has received that country’s highest honor, its Order of Merit.
In his autobiography, Reggae Music, Cliff recounts asking Jamaican producer Leslie Kong in 1962 to work with him on “Hurricane Hattie,” which Cliff recorded at age 14.
Cliff’s album Rebirth was produced by punk icon Tim Armstrong, of Rancid and Operation Ivy fame.“Jimmy is one of my musical heroes and I’ve been responding to his music my entire life,” says Armstrong, who teamed up with Cliff on the album at the suggestion of Joe Strummer (of The Clash). The first song they tackled was a cover of Rancid’s “Ruby Soho,” a ska-tinged number from the band’s 1995 album …And Out Came the Wolves, about a musician having to tell his lover he’s headed for the road.
“I had no idea it was one of Tim’s songs, but I liked it and could identify with the sentiments,” said Cliff. “I never really had the opportunity to hear his music, but it was a great thing how we hit if off in the studio.”
“It was inspiring working with Tim because even the sound of the album feels like we went back to the 60s and 70s,” said Cliff. “I had forgotten about a lot of the sounds and the instruments we used then, and we brought that all back.”
While Rebirth refers to what Cliff perceives as his own artistic revival, the reggae pioneer has never really been away, working with a who’s-who of other rock legends over the years, including the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello and Annie Lennox, and had his songs covered by everyone from Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Cher, New Order to Fiona Apple. His sweet tenor is probably the most recognizable vocal in reggae, alongside fellow Jamaican Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Bob Marley. Last year, he made a triumphant appearance at the Bonnaroo festival that put him back on the pop music map.
“The album is about my rebirth as an artist and as a man, but also about the rebirth of the world,” says Cliff, whose 1970 song, “Vietnam,” was dubbed by Bob Dylan “the greatest protest song ever written,” and cited by Paul Simon as inspiring him to record “Mother and Child Reunion” with Cliff’s band in Jamaica.
No stranger to politics, Cliff continues as a voice of power and conscience, especially on songs like “World Upside Down,” written by the late reggae pioneer Joe Higgs back in the 70s (with lyrics updated by Cliff, to make it relevant “for the world today,” he says.
Other socially conscious songs on Rebirth include “Children’s Bread,” with its harsh refrain, “They took the children’s bread and give it to the dogs… The time has come for us to right the wrongs.” Cliff says much of the material was inspired by his tour of African countries like Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana.
“Africa is like an injection for me,” he explained. “Being there gave me that high feeling – the songs just poured out.”
But it is the more personal songs, like “One More,” “Reggae Music” and “Our Ship is Sailing” that get to the heart of Jimmy Cliff’s music, and his own artistic renewal as he heads out on a summer tour that began in Brooklyn in June with a concert streamed on NPR Music. Among his future plans are more acting roles, including a possible sequel to The Harder They Come, as well as continuing to write songs inspired by the classic soundtrack.
“I have not become the artist I believe I am,” he told Rolling Stone last year. “I’m not done at all. I want to become a stadium act.”
Jimmy Cliff performs at the Telluride Conference Center on Wednesday, July 30, with doors opening at 8 p.m., and the show beginning at 9 p.m. Tickets are on sale at sheridanoperahouse.com or 970/728-6363 ext. 5, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Tickets are $40 general admission and $75 VIP (including a private bar and private seating). A $5 ticketing fee applies, with $2 from each ticket going directly toward the SOH fundraising efforts.