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"I make people all happy when I play a song. It ís good"
-"Toots" Hibbert (Timm)
Toots and the Maytals have music history spanning over three decades, and in that time they’ve become almost as legendary as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. The blend of music styles that make up the soulful sounds of Toots and the Maytals have come from many influential artists as well as the historical influence of reggae music and the group’s history. Toots and the Maytals stand out within the reggae genre not only because of their amazing beats and legendary live performances, but also because of the creation of their own genre in music consisting of a little preaching, ska, soul, R & B, and a little calypso; no one has been able to duplicate it since. Toots and the Maytals have been making music since the birth of what we know as reggae today and have had an immeasurable influence on many of today’s artists, meanwhile Toots is still on the road and giving kick-ass performances all over the world.
A Star is Born...
Fredrick Nathaniel Hibbert, better known as "Toots", was born on December 10, 1946 deep in the countryside of rural Jamaica in the small town of May Pen Clarendon. Toots began gracing the world with his talent at the age of seven in the choir with his four brothers and three sisters at the Seventh Day Adventist where his father preached. This taste of Baptist-derived gospel at a young age no doubt provided the spiritual influence that grew into Toots’ soul-reggae flavor. There were other musical influences from his youth to which Toots was exposed to by a transistor radio. "We used to listen to radio station and I like all of them... Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Sam Cooke, Diana Ross," Toots has said. "I grew up listening to James Brown, Otis Redding, Little Richard." At about age fifteen Toots left his small town and headed for the city of Kingston. He found employment in a barbershop where he not only cut hair, but also entertained customers and passers by with his vocal talents. Kingston is also where Toots fatefully met Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias and Henry "Raleigh" Gordon in 1961: "I used to sing all the time, and people would come around and listen, and say I was good and I should go and record my voice. That’s when I met Raleigh and Jerry.
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A Little Background...
Before I continue with the history of the Maytals I feel that it is important to discuss some other important factors affecting the Jamaican music scene at the time, as well as a little history of Jamaican music. Until the early Fifties the music of Jamaica consisted only of Mento, a depoliticized relative of Trinidad’s calypso and also Jamaican adaptations of old British folk songs and sea chanteys. