“If reggae lost its soul when Marley died, it lost its heart when Miller died.” – Jah Raver
Jacob Matthias Miller is one of reggae’s greatest treasures. In addition to being one of reggae’s most talented vocalists, he brought an unmatched energy and an excitement to reggae. His live performances are the stuff of legend. I was speaking recently with one of the members of Light Of Saba about a totally unrelated topic when out of the blue he said:
“You know Jacob Miller and Inner Circle were such an extraordinary force on-stage. He was so raw and so free. It is really remarkable. Most people either don’t recall or don’t understand. The vibe of those shows was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I guess the closest thing I could compare it to would be when I saw Marilyn Manson and Judas Priest live in California several years back. You know, I left that show so high on music, so amped up and out of this world that it took days to shake it. That is the only other time in my life I’ve experienced anything like an Inner Circle show from that era.”
Music journalist Neil Spencer upon witnessing Jacob Miller and Inner Circle’s electrifying performance at the One Love Peace Concert in 1978 described Miller’s performance as “splendidly over-the-top, with the expansive Miller belly acting out an integral part of the show.” Spencer even compared Miller to the legendary Leslie West of the band Mountain. His fearless style of performing combined with his mighty opera style vocals earned him the nickname “Killer” since he “killed” all competitors in early talent shows and at local concerts and clubs.
Miller was charismatic with an infectious personality and a true and unwaivering love for life. Several years ago I interviewed photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker about her first trip to Jamaica in 1975 to photograph the whole scene. She fell in love with Miller and his livity is something that she still carries with her today:
“Jacob Miller was so much fun to photograph…he was warm and funny and gregarious and was obviously beloved in Jamaica and his death only a few years later was a real tragedy.”
So here are a few facts about Jacob Miller, Jamaica’s other favorite son.
1. Unlike many of his contemporaries who hailed from the ghettoes of West Kingston or the farmlands of rural Jamaica, Miller spent his childhood living with his grandparents in a middle class home at 21A Rousseau Road in Kingston. Born in Mandeville New Green, Manchester Miller was sent to live with his grandparents by his mother at a very young age. Miller is the first cousin of contemporary reggae singer Maxi Priest.
2. At the young age of 13 Miller recorded his first song at Studio One for Clement “Coxsone” Dodd in 1968. The song, titled “Love Is the Message” went largely unnoticed until Augustus Pablo started to spin it on his Rockers Sound System. Miller recut the tune at Dynamic Studios in 1974 for Augustus Pablo who released it under the title “Keep On Knocking.”
3. In addition to being a gifted singer, Jacob Miller was also a supremely talented drummer who appeared on more than 500 songs cut in the early-to-mid seventies including Hugh Mundell’s “Africa Must Be Free By 1983.”
4. Miller cut his first single with the Inner Circle Band in 1974, the Rasta-influenced “Forward Jah Jah Children” which was issued as a 7″ single on the Sweet City label.
Miller was the band’s fourth lead singer, preceded by Funky Brown, Milton “Prilly” Hamilton, and William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke. Inner Circle was actually formed in 1968 by brothers Ian and Roger Lewis with then 12-year-old Stephen “Cat” Coore and Michael “Ibo” Cooper. The band expanded in 1970 when they were joined by drummer William Stewart, percussionist Irvin “Carrot” Jarrett, and the band’s original singer William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke. The group split in 1973 with Hamilton, Coore, Stewart, and Cooper going on to form Third World and the Lewis brothers (along with new recruits Charles Farquharson and Bernard “Touter” Harvey on keys and Calvin McKenzie on drums) forging a new Inner Circle. Inner Circle’s first album, DREAD REGGAE HITS was released in 1973 on Ian Lewis’s Top Ranking label.
4. Inner Circle’s first two albums for major label Capitol Records – REGGAE THING (1976) and READY FOR THE WORLD (1977) were comprised primarily of earlier Jacob Miller solo material. Both albums were flops and Capitol subsequently dropped the group.
