Inner Circle members, from left: Roger Lewis, Lancelot Hall, Kris Bentley, Touter Harvey and Ian Lewis.
Part state-of the-art recording studio, part tropical retreat, Circle House in Miami reminds Inner Circle's Roger Lewis of just how far the band has come in its eventful, 30-plus-year career. "All the great artists record here; Puffy, Shaggy, you name it," he says of the band's fabulously furnished South Florida studio, where pop's elite come to lay down tracks, catch a few rays and compare notes. "You look on the back of the Puffy album, Nas' album, (our studio is listed there). We have Lenny Kravitz here now. All the crème de la crème."
Beyond ‘Bad Boys’
Inner Circle survives dark days
to hit the peak of reggae fame
Shawn "Speedy" Lopes
Inner Circle has come a long way since their humble beginnings. As novice musicians in their native Jamaica, the band idolized local ska greats the Vikings, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and Carlos Malcolm and dreamed of greater success while gigging about the island's hotels and resorts.
>> 6:30 p.m. today at the Waikiki Shell. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets $23 to $30 ($18 advance for lawn seats). Call 526-4400 or 591-2211.
'Superstars of Reggae Tour'
featuring Ky-Mani Marley
and Inner Circle
>> 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium in Hilo. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. $25 advance tickets, $30 at the door. Call 961-0651.
>> 5 p.m. Sunday at the Kukui Grove Park in Lihue. Gates open at 4 p.m. $25 advance tickets, $30 at the door. Call 245-9527.
It was the early '70s when David Coore, the politician father (and eventual deputy prime minister of Jamaica) of founding Inner Circle member Stephen "Cat" Coore, recruited the band to perform for the People's National Party Bandwagon. A musical tour featuring many of Jamaica's top talents -- Ken Boothe, Clancy Eccles and the Wailers among them -- the PNP Bandwagon put Inner Circle in a supporting role for reggae's biggest stars. "We were about 17, just coming out of high school," recalls Lewis of the group's first big break. "As youngsters, we could say that we were one of the first bands to back up Bob Marley and the Wailers."
WHEN Coore and Michael "Ibo" Cooper left to form Third World in 1973, singing duties fell upon Jacob Miller, a carefree young crooner with a sparkling personality and a clear, ringing tenor. "Jacob used to follow around Inner Circle," Lewis said. "He used to say, 'One day, I'm going to be a great singer for this band,' and we used to laugh at him. He used to hound us everywhere -- 'Give me a chance to sing, give me a chance to sing.'"
Miller's prediction proved correct. By the time Inner Circle headlined Jamaica's historic One Love Peace concert in 1978, the band had achieved superstar status, and Miller's popularity in Jamaica had even rivaled that of Bob Marley himself. If Marley was considered reggae's conscious prophet, the jovial Miller, with his beaming smile and comical stage act, was its clown prince.
"If I said I had never encountered such a human being who had no capacity to hate, you're going to say, 'Oh, that's foolishness, that's ludicrous.' No. That's the truth," Lewis said. "I wouldn't say he would never have an argument with you, but five minutes later, you and Jacob are best friends. He couldn't carry a grudge."
In an era in which the island nation's political scene was wrought with violence and bloodshed, reggae became a powerful unifying force for Jamaican citizens. Still, no music could console the members of Inner Circle on the morning of March 23, 1980, when the band received word that Miller was killed. "I remember thinking, What, somebody shoot Jacob? Because I thought about Jamaica with all the gun violence. But them say, 'No, car crash.'"
Lewis pauses to reflect. "That was some dark days, mon."
So defeated was the band that Inner Circle refused to record for the next half-decade and instead committed themselves to their record manufacturing and production operation, Top Ranking. It wasn't until 1985 that the band re-emerged with singer Calton Coffie (who would be replaced by Kris Bentley after embarking on a solo career a decade later) and drummer Lancelot Hall.
In 1989 the creators of the Fox reality series "Cops" negotiated a deal that allowed Inner Circle's recording "Bad Boys" to be used as its theme song. Almost overnight the tune became one of the biggest-ever hits of the reggae genre, as "Cops" enjoyed international syndication. "'Bad Boys' changed everything," Lewis said. "Now it's like a reggae anthem. There's no place in the world that people don't know that song."
These days, Inner Circle travels the globe, spreading their one-world gospel with broad crossover appeal. "I think we mix the old with the new really well," he attests. "When you see the band playing onstage and hear we play it, that's different. That's real and raw. That's us."
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