Words by Jesse Serwer—
Two of reggae’s longest running bands, Inner Circle and Third World share roots dating back to the late ’60s, when brothers Ian (bass) and Roger Lewis (guitar) formed Inner Circle with a revolving cast of musicians that would come to include many future Third World members. More than four decades after Stephen “Cat” Coore (guitar) and Richard “Ibo” Cooper (keys) broke away from Inner Circle to form Third World, the two groups will share the stage this Friday (Feb. 24) at Miami’s Adrianne Arsht Center, for what they hope will become an annual joint concert event. LargeUp recently sat down with Ian Lewis and Cat Coore in a break room at Inner Circle’s Circle House Studios in Miami for a discussion about their shared history, the early days of reggae, and Third World’s own connections to the late, great Jacob Miller (who both bands are planning to pay tribute to at Friday night’s concert).
Side note: we’re still giving away tickets to the show, so if you’re in the Miami area make sure to enter. To win, follow @Largeupdotcom on Twitter, and RT the following: Want to win 2 tix to see @ThirdWorldBand + Inner Circle (@BadBoysofReggae) in Miami? Follow @Largeupdotcom + RT http://bit.ly/zppHIb.
LargeUp: So, when did you meet this guy?
Cat Coore: I remember, in 1970, there was a World Cup. I always remember going to his house and seeing a World Cup was on the television, and Brazil or somebody was playing.
Ian Lewis: [We lived in] close proximity. ‘Round Matilda’s Corner. Cat lived around the corner, and we were around sum’n.
LU: So you knew each other as neighbors rather before music?
IL: I’d say neighbors. Everybody was moving in the same circle because music in those days, everybody want a form a band. Music was like…a high, high focal point in a lot of youths.
CC: There were a lot of bands in that time. A lot of us who grew up in that era didn’t really focus on ourselves being solo singers or anything like that. Those solo singers were always groups. Like the Techniques or the Paragons or the Wailers. The way we saw our mission as youngsters coming up, we wanted to form bands. In those days, every school had a band, yuh know. JC had a band, KC had a band. Lot of musicians came out of that whole culture.
LU: So when did the band that became Inner Circle start to formalize? And how involved were you, Cat, and the Third World members in the original Inner Circle?
IL: It was an even split, you know. Cause it was one, two, three—Cooper, Cat and Willie. Which was the drummer, guitarist and keyboard.
CC: You’ll find that a lot of members of Third World were Inner Circle members. Even if they are not members of Third World anymore. Or even if they weren’t members of Inner Circle when it happened. Because some people had left Inner Circle before that. Before that breakaway. Well, I was the first breakaway, then Ibo. Even though members had gone other ways, and we were always interacting with each other, and you find that people came back and joined back. Even Prilly is a very important, man, too. Prilly was an Inner Circle singer as well. It’s like Inner Circle, one group, almost all of it made up Third World. Only Ritchie Daley was the only man who never was.
LU: How come you did go off and start your own thing?
CC: I can’t tell you there was any animosity involved, in any way.
CC: It’s not like that. I was a kid in high school very influenced by rock music and I envisioned myself in a group with just three people. I never realized—it would be years, after The Police, that we could form a band like that.
IL: We used to play songs from groups like BTO. We used to play Grand Funk Railroad. That was the kind of music we played. When we played it them call us Santana. We used to play them songs for people and people liked to say, “What the hell kinda music yuh play!” It was basically just a ting. A lot of people don’t understand the wave of influence spread across the world. And the hippie thing it tek in Jamaica but it was more on the uptown side because the roots people never really vacillated that. But the kids who was exposed to it, and the velvet pants wearing…
CC:…And the bell foot and ting. And shortly after that you had the Superfly wave. [Laughs]
IL: As a young man you get influenced by tings. But basically to survive you haffi play in a hotel or nightclub or playing for people party and dem ting. That’s what you needed to do. You didn’t portray no group sound, just learn a buncha tunes and play it for some people. You entertain them and you a minstrel. So after a while certain people get frustrated by that and dem want to play original music. The story can go and on. But that’s really what it was.
CC: I know, personally speaking, that from the day when I broke away from Inner Circle, and Third World was formed, and we go on through all that time, there has never been any kind of bone of contention or anything between us. Especially me and Ian. We’ve always maintained a very close relationship. I think that’s really great. We’re not the only family who did that. There are people in rock music, too, who broke away from groups and formed other ones, and those guys are great friends for years, too.
LU: Have you come together for events like this often?
IL: Not really. This is the second thing, now. We did one in New York before. A friend of ours, George Nooks, put that together, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And it was really good vibes. We had Marcia Griffiths, Gregory Isaacs, and the bands. We really want to make it like an annual ting. Where we just bring different groups in and showcase reggae music. We can make people understand that reggae music is not something drawn up from the ground. It’s sum’n that people fight all dem life for. It’s something that we can make go off that way.
LU: Can you tell me about how you met Jacob Miller, and what he was like?
IL: Well, it’s not just me who meet Jakes, Jakes was a universal person.
CC: He was a young-ish guy when I met him. And I was young in the business then, a lot of my contemporaries were older guys to me. I joined Inner Circle when I was 13.
