…but I can’t seem to find my way over

Born James Chambers in 1948, he is the only living musician to hold the Order of Merit (OM), the highest honor granted by the Jamaican government for Achievement in the Arts and Sciences.

After hearing a neighbor’s sound system as a small boy, he began to write his own songs and while attending trade school in Kingston (where he shared his cousin’s rented room) he became a talent contest regular and would wander in vain from record label to record label, fruitlessly looking for an in. Finally he convinced a local restaurateur to back him and at the age of 14 Jimmy Cliff, as he was now known, had a minor hit with “Hurricane Hattie”.

In 1964, Cliff was chosen to represent Jamaica at the World’s Fair in New York, where a record executive actually knocked on his door and after signing with Island Records, he moved to the UK where he gained a solid following.  Of course, it was the 1972 film, “The Harder They Come” and its subsequent soundtrack that made Jimmy Cliff a worldwide star.

Lauded as the most significant movie to come out of Jamaica since it gained its independence, Cliff convincingly played the part of protagonist Ivanhoe Martin, who comes to Kingston as a poor boy trying to make it in the recording business… With six of the album’s tracks performed by Cliff, and the remaining tracks featuring songs by Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, the Melodians and other seminal reggae starts, “The Harder They Come” record, has long been credited with introducing reggae to the world.

Written by Cliff and first released on his eponymous (second) album in 1969, “Many Rivers to Cross” was one of those celebrated soundtrack numbers.  It has since been covered by artists as varied as: Percy Sledge, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Nilsson, Martha Reeves, Linda Ronstadt, The Animals, Desmond Dekker, Joe Cocker, UB40, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Cher, U2, Bill Withers,  Lenny Kravitz, Annie Lennox and (indeed) the Soweto Gospel Choir.


Many Rivers to Cross

 Many rivers to cross

But I can’t seem to find my way over

Wandering I am lost

As I travel along the White Cliffs of Dover

 Many rivers to cross

And it’s only my will that keeps me alive

I’ve been licked, washed up for years

And I merely survive because of my pride

And this loneliness won’t leave me alone

It’s such a drag to be on your own

My woman left me and she didn’t say why

Well, I guess I’ll have to cry

 Many rivers to cross

But just where to begin I’m playing for time

There have been times I find myself

Thinking of committing some dreadful crime

 Yes, I’ve got many rivers to cross

But I can’t seem to find my way over

Wandering, I am lost

As I travel along the White Cliffs of Dover

 Yes, I’ve got many rivers to cross

And I merely survive because of my will…



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