Reggae and Jimmy Cliff

I’m going to take a step into the Reggae scene for this post. Reggae has its root in R and B music and obviously Jamaica. The genre originated out of Ska, and No I will not talk about modern Ska music. Ska has a much more of a focus on brass and horns for its melody, reggae on the other hand is mostly guitar and keyboard based. The keyboard is usually an organ sound and it has this nice bubbly sound that keeps the music going. The guitar is usually bright and staccato. The beat usually on the 2 and 4 beat. This makes the time signature most commonly 4/4. Like most popular genres. Any way the beat it called a shank. This is a reggae specific term for the upbeat on the 2 and 4 counts. The guitar and organ are crucial parts but without bass your reggae is nothing, and you can’t just throw in a bass lines that plays the root notes. That’s flat and boring. The bass has to walk and jump around. It creates the melody. I personally think reggae has some of the most interesting bass lines out of any genre (old school R and B is the other great bass genre). The importance of bass is overshadowed in so many genres, but here it has a chance to shine. Enough theory already.

Most people know about Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and The Wailers. They really popularized reggae and brought it off of the Island. However, favorite Reggae singer is Jimmy Cliff. According to Wikipedia he is more popular for his movie appearance in The Harder They Come than for his music, which I think is a shame. He has a great tenor voice and has written songs addressing everything from love to protests.

Jimmy Cliff playing a classical guitar. Shirtless men Count on this blog: 2 courtesy of

Jimmy Cliff playing a classical guitar. Shirtless men Count on this blog: 2 (Courtesy of

Jimmy started out in the early sixties when the ska and reggae movements were just starting. His early hits include” Hurracane Hattie” and “Miss Jamica”. In these early hits you can really heard the stomping, driving ska beat that was so typical of the genre. His later hits include, “Hard Road to Travel” and “Vietnam”. The song “Vietnam” which came out in 1970, was very popular and Bob Dylan even called it one of the best protest songs. That in itself is an honor, coming from Mr. Times they are a changing. Later hits were a cover of John Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” and he performed a version of “Hakuna Matata”. I remember hearing his version of “I Can See Clearly Now” when I was young, but I realized who he was only much later. Jimmy released Sacred Fire recently. It is an EP and has a cover of The Guns of Brixton, a great Clash song.

I have a few of my Favourite Jimmy Cliff songs below. I think he is a great way to get into reggae, especially older reggae. Along with Jimmy I do like John Holt, Toots and The Maytals and Desmond Dekker (in Ob-La-Di Ob- La- Da Desmond with a  barrow in the marketplace refers to Desmond Dekker).

Jimmy is still playing and going strong, on his site you can he him singing a few songs on TV.

The Harder They Come


I Can See Clearly Now

Struggling Man

Hard Road to Travel

Interesting fact: Jimmy Cliff is the only living musician with the Jamaican Order of Merit and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. Jimmy’s Home page

This should be a good starting point, for Jimmy Cliff and for Reggae music, unless you are already into it. Then I have just provided some handy links.

Jimmy Cliff looking stylish. From

Jimmy Cliff looking stylish. From