Rock And Rules - Jimmy Cliff

Reggae star shares wisdom
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Jimmy Cliff was one of the world's first reggae super stars. He's been surfing on a wave of positive vibrations since 1968. Here's his wisdom for a wonderful world.

Follow Your Hunches
When you have a hunch about something or someone you should follow that hunch. Leslie Kong gave me my first record deal. And when I went to see Leslie in his restaurant then that’s exactly what I had that night. I just followed that hunch and moved on it. I literally pushed myself through the door because they were closing the restaurant. I asked if he was in the recording business and he said ‘no’. I said you could be in it as I am a singer, and I just sang to him. It was a song that I just made up on the spot called ‘Dearest Beverly’. He said that he really liked it. There were three brothers, two of the brothers laughed; they had no inkling to music. Lesley Kong said, ‘I think he has the best voice I ever heard in Jamaica’, and that was that.

Keep That Song Clear
Songs are an inspiration; maybe you’re inspired by some experience personal to you, or something that you observe in society. Try to be true to the idea, and I think it will come across. Keep a clear mind, keep a clear head, and keep your eye on the goal.

Hire Musicians That Are Better Than You
I can give some advice, but it doesn’t always work. Firstly, you should have people around you who love you, but it’s not always like that. The second thing is to get people more competent. Thirdly get people who are one step ahead of you, and if you can ask them for advice then that’s useful. The most inspirational Jamaican artist for me was Derek Morgan. He was very inspirational to me when I was at school at Kingston. He showed me my first chord on the piano. Prince Buster was also inspirational to me in the scat era. He taught me to pay attention to the business side of music. He was like the first artist who was also a business man. He had all of these businesses going on: soundsystems, record labels, record shops - and yet he was an artist, and we had never seen that before.

Stay Inspired.
I think the greatest inspirations have come from just living my life, my own experiences and experiencing life. I’ll be walking down the street and see something that I don’t think is right, and I’ll feel inspired to write a song about it. So my inspiration comes just from living.

Look Deep Within Yourself
My biggest challenge has been overcoming self-doubt. Even though I’m a pretty determined person, I sometimes feel self-doubt. I think even the strongest human beings have some self-doubt. In order to get over this I look deep into myself, look at my past, what I’ve been through. You have to look at the things that you want, even sometimes where you fail, you look at that.

Stay Only One Step Ahead
It’s a world of competition that we live in. When I was working on one particular album in London a trumpet player that I was working with said to me that: “The difference between a genius and a fool is that a genius stays one step ahead of everyone, and a fool stays ten steps ahead of everyone.” So just try to stay one step ahead.

Don't Write Any Anthems
I don’t know if people set out to write an anthem, because I never did set out to write an anthem, I just set out to write a song. Sometimes a song turns out to be great, sometimes a song comes from one emotional experience that you have, like ’Many rivers to cross’ came from one state that I was going through. I say just express what you feel, if it turns out to be an anthem then so be it.

Get The Right Record Label
My first record label was with Lesley Kong; he believed in me like I believed in myself. I think that’s the most important thing. But when you find a record label where it’s a business thing, the togetherness, the cohesive, and the feeling is not always there. From my point of view that won’t last. So try to find someone who will believe in you, and believe in your talent.

Feed Off The Right Energy
Sometimes I get the energy of someone who’s not right for me, for example with relationships. I feel that they’re not right for me, and still I dive in, whether it’s a business relationship, or an intimate relationship. I get a lot of energy from just doing what I do, because I love to do what I do. I think that everyone comes into this life with some kind of purpose; we need to recognize what our calling is.

Jimmy Cliff plays London's Indigo O2 on the 3rd September. To win a pair of tickets visit our WIN channel HERE.

Interview by Matthew Bennett

This interview appears in the august issue of Clash Magazine. Find out more HERE

Subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.

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