Inner Circle's Roger Lewis On NBA Racism, Bob Marley, and The World Cup
By the time Inner Circle shook the world with the songs "Bad Boys (Watcha Gonna Do)," and "Sweat (A La La La La Long)," they'd already had a 20+ year career as the number one band in Jamaica, and a couple of worldwide hits with singer Jacob Miller too.
Beginning with their studio work creating the riddim for Eric Donaldson's "Cherry Oh Baby," to win the Jamaican National Song Festival of 1968, they quickly built a reputation for their musical prowess.
In 1971, they spent a year on the road with Bob Marley touring through every hill and valley on the island for the Michael Manley PNP tour, which helped get him elected Prime Minister -- the first instance of popular music being used to rally votes along a party line in the nation's history.
Inner Circle play the Funky Biscuit with Suenalo on June 15. Here's what founding guitarist Roger Lewis had to say ahead of the show.
How many tours you guys been on now?
Man, don't know... So much tour we can't keep count.
How many countries?
I can only tell you the ones we haven't been to. In South America, we've never been to Ecuador, never been to Panama, and a lot of countries in Africa, and apart from that, we've been everywhere as small as Guam, as controversial as Lebanon, we've been to Israel, the Middle East, everywhere. Everybody know "Bad Boys," everybody know "Sweat," in Indonesia, in Thailand, we been to everywhere in the world. If you pick up telephone and call an arbitrary number anywhere in the world and say "Bad Boys," they say "Oh, I know that song." Everybody in the world knows those songs.
And this tour you're hitting a couple new countries too right?
Yes! Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, we're going to American Samoa, New Caledonia. We're going to the Pacific Ocean, close to the land that's down under, where the people love the reggae music.
There's no other kind of music like it in the world. The beat is very infectious and carries a lot of feelings of the downtrodden people of the world. And as we know, that's since the beginning, that the dark and colored peoples of the world have been oppressed and had things stolen from them. Why is it that the pigmentation of a man's skin must cause them to be treated bad and lorded over by imperialistic peoples and governments and relegated to being treated as second class citizen?
That is why the words and the feel of the music is so captivating to them. They beyond feel our pain. 400 years later and still. The aborigine, the darker colored peoples of the world, that's why it's so popular with Hawaiian people and the Polynesian people. But we also have to tread lightly. Not them alone love reggae music. Big up all the fans of SOJA, the fans of Slightly Stoopid, and Rebelution. Big up all the fans of reggae music in America. We want them all to come out to see us in Boca Raton.
What do you think about the war in Syria?
I don't know much about that. Only thing I know in this world is that with the big guys, might seems to be always right.
What do you think about Donald Sterling and the whole LA Clippers thing?
I don't think anything about that. I believe most of thems feel the same way. I don't expect nothin' much more. I feel most of them owners think the same way. It don't mean nothin' to me. Wow, Donald Sterling said that? Really? I believe all of them say that in private.
What do you think about the World Cup?
Football is football. It's one of the few things that make the world come together on one stage. I love football, love, love, love football. Real football. My team forever as a young man, and for most Caribbean and Jamaican people, is Brazil. I always revered Brazil. Especially because of Pele. When I was a little boy, all I knew was Pele.
You ever get to meet him?
Nah, no no no. But I went to the club where he played. Inner Circle have been to Brazil many times. We've played Santos which is on the coast. We went to Rio. But we never met Pele or any of the great ballers of the Brazil.
You used to play with Max Romeo right?
I love Max Romeo. "War Inna Babylon, war inna Babylon...." I've not seen him in about 20 years. I used to be very close with him, and we played many shows together as a young man. We used to go off to England and play concerts. This year in Europe, we hope to see him, we're on some shows with him. Love Max Romeo. Max a ruff man... "Take back the King James version... the Maccabee version that God give to black man."
Musicians in Jamaica know that Inner Circle was the premiere band that back up all artists even Bob Marley before Family Man and Carly. For one full year we played with him. In 1971, we were young and we toured with Bob Marley on the Michael Manley PNP Bandwagon all around Jamaica. Right there with Bob, and Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer. We used to back up Ken Boothe, Clancey Eccles, everybody. We were the premiere backing band. We knew all the artists. That's how we got to play on Bob Marley recording "Stir It Up" at Harry J studio.
Inner Circle roots run deep. Roots run deep, ya know? We played the famous Peace Concert with Jacob Miller, and right after that our keyboard player Touter Harvey went off to play with the Rolling Stones for a year. And right after that Chris Blackwell from Island Records signed us and we opened for Average White Band all over Europe, England, and Scotland. And we co-headline with Ian Dury, a big rock and roller from England who was all about the sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
How'd you like working with Bunny Wailer?
Big respect to Bunny Wailer, Solomonic Records. I like Bunny Wailer a lot. He's powerful. I don't know why him and Chris don't get along to make him a bigger artist, but the world still know Bunny Wailer. Big Respect to Bunny Wailer. He is a true reggae soldier, true reggae warrior.
How many reggae artists live down here?
The Marleys, Stephen Marley, Julian Marley, Damian Jr Gong Marley, Marcia Griffiths, Freddie McGregor, a lot of artists, Shaggy used to live down here. South Florida is a melting pot of the Caribbean, ya know.