Third World and Inner Circle share more than a few things in common: names of exactly equal length (two words, 11 letters); status as two of Jamaican reggae's longest-running and best-known bands; and Florida addresses.
What's more, at one time, they were essentially the same group. Third World founders Stephen "Cat" Coore and Richard "Ibo" Cooper both played in early Inner Circle lineups before striking out on their own in the '70s. And William "Bunny Rugs" Clarke, Third World's longtime frontman, also sang with Inner Circle for a spell, as did the original singer, a guy known simply as "Prilly."
"I was a kid in high school very influenced by rock music, and I envisioned myself in a group with just three people," Coore says of his motivation for starting Third World. Seated next to him in a break room at Circle House Studios, Inner Circle's North Miami recording compound, that band's cofounder and bassist, Ian Lewis, nods in agreement: "From then to now, there has never been any bone of contention between us."
The acts will show their solidarity this Thursday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Reggae Jam, the first in what they hope will become an annual series of concerts together. The event (which will also feature the debut of the Reggae Wave, eight young Florida acts mentored by Inner Circle) will double as a tribute to Jacob Miller, the late, great Inner Circle singer killed in a 1980 car crash while driving from a Third World concert.
"The last person Jacob Miller sang with was Third World," Lewis notes. And the night before his death, Coore explains, Miller joined the band onstage for a performance inside a Jamaican penitentiary. The singer, whose hits with Inner Circle included "Tenement Yard" and "Tired Fi Lick Weed," showed up the following night at Third World's tenth anniversary concert. But he never made it inside. "He just came to the gate and said, 'I soon come back,'" Coore recalls. "And we never saw him again."
While Inner Circle scored its greatest commercial success with "Bad Boys," the ubiquitous theme song from TV's Cops, Coore's dreams of fusing reggae and rock were realized with classic Third World albums such as 1976's 96° in the Shade and 1978's Journey to Addis. The latter album spawned the group's biggest hit, "Now That We Found Love," which Lewis credits with taking reggae to places even Bob Marley couldn't.
"Radio in America never really supported reggae," Lewis says. "The closest song that went from Bob Marley was 'Exodus.' [But 'Now'] changed how the young African-American would look at reggae."