It all started at JC

True Blue Back to JC with Inner Circle

Friday, May 04, 2018

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Grammy Award-winning band Inner Circle celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and will embark on their “Rockers 50” tour of Europe, starting in June.

DJ Khaled, one of the biggest producers of pop music, and rapper Fat Joe are among those congratulating Inner Circle on social media, but this milestone was not achieved overnight. Brothers and founding members Ian and Roger Lewis were music lovers while students at Jamaica College in St Andrew. Their schoolmates included future politicians Peter Phillips and Paul Burke of the People's National Party.

“I haven't seen them for about two or three years, but from school days they were always friendly, down-to-earth; we always had cordial relations. They were definitely involved in bands at that time, but you have to understand that was in the 1960s and music wasn't a career path that JC students followed,” Burke told the Jamaica Observer's weekly Splash.

Another budding musician, Michael “Ibo” Cooper, also attended JC with the brothers, and was an original member of Inner Circle.

Burke admits he did not anticipate their success.

“I never thought they would reach as far as they have; we thought it was a passing passion for them. We knew that Ibo Cooper liked to play tenor (saxophone) at the time but no one knew that he and Inner Circle would become pioneers in this field. They felt and saw music as their way of life. It's nice to see that they have stuck with it and definitely represented Jamaica well and have been so successful,” he said.

Inner Circle became a household name in the mid-1970s with lead singer Jacob Miller. They had numerous hit songs including Tenement Yard, Peace Treaty and Standing Firm.

In 1978, they signed with Chris Blackwell's Island Records which released the album Everything is Great. Everything was not so great two years later, however, when Miller was killed in a car accident in Kingston at age 27.

“I used to listen to Inner Circle all the time, especially when Jacob Miller was a part of the group. I remember when he was on a Sunday afternoon on Hope Road. It was a shock to all of us,” Burke recalled.

The group subsequently disbanded and the Lewis brothers and keyboardist Bernard “Touter” Harvey relocated to Florida where they enjoyed a resurgence in the early 1990s thanks to two massive hit songs in Bad Boys and Sweat (A La La La La Long). The current line-up also includes drummer Lancelot Hall, singer Trevor “Skatta” Bonnick and guitarist Ronny Gutierrez.

They won a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1994 for Bad Boys.

In 2015, Roger and Ian Lewis and Ibo Cooper were honoured by their alma mater in New York.

— Sade Gardner

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