immy Cliff helped introduce reggae music to the world, thanks to his starring role in the 1972 film “The Harder They Come.” That film’s soundtrack was the best selling reggae album of all time for more than a decade, when Bob Marley’s “Legend” set new records.
Cliff’s hits include “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Vietnam” and others, coming over a career that has spanned 50 years. But despite his success, Cliff, who plays Nitefall on the River on Tuesday, is still striving for more.
“My vision of myself as an artist was to touch people all over the world,” Cliff, 64, said during a phone interview. “But furthermore to that I wanted to play the big stadiums all over the world, have a lot of No. 1 hits all over the world and continue to develop the acting side of my career. Even though I have endured all this time, I have not completed all that I have set out to do. I have not yet won an Oscar, I am not yet a stadium act. There are so many things I want to achieve.”
Cliff’s latest release, “Sacred Fire,” saw the singer recording five covers with Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong. The song’s include Rancid’s “Ruby Soho,” Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” and The Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton.”
The last choice is notable because “The Guns of Brixton” makes reference to “The Harder They Come,” including Cliff’s character, Ivan Martin, a reggae singer from the country drawn into a web of guns and violence. The song incorporated a reggae sound that was rare in punk of the time.
“I first heard that song when I was residing in England. I had firsthand experience with what was going on in Brixton,” Cliff said. “The song reflected that. I had passed The Clash going to different gigs, and we would chat saying ‘Hey Joe (Strummer),’ Hey Jimmy.’ They were the first punk group that I knew about doing reggae.”
Cliff has done a few covers over the years, perhaps most notably Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” His songs have been covered by a number of artists, including Percy Sledge doing “Many Rivers to Cross” and Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Trapped.”
“What I like to do when I do a song like ‘Wild World’ is try to make the song my own,” Cliff said. “Percy Sledge is a great soul and R&B singer, but his version was pretty close to mine. I love the song because he has such a great voice. But Bruce Springsteen’s version of ‘Trapped’ is so far from mine that he completely made it his own. That’s probably one of the versions I like best.”
“Sacred Fire” led to Cliff making a full album with Armstrong, “Rebirth,” which will be out in July.
“I was so satisfied with what I was doing with Tim that we continued and finished an album. We recorded the way we used to, with live musicians performing together,” Cliff said. “I think it’s going to touch a lot of new fans, and the former fans will love it as well.”