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Interview: Inner Circle (2015 - Part 2)

Interview: Inner Circle (2015 - Part 2)

Interview: Inner Circle (2015 - Part 2)

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"Jacob Miller was a jolly person, a very good spirit"


Read part 1 of this interview

In part two of our exclusive interview with Inner Circle they discuss their 70s pomp with Jacob Miller and the influence of San Francisco progressive rock on their sound. They also explain their move to the US after Miller’s death, their phoenix-like rise to pop charting success with the songs Bad Boys and Sweat and dispel the misperception that Inner Circle are not “a roots band”.

Inner Circle and Kabaka Pyramid

What did Jacob Miller bring to your music?

Ian: What Jacob Miller brought to reggae music, along with what we brought, was an energy in performance that was never seen. Because when we came to England and went to Reading Festival everyone said “Man, these people will throw eggs at you”. But we went to Reading and did it because we came with an energy that was so different. I’ll give you an instance. Bob Marley in Jamaica versus Bob Marley in London was a different Bob Marley. When he was in Jamaica he was very subdued but internationally?

Touter: He was a rock star.

Ian: He’d cross the stage and dreads a fly. You have to understand how the thing runs and how it is really set up. I want you to tell the English people “Inner Circle was part of the roots”. They say we are not a roots band because we don’t play dub and drum and bass – we invented those things. We was the first band to play dub on stage. And then Lloyd Parks came after we. We were the first band to play drum and bass live upon stage and Jakes would run from one side of the stage to the next and tear up the thing.

Jacob Miller brought an energy in performance that was never seen

A good example is your 1977 appearance in the Jeremy Marre documentary Roots Rock Reggae where you and Jake played a wicked fast rendition of Love Is The Drug that is very dangerous.

Ian: You see that show? That was planned on a Monday morning and by Monday evening about three, four o’ clock we was out at Tastees with over 20,000 people. That was just word of mouth. That’s how powerful Jacob Miller was in the street, to the people. Tenement Yard – when we told people we pressed 80,000 Tenement Yard in Jamaica the new artists faint!

Touter: At that time, people have to understand, Bob Marley was in exile in Britain and Jacob was the…

Ian: The people’s singer!

Touter: The people’s singer! So the level of love people had for Jacob Miller at the time was phenomenal. Even when Bob returned to Jamaica…

Ian: For the Peace Concert.

Touter: Bob had to pull Jacob next to him because he saw this youth…

Ian: With tunes like Tired Fe Lick Weed In A Bush and all them tunes there. When those tunes would play in a dance they would have to stop the music and put it on again. It’s not to say people called for “forward” but they had it had to play five times. When a man respects a tune, Johnny [Clarke] my brethren versioned it. When we were with Bunny Lee in Spain about two years ago Bunny would talk and say “No man, it’s them that played Cherry Oh Baby for me, yunno”. Cherry Oh Baby is one of the most versioned tunes in the business.

Touter: Rototom Sunsplash, where they have the Reggae University, that’s a very good idea because it’s very informative to have people like ourselves who have been there to give the information.

Ian: That’s what they need – to do a big thing in Hyde Park and make people understand the influence of reggae music. Because ska and rocksteady, you have people like Prince Buster, The Selector and the Clash, that whole scene in England, Johnny Rotten with the towel in his back pocket – that whole interaction of West Indian people and English people together created a whole scene music scene from punk to rocksteady to all kinds of music.

The Two Tone ska revival.

Ian: The Police. When we were in England we were sleeping in a hotel and we heard the man sing “Rooooooxanne” we said “Wha?” And then the drummer started playing some wicked “tsss tsss tsss” – the drummer copied Carlie! He copied Carlie to the maximum! All the licks, the high hat turn, the ghost note, everything is Carlie.

We were the first band to play dub on stage

Yes, they were listening and copying the reggae. But at the same time when you listen to an earlier track of yours like Reggae Thing – there’s a rock guitar thing going on. Were you also listening to rock music in the early to mid-70s and absorbing that?