5. Miller spent a lot of time in New York City, often shacking up at the Essex House Hotel on Central Park South, a popular destination for Island-signed artists including Bob Marley. He could also be found strolling the streets of the Bronx where his mother relocated to from Jamaica in the early 1970s. These trips to NYC did not bode well for Miller’s evolving interest in Rastafari. As he explains in a 1979 interview which appeared in the New Musical Express “[E]very time I went to New York my old lady would make me trim my locks.”
6. Jacob Miller’s favorite phrase was “Ever’ting is great.” He was known to use it almost compulsively, sometimes repeating it several times in the same short conversation. In fact, he loved the phrase so much that it ended up being the title of the group’s 1979 debut for Island Records. The title track became a Top 20 hit in the UK and a Top 10 smash in France, and the album produced the popular singles “Mary, Mary” and “Music Machine.”
7. Miller recorded under the name “Ted Miller” on sides cut for legendary producer Joe Gibbs.
8. Jacob Miller lists his greatest musical influences as The Delfonics, The Stylistics, James Brown, The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Presley had an overwhelming impact on Miller’s stage persona and Miller credits him with teaching him how to perform on-stage. As he describes in an interview with journalist Chris Salewicz in 1979:
“I used to go to the cinema all the time to see his films. [He] had so much energy. But Presley died before I could meet him.”
9. Miller’s life was transformed when he met dub reggae maestro and devoted Rastafarian Augustus Pablo, who ironically was also a member of the Inner Circle band earlier in his career. Miller was one of several youths (including Hugh Mundell and Junior Reid) Pablo took under his wing, introducing them to Rastafari and music. It is the Pablo-produced “Baby I Love You So” and its version titled “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” that have become Miller’s signature and most enduring singles. The song was released as a 45 rpm single in 1974 on the Mango label (MS-2001), with “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” as the a-side. With Pablo Miller also recorded singles such as “Each One Teach One,” “Keep On Knocking,” “False Rasta,” and “Who Say Jah No Dread.”
10. On his way to becoming an international reggae superstar after a brilliant performance in the 1978 film ROCKERS and a legendary performance at the One Love Peace Concert on April 22, 1978, Miller, 25, was killed in a tragic car accident on March 23, 1980. The car crash also took the lives of two children, one of them Jacob’s son. Miller’s funeral was held one week later on March 30, 1980 at the National Arena in Kingston. The funeral featured notable speakers Dudley Thompson, National Security Minister, and Archbishop Yeshaq of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, who conducted the service and eulogized Miller. The service also featured playing and chanting by Cedric Im Brooks and the Light of Saba. Jacob Miller was laid to rest later that day at Dovecot Memorial Park, the same place that fellow Rockers musician Hugh Mundell is interred three short years later.
This rare interview of Bob Marley, Jacob Miller, and Junior Marvin by broadcaster David Douglas occurred on the island of St. Maarten on March 21, 1980, just two days prior to Miller’s tragic death by car crash. Give thanks to Roger Steffens for sharing the interview.
This legendary MIDNIGHT DREAD broadcast originally aired the day after Jacob Miller was laid to rest. MIDNIGHT DREAD livicated the entire show to Jacob Miller.
Here is Jacob Miller performing “We A Rockers” on Earl Chin’s NYC-based ROCKERS TV in 1978. Earl Chin’s television show, which also included an interview segment, was frequented by the biggest reggae stars of the day while they passed through NYC, including Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
JACOB MILLER TRIBUTE BY JAH RAVER
Forward Ever, Backward Never (1978 Rehearsal)
Forward Ever, Backward Never
Mixed Up Moods (Alternate)
Mixed Up Moods (Version)
Jolly Joseph (Version)
Hungry Town Skank
Baby I love you so
King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
Tired Fe Lick Weed In A Bush
Chillum In A Gully
Forward Jah Jah Children
80’000 Careless Ethiopians
Jacob Miller and Inner Circle perform live at Reggae Sunsplash, June 30, 1978!
Jacob Miller & Inner Circle perform live in Savanna-La-Mar, 1978
Jacob Miller and Inner Circle perform “We A Rockers” Live, Paris 1979
Jacob Miller & Inner Circle “Stop Breaking My Heart,” RockPop, Munich, Germany, May 19, 1979
Included here are several of my favorite cuts from my own personal vinyl collection:
Jacob was 27. His year of birth was 1952.