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Many rivers left for Jimmy Cliff to cross

Jimmy Cliff (Robert Loerzel / for STM)

Jimmy Cliff (Robert Loerzel / for STM)

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When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: United Center,
1901 W. Madison

Tickets: $39.50-$85

Info: (800) 745-3000;

Updated: January 3, 2013 6:18AM

Jimmy Cliff is among the most influential recording artists of all time.

A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and recipient of his native country’s Order of Merit, its highest honor for artists, the Jamaican singer-songwriter helped to popularize the reggae genre worldwide with songs such as “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” and “The Harder They Come,” and with his starring role in the 1972 film “The Harder They Come.” Among his native countrymen, perhaps only the late Bob Marley rivals his status and influence.

At 64, Cliff is as prolific as ever. He released an album in July, “Rebirth,” produced by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, and he’s opening for the Dave Matthews Band on its fall tour.

Q. How much of “The Harder They Come” is true to life of Jamaica in that time?

A. The character actually did exist, the character I played. When I was a child growing up, I heard about him. It would strike terror into the minds of people when you hear the name Rhyging [in the film, Ivan]. In that time, for somebody to have a gun and to have actually shoot a police was an awful, amazing, dreadful thing. So that existed, but the part about the music side of it is adopted from what was going on in Jamaica in the music business of that time.

Q. The movie and soundtrack are credited, to a great extent, with introducing Jamaican music to the United States. Do you feel that’s true?

A. Well, yes, definitely. It was the soundtrack that showed where the music was coming from, because prior to that, I had hits like “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” or Ansell Collins had hits like “Night of Love,” and Desmond Dekker had hits like “Isrealites,” and so on, but they were just considered novelty hits. Nobody knew about it as a music form, as reggae, nor the culture that was attached to it, Rastafari. So the movie did all of that.

Q. Obviously, Tim Armstrong is very inspired by you and is a big fan of reggae and ska music. What was it like to work with him?

A. Well, it was really fun working with Tim Armstrong. The thing is, we just started out with the intention of making an EP, and because the vibes were so good between us, we ended up making a great album. I was introduced to Rancid music via Joe Strummer of the Clash. And when we met, everything felt so good, and I really had fun working with Tim. If I had the opportunity, I would do it again.

Q. You cover one of his songs on the album. Talk about doing “Ruby Soho.”

A. That was the first song we recorded, and when I heard the sound that he had on it, the rhythym, the feel that he had on it, it just took me right back to the early days of the music and made me remember that this sound, this feeling of what it was then is a chapter of my career that I intended to close which was not closed as yet, because when I did the album “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” I did not continue on that same path, and I knew I wanted to come back to it. So that was one of the great things about it.

Q. Do you think the average person feels the influence of reggae music on modern music?

A. Not at all, and that is one of the things, because if the history of things is not recorded, then it seems to slip over the head of people and credit is not given where credit is due. I’ve always had it in mind to write a book called “The True Story of Reggae,” so that people would really know what is coming from where and from who, and all of those things. I still hope to do that.

Q. What do you see as the future of reggae music? Who is taking the foundation that you built in new and interesting directions?

A. I can’t tell who will be the people that will come along, but there a few people I admire at the moment. There’s a girl called Queen Ifrica, I think she’s really a very prolific writer. She empowers especially young girls a lot. And she touches subjects that people wouldn’t normally touch, like incest and things like that. And then there is a very good singer, Tarrus Riley, who is writing some nice songs. And then there’s I-Octane. So there are quite a few that are budding, and I have hopes for them.

Q. How did it feel to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

A. That was a really high feeling of gratitude, to know that I contributed to a music form that has had this great impact on the world, and this music form was not European, not American, not African, not Asiatic, but maybe a mixture of all of those, and I contributed to it. So I feel really very gratified to be here, now, to be inducted in a prestigious institution such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was very encouraging for me.

Gannett News Service

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