Ian: Let me give you a scenario. We went to San Francisco to play, to back up Toots and the Maytals, and Dennis Brown. This guy booked the place Friday Saturday and Sunday, it was like a 5,000 seat place. The first night he never had 200 people, the next night he got about 500 and the next night was almost sold out. When he finished paying all his bills he had no money. He said to us “Man, I have no money. You’ll have to play some shows to go back home”. That’s when we met Santana, that’s when we met the Grateful Dead, all these guys came to the club where we were playing. Toots had a song named Funky Kingston that was mashing up San Francisco way back when. That’s how we met Taj Mahal – the whole scene. That’s how we found the money. All those guys. That’s how we know Neal Schon from Journey, because that was when Santana was just starting out. That’s our little influence through San Francisco back in those days when I had short pants going to school man!

We pressed 80,000 Tenement Yard in Jamaica

What year did you do that concert?

Touter: Seventy-how-long!

Ian: But what surprised me was that growing up I knew Miami and New York. When a man told me I had to fly five hours from Miami I thought it was the end of the earth I was going because I don’t know them places them. When I went to San Francisco and saw all the bridges and things and said “Wait – what kind of place this?” But reggae music was loved in San Francisco.

Touter: But as you say, it was a good experience to go up there and meet all those guys. Actually what happened also was we meet a guy called Lou Bramy…

Ian: And that’s how we got the Capitol deal. He used to manage Journey.

Touter: Those guys Lou Bramy and Herbie Herbert used to manage Journey.

Ian: Neal Schon was playing with Journey with Greg Rollie and Aynsley Dunbar when Roger went to the club. And he said “Man, your music too progressive and you need a singer. You need someone to sing the melodies that you are playing”. And so said, so done they went and found that guy Steve Perry and that’s when Journey blew up. Neal Schon played on our first Capitol album, on Reggae Thing – that’s how comes you hear that. So we saw all these guys, seasoned musicians who’d been travelling the world in a big way. And when they saw us playing reggae – because on Bob’s early tour with Sly and all those people they had said “Who is this guy?” Bob’s thing was so different. Because in those days it was raw. It was Familyman, Carlie, Way, it was raw. And they couldn’t understand that raw reggae energy. The energy was high. It wasn’t subdued. It was high energy reggae and they couldn’t understand Bob Marley but see? He made a foundation bed around the world.

Tell me about the song you were playing before you brought the laptop inside. The theme from Rockers We A Rockers. Originally that wasn’t meant to be the theme song.

Touter: let me tell you what happened. Chris Blackwell took over the distribution of the film and the music and when Chris took it over we were signed to Island at the time, we had the song Rockers and he decided “This is the track” so that’s how it became the theme song for it. Bunny Wailer had written a song called Rockers and that was the intended title song for it. Chris flipped it around and said “No, this is a better song. It’s more appealing to everybody”.

I went to San Francisco and saw all the bridges and things and said "Wait – what kind of place this?"

People see Jacob Miller as this whirlwind on stage. Was there another side to him?

Touter: Well as Shaggy said “Mr Lover Lover”. That was Jacob – Mr Lover Lover! Jacob was was a jolly person, a very good spirit. There was nothing that could keep him down. He was one of those guys where if something got him down it would only last for ten seconds and it’s water under the bridge and he’s up again and moving on. That’s the type of guy Jacob was.

When Jacob was taken from you – did you ever split up or where you always intending to carry on?

Touter: We definitely carried on. At that point what happened was the band basically moved to Miami. We stayed in Jamaica for a while, Roger primarily stayed in Jamaica but everybody else kind of moved to Miami. We’d started making the move to Miami before that.

Why were you making that move?

Touter: Two things. We had reached the peak of where we could go in Jamaica. We’d gone as big as we could go in Jamaica and we wanted to go somewhere so we figured “Let’s get a foot inside the States”. And we had started to actually build a business here. Everybody moved here but then, with things being as slow as it was, Charles Farquharson the other keyboard player he went and did his own thing. He got into trucking for a while and eventually he landed back on his feet and ended up playing with Toots and the Maytals for the longest time. ‘Til now, he’s still with Toots and the Maytals. Our drummer went and played with a group called Native. Calvin went and played with Native and he lost his kick drum leg in a car accident in Jamaica and he stopped playing. He’s got a security business. But the Lewis Brothers and myself decided we were going to take it to the next level.

Bob's thing was so different. Because in those days it was raw

Norman Grant from Twinkle Brothers sang vocals for a short while.

Touter: Very short while. It probably a three to six month period – if that long.

Then he wanted to Carry on with Twinkle?

