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Members include Calton Coffie (born February 27, c. 1950s, in London, England; joined group c. 1985), lead and backing vocals; Lance Hall (born February 7, c. 1950s, in Kingston, Jamaica; joined group c. 1985), drums and percussion; Bernard "Touter" Harvey (born October 25, c. 1954, in Kingston), keyboards and backing vocals; Ian Lewis (born November 1, c. early 1950s, in Kingston), bass and guitar; Roger Lewis (born June 29, c. early 1950s, in Kingston), rhythm guitar; Jacob "Killer" Miller (born May 4, 1954, in Kingston; died in a car accident, March 23, 1980), lead singer. Addresses: Record company--Big Beat/Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
Apparently one fan can make a difference in a band's career, if Inner Circle's recent success is any indication. Since the mid-1970s, the reggae band Inner Circle had been plugging away, remaining relatively unknown outside their native Jamaica. It wasn't until a fan--who happened to be a field producer for a new television show--suggested the group's song "Bad Boys" for the show's theme that their music went through the roof, bringing reggae and Inner Circle into homes across the globe.
In the early 1970s, brothers Ian and Roger Lewis played in various Top 40 bands around their hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. In 1975 they joined forces with keyboardist Bernard "Touter" Harvey. Neighbor Jacob "Killer" Miller used to stop by rehearsals and ridicule the band, jeering at their singers. Roger Lewis recalled in a Big Beat/Atlantic press release that Miller would "tell us that one day we were going to need him, because he was a great singer; sometimes he would try to grab the mike. He was a real prankster." Soon Miller grabbed the microphone and kept it, joining what had become Inner Circle.
During their maiden U.S. tour in 1975, the band realized that original reggae tunes were the way to make it big, having witnessed the thunderous reception for reggae superstars such as Toots & the Maytals and Dennis Brown. Inner Circle quickly looked to their roots in soul and R&B vocals and rhythms, and they incorporated them into an extensive catalog of reggae originals. Opening for more famous groups and often singing backup for them gained Inner Circle widespread popularity. Soon, they established their own Top Ranking label and recorded songs like "Tenement Yard," "All Night Till Daylight," and "Tired fe Lick Weed in a Bush"--all considered classics according to Vibe magazine.
A taste of overseas success came when the band was signed by Capitol Records in 1976, but the truly big break came when they performed for over 40,000 fans in the famous Jamaican Peace Festival of 1978. The long-running film Heartland Reggae documented this reggae version of Woodstock, which included such artists as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and Bunny Wailer. English entrepreneur Chris Blackwell, who started Marley's career rolling, spotted the band at the festival and signed them to his Island Records label.
Inner Circle's 1978 Island debut Everything Is Great hit the Top 20 in the United Kingdom and the Top Ten in France. The title track was a Euro-smash, as were the hit singles "Mary, Mary" and "Music Machine." But all of this burgeoning success came to a halt in 1980, when lead singer Jacob Miller was killed in a car accident. In the band's press materials Roger Lewis noted, "Jacob was like family and it wasn't the kind of thing where you could go out and just find another singer to replace him."
After Miller's death, Ian Lewis and Harvey moved to Miami, Florida, and built a recording studio. There they worked with artists such as soul singer Joe Tex and rappers 2 Live Crew. Roger Lewis joined them there in 1985. The passing years had helped to heal the wounds left by the death of Miller; the band was eager to get back to their music. With new lead singer Calton Coffie and drummer Lance Hall, Inner Circle was rehearsing again by 1986. In no time the band was signed by RAS Records, and their 1987 album, One Way, was receiving critical acclaim.
While touring in Europe, Inner Circle discovered that a single of theirs, "Bad Boys," was becoming a huge hit in Sweden. An independent Swedish label had apparently released the song with neither a contract nor Inner Circle's knowledge. The label went bankrupt, but the song was picked up by WEA Scandinavia's Metronome label and went on to become one of that territory's bestselling singles of 1991.
At the same time a field producer for the brand-new, globally syndicated, "real-life" television show Cops suggested "Bad Boys" as the show's theme song. Cops became immensely popular worldwide, and that, coupled with radio airplay, made "Bad Boys" and Inner Circle a global sensation. The 1993 album of the same name eventually sold over 3 million copies and earned the group a Grammy Award for best reggae album as well as Caribbean Music Awards in the best group and best reggae album categories. Bad Boys contained two Top 20 singles, and the title track was certified gold.
Prior to the release of Bad Boys, Inner Circle took a break from touring, returned to Miami, and released 1992's Bad to the Bone. The band then signed with Big Beat/Atlantic and reconfigured their album--with some track changes--creating 1993's Bad Boys. Following on the heels of "Bad Boys," the song "Sweat (A La La La La Long) broke in Sweden and then went on to top radio play lists in Denmark, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Israel, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. In Germany the band made history, holding the Number One pop slot for 13 weeks, garnering the most German airplay of any record ever over a given period.
