Jamaican reggae legend Jimmy Cliff has been performing for diverse crowds all over the globe for nearly half a century, but hardly anything he's done so far has brought in as many new fans as his recent studio collaboration with Hellcat Records owner and Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong -- a punk-rock legend in his own right. Cliff, a 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, an actor and a Bob Dylan-endorsed songwriter will release his new Armstrong-produced LP “Rebirth” on Universal Records July 24.
”Reggae and punk does have a lot in common in terms of expressions of social political situations,” Cliff said. “And reggae did actually influence punk a lot. I knew about Armstrong via Joe Strummer of The Clash.”
One of the last songs Strummer recorded before his death in 2002 was “Over the Border,” which appears on Cliff's 2004 LP “Black Magic.”
”That's how I got acquainted with Tim's music, Rancid,” Cliff said. “We talked on the phone and then when we met in the studio for the first time everything just flowed so well like we had known each other for a number of years. It felt so good working with Tim.”
The birth of “Rebirth” actually began as an EP called “Sacred Fire” which came out last November. The five-song collection of tracks features covers of The Clash's “Guns Of Brixton” (which lyrically mentions a film Cliff starred in -- “The Harder They Come”), Rancid's “Ruby Soho” and Bob Dylan's “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall” (Dylan once called Cliff's “Vietnam” the best protest song he had ever heard), a remix of “Guns of Brixton” as well as a Cliff original, “Ship Is Sailing.”
Many of the songs on “Sacred Fire” will be incorporated into Cliff's forthcoming new LP. In addition to his production duties, Armstrong also co-wrote many of the songs on the LP.
”We'd kind of just sit in the studio and vibe off each other,” Cliff said. “He may come up with an idea and I bounce off of it and add to it or vice-versa. Then we recorded the songs live like we used to do back in the days. That was such a great thing for me.”
Cliff said the lyrical content on the new record includes a mix of his own experiences as well as an effort to “echo the echoes of the people.”
The legendary musician's process has served him well, and in 2010 he was awarded one of music's highest honors, an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
”Before I went to accept the induction I didn't know the kind of emotions I was going to feel,” Cliff said. “But when I went up and I began to speak I was kind of overwhelmed with emotion -- surprising to me because I didn't have any intention of feeling that way, but because there was one person in my life, my grandmother, who had always believed in me. When I started to talk and I called her name I couldn't help the emotions. I kind of broke down. I always remember that part of it, and then I collected myself and went on -- the performance was great.”
Fans can also watch the multi-talented and beloved musician act alongside Robin Williams, Peter O'Toole and more in the 1986 comedy “Club Paradise.”
”(Williams) was such a hilarious person -- there was never a dull moment on the set,” Cliff said. “I had great fun, I learned a lot from watching him -- this is someone who just had lips like that, you know? He never does one take the same, and I learned quite a bit from that. As well, I learned a lot from Peter O'Toole who was the opposite, who if he does 10 takes it's exactly the same.”
Cliff will play songs from his forthcoming LP as well as hits like "The Harder They Come,” "You Can Get It If You Really Want,” "Many Rivers to Cross" as well as his covers of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" and Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now” on Saturday night at the three-day Sierra Nevada World Music Festival at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Booneville.
Friday's festival lineup includes the Grammy Award-nominated Jamaican reggae band Third World, the Hawaii-originating reggae-rock six-piece Iration, the Compton-raised J Boog as well as Jamaica's Lutan Fyah and Perfect with gates opening at 5:00 p.m. Festival-goers on Saturday can check out the likes of Cliff, British dub-reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jamaican harmony-reggae trio Israel Vibration, Afromassive (formerly from Humboldt) and Indubious. Sunday's attendees can witness sets from artists like Grammy Award-nominated roots-reggae star Luciano, Humboldt's own Jah Sun & Lion Camp, New Zealand's Katchafire and the Bay Area's Locura.
Advance three-day tickets are on sale now for $160. Single-day passes are available for $60 for Friday and cost $70 for Saturday. Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by a paying adult.
According to their website, the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival promotes conscious music, which they define as “music with a message of peace, unity and brotherhood, which transcends the divisions of race and culture.” This will be the 19th festival.
While on-site camping is sold out, alternative camping information, tickets, the full lineup and other information can be found online at snwmf.com.
”I hope that I have enough time to see some of the acts that are on the lineup,” Cliff concluded. “Most of the time at festivals I only have time to go in and get dressed up and do my act and leave. I'm hoping to see some of the acts this year. 'Rebirth' is an album where I've kind of gone back to the roots. It's things that the fans who knew me are going to love but also a lot of what the new people becoming acquainted with Jimmy Cliff are going to love. I'm really looking forward to performing the new and former songs.”
If you go:
What: Sierra Nevada World Music Festival
When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Where: Mendocino County Fairgrounds, 14400 California 128, Boonville
Admission: Varies, all ages