Touter: Yeah.

Ian: He was just filling in. He was a fill in.

Roger: Don’t worry about that boss. What you say now?

Touter: Roger is back now.

Tell me about your resurgence in the 80s – with Bad Boys. It happened in several stages.

Touter: It wasn’t really a plan of attack. We kept doing what we were doing, we were still making music and producing things. We did a lot of stuff with the Skengdon label in those early days with all those various artists. In 1984 – until that point we never had a singer – we first made Bad Boys. The first edition of Bad Boys was made in ’84. Then Carlton Koffie came in the band in ’86 and we redid the track with him then. We kept going back to Europe, doing little small clubs, 200 seaters here, 500 seaters there. Every year we’d do that. Eventually it just blew up. We were doing the same thing in America and there was a point where we were doing close to 300 shows a year. Playing every little club we could get into. By ’87 the Cops thing happened.

In addition to becoming the theme song for the TV show Cops, the Bad Boys album won a 1993 Reggae Grammy. There’s been a lot of controversy over the Reggae Grammy in recent years.

Roger: If you speak to any journalist in Jamaica they will tell you that the Reggae Grammy business is watered down. It doesn’t have the vibe like the Grammy of Reggae because the people presenting it we would prefer those people to be our peers who know the music. Even if Rodigan did it we would be glad because at least Rodigan knows the music and knows the people. The people who are voting for the Reggae Grammy don’t even know.

Touter: They just go with what’s familiar. If they see a familiar name they go for that name. For example, if they see a Jimmy Cliff or a Marley they go for the most familiar name. Not that they have the best record that meets the Grammy criteria. That’s what we think. They are voting like “Ok I know that – I’ll vote for that. I don’t know who is Wayne Wonder?” That kind of scenario.

Roger: So if the people would listen to the music and ten albums are nominated and two or three or four people would sit and listen who really know reggae? That’s why we want Rodigan, we want some people from Jamaica, we want our true peers within the Grammy thing.

You also had a top ten hit in the UK and European pop charts with Sweat – again something few reggae artists have achieved in recent years.

Roger: Well that is true. But in the past many reggae artists got enough number one.

Ken Boothe – Everything I Own, Desmond Dekker – Israelites, Errol Dunkley – OK Fred.

Roger: Out of Scratch, Harry J, Dave Barker, on and on and on. It’s only now that enough things change up in the world of music and music promotion and the bigger men run down the poor little indie guys and it’s hard for the poor little indie guys. [starts singing Bills by his nephew Lunchmoney Lewis] You know that song? (laughs)

You’ve been with a large number of major labels through the years - Capitol, Island, Atlantic, and now Warner. That’s a lot of major label interest.

Roger: Well remember we have been skirting back and forth with Warner from the 1990s. So we’ve kind of been there been there been there. Capitol was only passing just like how with many other reggae people and other people in the industry – a man gives you a little try out. You get somebody influential who can influence somebody saying [puts on Richard Pryor style “white man” voice] “Take a chance on these guys” and then he eats half the budget himself and puts it in his pocket and robs you. But that’s how it is man. To be on a major label is not a bad thing. They promote really powerfully. But these days the major labels literally own the artists way more than back in the day. Before you could jump around today it’s all 360.

360 deal.

Everything is me. [starts singing to the tune of the Maytals It’s You] “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me! Yeah! Yeah! It’s me!”

You recently recorded a version of Tenement Yard with Chronixx.

Roger: Wicked tune that [Imitates Jacob Miller stutter vocals]. Chronixx came to Miami a year ago or whatever when he was just fresh coming and just a bust out and everybody was “Chronixx! Chronixx!” I met the young man and I’ll tell you he was a really nice brethren. Really focussed, humble, nice. We sat down and we talked and reminisced about Jacob until we said “You know something? Lick back a Jacob thing would be lovely man. The old and the new”. That is how the argument really started and we moved forward and I’ll tell you we’re going to get a next big surprise. [sings] “There was a big surprise”.

There have been many line-up changes over the years. What has kept you four – the Inner Circle of Inner Circle - together?

Lancelot: The current line-up has been together 30 years.