After such a long time on the music scene, huge success was new to Inner Circle. "We've never really been through this before," Ian Lewis told Billboard contributor Gil Griffin. "'Bad Boys' helped us go into new areas where people only knew of reggae through Bob Marley." Lance Hall furthered that discussion of reggae's popularity in Rap Masters Presents: "A lot of people have the misconception that reggae is popular now. Reggae was popular when Bob Marley was around. But Bob Marley and only Bob Marley got the exposure. Now that you have Inner Circle, Shabba Ranks, Maxi Priest gettin' exposure, these other artists are getting the best response." And commenting on their jump to the larger Big Beat/Atlantic label, "Basically, it's the conglomerates getting behind reggae music," Ian Lewis pointed out in Vibe. "Everywhere you look nowadays is red, gold, and green [the colors of the Jamaican flag]. But reggae music is not something that just come to blow in the wind. It's something here to stay and it must be respected."
With the worldwide success of Inner Circle came controversy. Ian Lewis told Griffin: "Some of our black fans have come to us and told us 'Cops' is a negative show. We have heard that some black radio stations didn't play the song because of the association with 'Cops.' We were told by the producers, when they asked if they could use the song, that it was a docu-drama. The song isn't about telling the police to lock people up or beat them up; it's about troubled kids who have problems at home." It's a theme that Lewis, a father, often delves into in his music.
In 1994 Inner Circle released the much-awaited Reggae Dancer, and although it did not touch the success of Bad Boys, it received mostly good reviews. This album represents what the band has been through since their success. As Ian Lewis told Vibe, "We chose songs that were kind of personal in our struggle." BRE felt that "the reggae beat suits [the first single, "Games People Play,"- -a remake of Joe South's 1969 hit] well and has a really happy vibe about it. All ages will find it hard to ignore the seductive influence it has. Maybe not as traditional a reggae cut as some of Inner Circle's previous cuts, but it still pleases."
Entertainment Weekly didn't find that "happy vibe" a good thing. Their Chuck Eddy gave Reggae Dancer a C+, noting that "the fattest reggae band in the land is also noted for its blandness.... But Inner Circle mostly sticks to ingratiating feel-good reggae with upbeat early '70s soul influences, guaranteed not to upset baby boomers." Cash Box urged, "Let's not forget that [Inner Circle] make some very accessible reggae music without pandering to current urban styles." One single, "Summer Jammin'," got an extra boost when it was featured in a scene in "Beverly Hills Cop III" and appeared on the film's soundtrack.
The future is uncertain for Inner Circle as the world waits for another Bad Boys. In 1993 Cema Records put out a Best of Inner Circle 1976-1977 in order to capitalize on the success of that song; it didn't do well. The influence of Reggae Dancer remains to be seen. But as Ian Lewis waxed hopeful in their press materials, "We're still building and America is coming around.... We're working for the music. You have to if there's to be a future. Bob Marley laid the seeds, and we are honored to be carrying the banner right now."
by Joanna Rubiner
Inner Circle's Career
Band formed in Kingston, Jamaica, 1975; signed with Capitol Records, 1976; performed at the Jamaican Peace Festival, signed with Island Records, and released Everything Is Great, 1978; Jacob Miller killed in auto accident and group disbanded, 1980; group reunited in Miami, FL, 1986; released One Way on RAS Records, 1987; signed with Big Beat/Atlantic; released reconfigured Bad to the Bone as Bad Boys; single and TV theme song, "Bad Boys," became international hit, 1993.
Inner Circle's Awards
Gold record for Bad Boys, 1993; Grammy Award for best reggae album and Caribbean Music Awards in the best group and best reggae album categories, all for Bad Boys, 1994.
- Selective Works
- Everything Is Great (includes "Mary, Mary" and "Music Machine"), Island Records, 1978.
- One Way, RAS Records, 1987.
- Bad to the Bone (includes "Bad Boys"), 1992.
- Bad Boys (includes "Bad Boys"), Big Beat/Atlantic, 1993.
- Best of Inner Circle 1976-1977, Cema Records, 1993.
- Reggae Dancer, Big Beat/Atlantic, 1994.
- (Contributors) Beverly Hills Cop III (soundtrack), MCA, 1994.
- Billboard, February 12, 1994; July 2, 1994.
- BRE, August 5, 1994; August 26, 1994.
- Cashbox, August 20, 1994; September 3, 1994.
- Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), August 5, 1994.
- Entertainment Weekly, August 19, 1994.
- Factor-X, October 1994.
- Hitmakers, November 19, 1993.
- Hollywood Reporter, August 1, 1994.
- Network Forty, January 28, 1994; September 30, 1994.
- Rap Masters Presents, December 1994.
- Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), July 29, 1994; August 1, 1994.
- Terry Marshall's Daily Insider, March 4, 1994.
- Vibe, November 1994.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Big Beat/Atlantic publicity materials, 1993 and 1994.
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