Rebirth for Jimmy Cliff 

click to enlarge Old school, new school: Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff collaborated with Tim Armstrong of the punk band Rancid on his latest album. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Old school, new school: Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff collaborated with Tim Armstrong of the punk band Rancid on his latest album.

Native Americans might have called it a vision quest.

But reggae legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jimmy Cliff prefers to think of it as a “meditation” — a retreat he took in Brazil several years ago that changed his life forever.

“I just really wanted to understand what perfect peace was,” he says. “And I went to a place in my spirit where I saw complete bliss, and I never felt that before, or since. I experienced it only for a few moments, because as soon as I realized what was happening, I fell out of it. But I did experience it.”

From this, the musician took many lessons, which he applies to his music — as in “Rebirth,” his first new album in eight years, which he’ll tout at KFOG Harmony By the Bay this weekend.

His chronological age might be 64, but Cliff doesn’t measure time that way.

“I am the living — I was always here, whether as a gas or a liquid or now in solid form,” he says. Lately, he has been surrounded by a universal energy that protects him from harm, and he accepts its positive and negative aspects because he’s sure that positive always wins.

“I try every day to find 20 minutes to tune into that, because I’ve felt its results myself,” he adds.

Cliff believes the same force led him to his “Rebirth” producer-collaborator, Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, a longtime reggae aficionado who idolized him.

Late-1970s punk rockers often discovered reggae through the genre-defining soundtrack to Cliff’s 1972 Kingston gangster flick “The Harder They Come,” featuring philosophical classics “Many Rivers to Cross” and “You Can Get it if You Really Want.”

Naturally, late Clash founder Joe Strummer was a huge fan, and when they finally worked together a few years ago, the guitarist turned Cliff onto Rancid, a newer incarnation of punk.

Cliff took it as a sign. He researched Rancid online, and once he saw their dead-on concert version of “The Harder They Come,” the die was cast.

Recording together in Los Angeles, Armstrong’s youthful exuberance reminded Cliff of things about reggae that he had long forgotten, like its penchant for social commentary.

With his Sam Cooke-smooth singing voice undiminished, he dove into old-school protest songs (“Children’s Bread,” “World Upside Down”) and playful experiments (Kong-session-y covers of Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” and The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”).

Yes, times are dark, says Cliff, who references world poverty, climate change and the Occupy movement on “Rebirth.”

“But there’s a new, higher energy coming in now,” he says. “The Age of Aquarius, where humanity will be able to experience that same feeling that I once experienced. And hopefully become higher beings.”

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Tom Lanham

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