BY ADAM PERLMUTTER | VIDEO BY STEPHEN INGLIS | FROM THE SPRING 2022 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Few musicians have as special a place in the history of Jamaican music as Jimmy Cliff, the singer-songwriter who in 1972 introduced new audiences to reggae through his starring role in the film The Harder They Come, as well as his contributions to its magnificent soundtrack. One of the many highlights of that album is “Sitting in Limbo” (which also appeared on Cliff’s 1971 record, Another Cycle), a song that over the years has seen many great covers, including those by Jerry Garcia, Jessica Molaskey, the Neville Brothers, John Sebastian, and Peter Yarrow, among others.
As the song requires just a handful of simple chords, with mostly slow-moving changes, “Sitting in Limbo” serves as a great beginner tune for ukulele players—or a nice selection for a strum-along. While Cliff’s version is in the key of D major, this arrangement is in C, making it a little easier, as it uses only open chords. If you’d like to play along with the original recording, just place a capo at the second fret.
The song begins with a two-bar introduction based on a C chord. I’ve notated a simplified version of the keyboard riff heard on the studio recording, a figure that extends into the verse and reappears as an interlude. This part requires a bit of a stretch in the fretting fingers; if you find it too difficult to play, just strum an open C chord instead.
Though “Sitting in Limbo” is technically a reggae song, it barely sounds like one, due to the more folk-rock feel of the rhythm section on Cliff’s recording (which, incidentally, was recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, in Alabama). So instead of a typical reggae rhythm, try the pattern shown here, or one like it. Just keep your picking hand moving in a continuous up-and-down motion, actually strumming only on certain beats. But don’t overthink things—just try to match the warm and laid-back vibe of the original.