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- Posted on Mar 10th 2010 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
The accolade comes at a perfect time for Cliff, who will release a new album, 'Existence,' this year and gets set for his first major US tour in five years, including dates at Bonnaroo and the Hollywood Bowl, this summer. On the eve of his induction, the elegant and gracious Cliff spoke with Spinner about his influence on the likes of the Grateful Dead and Keith Richards, the enduring impact of 'The Harder They Come' and about finally getting to the next level in the US.
Where were you when you found out you'd been selected?
When I first heard, I was in New York City. I had just finished a tribute to the president of Ghana, and after I came offstage somebody said, "Congratulations." I said, "Thank you. For what?" I thought he meant for my performance. But he said, "No, you've just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." I said, "Oh." I had not heard anything.
You're only the second reggae artist, after Bob Marley, to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you feel like then you're carrying the torch for the genre with your induction?
The way I look at it, in the genre of reggae music I was there at almost the commencement of it, so I played my role there. Bob Marley came after, so I did a lot of things internationally before anyone else. So I've always seen my role as one of like a shepherd, one who opens the gate. So who opens the gate has to close it.
You're doing an extensive US tour this year, as well. Was that planned to coincide with this or was that just a happy coincidence?
Actually, it was planned 'cause I have not toured the US for five years out of choice. And I just said, "OK, it's time. I want to go tour the US again." And then that came about, so it all coincided together.
What made this the right time to tour the US, then?
I wanted to come back to the US on a new footing, and the new footing now is I have a new album, which I'm very excited about. I have a movie planned, which may go into production this year. And with all of those things going on, I just feel like now is the time to go back into the US.
'Existence,' your new album, comes out later in the year. Who are you working with on the record?
All young creative Jamaican musicians; they're all young, they're all fresh, and they're all just roaring to go. I love to do that. Throughout my career, I've always liked to touch on who's new.
How much does working with that young blood inspire you as a musician?
Fantastically. I bring to them my songs and when they heard the songs they became more excited. So that really motivates me, 'cause the encouragement and appreciation is something we all need in everything we do.
You can't get more appreciation than being into a Hall of Fame. What does it mean to you then?
OK, it's a stepping stone to another level of success. It's a journey that I've been on, and this stop on the journey is really an exciting one and a great stepping stone to the other level.
What do you hope for the other level to be?
Well, I have established myself, along with the music that I helped create. And I've played stadiums in Africa and certain parts of South America, but I've not done that in the US. I've done it some parts of Europe, so that is something I look forward to doing. I have made, like, four movies. My first love was acting, and that's another area that I have to explore much more extensively. So, yeah, there's a lot more to be done.
In a lot of respects, over here for people the music and film started off intertwined when it comes to your career because of 'The Harder They Come.' But then you continued making music. So do you feel like in a way film has been overlooked?
In one way, however, I focus myself in the musical area, and, like, two, three, four years after the movie came out, there were still a few roles coming. But not roles I felt I wanted to do, and because I had my music to fall back on I just say, "When the right one comes along."
There are many great artists on the Bonnaroo lineup. Who are you excited to see and are there any old friends you're looking forward to catching up with?
I've met Stevie Wonder and I've always been a big fan. I'm a fan of Jay-Z, I've met Dave Matthews, we've done one tour together. So it'll be great to catch up with those people again if at all possible.
You're a fan of Jay-Z and Dave Matthews. Are there artists you really feel are carrying on the spirit of the music you started in terms of social consciousness and telling stories?
A lot that I've seen in different genres of music, from rap to rock to R&B, even in country because somebody like a country legend like Willie Nelson has done a version of 'The Harder They Come.' And rock legends like the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards in particular, have covered also songs of mine, and the list goes on. So many of the artists that I've seen are influenced and inspired by the music that I have created and it is gratifying to see that and encouraging for me because I do feel like my greater work is yet to be done.
Are there any covers of your songs that stand out as favorites?
Well, I appreciated all of them. There was a song that was done by the Grateful Dead when Jerry Garcia was around, called 'Struggling Man,' and I was really amazed when I first saw him perform that song in his own rock way. That one really touched me a lot. I have to say I like a lot the version [of 'Many Rivers To Cross'] of Nilsson, which John Lennon produced because I loved some of the work of Nilsson I heard in the past and I really liked the way they both collaborated on that one.
Now, let's switch it around to your covers. You've done stuff like Cat Stevens' 'Wild World.'
As a songwriter what is one song you wish you could have written, and why?
There are a quite a few, but let me just name one: I would have to say Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, 'The Boxer.' Boxing has always been my favorite sport because when I look at boxing it makes me see that this is really what life is. The boxer has in his corner all his trainers, his handlers, his manager, everyone that's around him. But when the time comes to step into that ring, he's by himself, he has to defend himself in there, and for me, that's really how life is.
Wyclef Jean is inducting you into the Hall of Fame. Talk about your friendship.
Well, I'm a great fan of Wyclef, as well; as a creative person, he's brilliant. And we've done some work in the very early stages before Fugees even broke big, in his basement studio. And then my last album, but we've seen each other on and off in that time since my last album. And then we did a track off that album. So, yeah, it's a very artistic and brotherly respect, because we're also neighbors in terms of coming out in the Caribbean there.
Who are you looking forward to seeing at the ceremony?
Well, I've always been a fan of Genesis, from Peter Gabriel, when he was with them, and when they broke away and did separate albums. I understand that Genesis won't be performing, but I would love to see them perform all together. I love Abba's music. The Stooges are great, and the Hollies, I knew the Hollies when I lived in England. So either of them will be a great pleasure for me to see.
What three Jimmy Cliff songs would you send people to who are just getting to know your music?
The movie 'The Harder They Come' and the title track, along with so many other songs on that soundtrack. But I would think because people are so familiar with that song and the movie, which was such a great inspiration, maybe that song. And then of course there is 'Many Rivers to Cross,' which is also one of those songs that touches so many generations. And an inspirational song like 'You Can Get It If You Really Want.' [Barack Obama] has used the slogan of "Yes we can" and got elected. And it's always a song of hope and inspiration: "You can get it if you really want." So I think those are three Jimmy Cliff songs that people would look forward to.