By Michael Aushenker
When one thinks of reggae, the short list of icons includes Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals, U-Roy, Yellowman, and Jimmy Cliff, who became a superstar of the Jamaican-based musical genre following his starring role and soundtrack contributions on the film “The Harder They Come.” Cliff, who earlier this year won the Best Reggae Album Grammy Award for “Rebirth,” will play the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday, Sept. 12, closing out this summer’s Twilight Summer Concert Series.
The last song ever recorded by singer-songwriter Joe Strummer before his unexpected death in December 2002 at age 50 was “Over the Border,” a tune recorded with Cliff, which eventually found its way on Cliff’s 2004 album, “Black Magic.” It was during those sessions that the legendary frontman of seminal punk group The Clash recommended to Cliff that he work with punk rock band Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, a figure in the early 1990s American pop-punk revival that spawned San Francisco’s Green Day and Orange County’s The Offspring.
It took nearly a decade, but Cliff eventually followed through, working with producer Armstrong on the “Sacred Fire” EP, and recently, the Grammy-winning “Rebirth,” Cliff’s first studio album in seven years. With Armstrong, Cliff also recorded a cover of “Ruby Soho,” the ska-infected number that appeared on “…And Out Came the Wolves,” Rancid’s hit 1995 LP.
Cliff is no stranger to seeking out noted producers. Born in St. James, Jamaica, Cliff convinced Jamaican music producer Leslie Kong to work with him. The resulting hit song, “Hurricane Hattie,” made Cliff famous, at a mere 14 years old in 1962, and led to a succession of successful collaborations. A decade later, Perry Henzell’s crime caper “The Harder They Come,” the then-freshly liberated nation of Jamaica’s first-ever feature film, made a superstar out of Cliff, boosted by its hits-laden soundtrack, which featured a half-dozen Cliff songs. Cliff, whose acting work has also included the 1986 Robin Williams comedy “Club Paradise,” was awarded one of Jamaica’s highest honors, the Order of Merit, on Oct. 20, 2003.
This week at the pier, visitors can expect Cliff to perform many his hits from “The Harder They Come” soundtrack – “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Many Rivers to Cross,” “Sitting in Limbo” – as well as “I Can See Clearly Now,” which Cliff enjoyed much success with after he covered the 1972 Johnny Nash hit for the soundtrack of the 1993 film “Cool Runnings.” Cliff may also perform “Wild World,” the famous Cat Stevens ditty Cliff has also re-recorded.
In Santa Monica, Cliff could likely play another song he had recorded with Armstrong: his cover of “Guns of Brixton,” a reggae song from the Clash’s masterpiece album, “London Calling.
“I got one more shot at the goal/Straight from my soul/I’m in control,” go the lyrics of “One More,” the lead single on “Rebirth,” echoing perhaps themes of personal and professional renewal. With his recent Grammy win, Cliff’s decades-long career appears to be back on track, and what better way to catch him than for free at the pier on a mellow Santa Monica evening. It doesn’t come any easier than that.
The show will open with The Delirians and Ethan Tucker and will take place from 7 to 10 p.m.