Roger: When you are one man – you have to find Johnny, Joe, Harry and James. We never had that problem. The only problem we ever really had is the lead singer. From Jacob dead – then we have that problem. Because from the break up with Third World in 1973 both Bunny Rugs and Jacob used to sing with Inner Circle. So as we came to the crossroads between Bunny Rugs and Jacob we went with Jakes. When Jacob dropped out in 1980 that was more than a solar plexus blow. Because death is not somebody that follow up nothing. Bob Marley was dead in ’81. Jacob and Bob – people never knew. Even I was surprised. Jacob and Bob were the biggest best friends – up down round – even a big shock to me. Every man has been here – even Mike, the Yankee man, Michael Sterling, as a matter of fact he wrote the big tune Friends and Lovers that Usher is singing. He’s been around from 1984. That’s a whole heap of year that boss. 30 years. The 30 years go by like a blink!

Who has passed through your Circle House studios over the years?

Roger: Well, boss, it’s who doesn’t come here? Carlos Santana! It our humble little studios here in Miami that song To Zion was recorded with Lauryn Hill. That’s the first time Carlos came to the studio. When she told us “Carlos is coming” everybody ran and we start to worry “Oh my God, Carlos, I hope him like this. I hope him like that”. When the man came in he was so humble. He was like “Give me any amp man” and he just back out his guitar and we said “Bwoy!” The man told something “If music don’t have no passion and no vibe in it – it ain’t no real music”. You have to have a little vibe. Even Beethoven and the classic music – you have to have a little vibe in it man.

Who else?

The next important thing you have to remember is Pharrell was here for two years ‘til he made Happy. I’ve not seen him much since Happy was a big song. But he was here for two years so Pharrell brought everybody here. Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, the girl [Leona] Lewis from England, Will Smith, Alicia Keys – everybody Pharrell brought here. But you know, Puffy was here before Pharrell when he just left the trial in New York when he was with Jennifer Lopez and Shyne fired the gun and Johnny Cochran was the attorney. We were watching it on TV in Miami and they said “Not guilty” and everybody went “Yeah, bwoy - Puffy not guilty!” I never met the man before. I never knew the man before.

The next day we were sitting as usual playing dominoes, watching TV when some guy runs up and says “Ya man, Puffy outside yunno?” We all dropped down laughing because the trial was just the day before in New York so what the hell would Puffy be doing outside Circle House Studios? Everybody laughed and took it for a joke. Then about five minutes after I see the man walking into the studio. I was shocked. Everybody’s mouths dropped open. After a minute to kind of catch ourselves we hailed him up “Hey bredda, nice to meet you”. That year he was there for about three months doing his album and all kinds of albums with all of them like Faith Evans. Then the next year he came back and did the Mary J Blige album. So we have been very fortunate with the studio and very lucky man.

Would you say hip hop has its roots in Jamaica?

Roger: (laughs) Well, I alone don’t say that. Many people way before me say that about New York and toasting. My brother knows that a little more because he’s always calling this guy’s name and that guy’s name from hip hop who are from Jamaica. So yes, the toasting and U Roy Daddy Roy and King Stitt and [makes Dennis Alcapone noise] big up Dennis Alcapone in England.

Don't get fooled with this La-la-long thing. We're way deeper than that

What can people expect from your European tour?

Roger: They can expect the Inner Circle band. If Jacob was alive people would come out and say “Inner Circle wicked!” But since the roots parts and Jacob really dropped out and [sings] “A-la-la-la-la-long” and “Bad Boys Bad Boys” people have this thing like Inner Circle roots don’t run deep. Like we’re never entrenched in this thing. Like we never played Stir It Up on Bob Marley’s first album. Like we are some [makes effeminate noise]. Like we are not roots upon top of roots. Enough big tunes we make. Cherry Oh Baby – I can’t even remember all of them brethren. Winston McAnuff’s first album – a we that. Israel Vibration’s first album – Inner Circle played upon head to toe. We are very good musicians, we can entertain. Because every man can throw it down. We can throw it down to make their feet move, make them dance, we’re not boring, we have the tunes them, we have the Jacob tunes them, we have all the tunes them to bring back memories. [sings Jacob style] “Please Mr Officer-er-er-er-er – a word with you”

Healing Of The Nation.

Roger: Healing Of The Nation! I’m going to tell you and all the brethrens them – Ras and every man: If you come to see Inner Circle don’t get fooled with this La-la-long thing. We’re way deeper than that and you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

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