IL: Jakes is about three years younger than us. But the essence of it—the last person Jacob Miller sing with was Third World, down at the penitentiary. That was the last time Jakes ever sing on stage, yuh know. Cause the night when Jakes met in a car accident, him actually went to a Third World event.
CC: He went to our 10th anniversary. The penitentiary did a free show for the inmates. And he was a special invited guest, and Sharon Forrester. And him come on and sing one tune and tear up the whole place, and we told him that we’re gonna have a 10th anniversary the next day. Ironically he never ever came in inside, he just came to the gate and said, “I soon come back,” and we never ever saw him again. The most incredible thing about him is the man could do anything. The talent. Him could sing like Tom Jones, him could sing like Bob Marley. Just pure talent.
IL: Effortless. This is not a hype ting I tell you. If a rock singer sing, Jakes will see the rock singer and say Chuck, give me a chance, man. But that’s how him is, he’s a guy without boundaries. Understand Jakes oonu hatred. Him and Bob Marley, I was listening to an interview last night of him and Bob in 1980 down in the islands. And Bob is not an easy person if you don’t know him. If Bob don’t know him, he’ll sit in the room and don’t say a word to you. Is not an easy man fi just. And him and Jakes developed that bond so tight that it was unbelievable.
CC: In a short space of time. Jacob Miller is a special person. One of my most serious memories about [Bob Marley] is shortly after Jakes had the car accident and died, Third World was recording at Bob Marley’s studio. Bob Marley said to me on the steps, “A man like Jacob Miller just go on so…” I don’t have to tell you. Bob was gone within a year and a half of that statement to me. So this world, bwoy.
IL: You haffi understand, in the era and time that Jakes came to reggae music was a lot of searching in terms of music and the vibe. The youths are now influenced by the TV, to give them that vibe. Before it was just people to people and you listen to a band and you hear a song, the influence just was floating. Now it’s kind of controlled. So you don’t get that mystique that’s with the music no more. That’s really gone. Jakes was just a walking person. Jakes would just walk from him house and have no money to pay for the bus and go up on the bus and just sing for all the people, and the whole bus just rate and say, “What you wan now Jakes?” Everybody just knew him like that. It’s not a materialistic brother. That’s why people vacillate to him. Him just have that naturalness. “Dreadlocks can’t live in a tenement yard,” “Just lick weed in a bush,” it’s just a ting that’s a people’s kinda movement. That wha-ah-ah-ah… Even if you listen to Sizzla, all a dem, and them give you that likkle, them know Jacob Miller.
CC: Sizzla definitely took that from him. That rah-ah-ah. He took that straight from him.
IL: So him was, for the ghetto people. And when him getting in the broader market, it was devastating because we made some tours in different places, and go with a rock and roll band, and Jakes go on unbelievable, what him do. So we have to make him legacy live. That’s what we trying fi do. But not in a pushy way, just inna way so people can understand it. No big promotion and a Jacob Miller Day and all that. None of that. Just make him music filter out some more.
LU: Do you think there will be a return to musicianship, like Inner Circle or Third World. Now it’s about the artists. That’s how it started, the band was in the background and it was about the vocalists.
CC: I was looking at some old Gleaners at an ad for Sombrero Club, you see Sombrero, the mighty Inner Circle, and then you might see something like special guest Toots and the Maytals. Now it would be totally different. Now it would be Toots and the Maytals first and then whatever band is there might get a chance but in those days bands had a good name.
IL: But you had to be dual fold. You’re gonna play two or three sets and then you’re gonna back up an artist. The promoter is gonna bring an artist for you to back up. So a lot of them was like Lloyd Parks’ We the People, who made their name as a backing band. You sing two tunes first, then you back up D Brown. A lot of bands break away. How we started to play our own music is that we went to San Francisco as a backing band for Toots and the Maytals. When the show finish out, the man said him have no more money to buy us a ticket fi go back. So we have to stay in San Francisco now and play some likkle club club fi make up the money to come home.
LU: Cat, what is your favorite Inner Circle song? And what is your favorite Third World song, Ian?
CC: I don’t need no time with that. My favorite Inner Circle song is definitely “Forward Ever.”
IL: Favorite Third World song is the favorite, “Now that We Found Love.” Because you haffi understand what that song did to New York City when it came out. In dem days, [legendary WBLS DJ] Frankie Crocker would not play reggae music. Ken Williams was on WLIB and Ken gave him plenty songs that could buss over. So when Frankie Crocker went and tek that song and bussed that song, that literally changed. If you look down the Black corridor from New York, Philly, DC right down, that is a tough. Donnie Simpson, those guys didn’t touch reggae cause to them reggae was something [where they'd go] ehhh yeahh—it was threatening. Give them some calypso or something. Cause they wouldn’t play Bob Marley. The closest song that went from Bob Marley was “Exodus.” Which had that four on the floor and then the remixes that came then. But “Now that We Found Love” was straight in that, and then Bunny have that R&B strong voice and it just went “Poof!” It changed how the young African American would look at reggae, especially the demo of 15-25 females. Cause that was a female song.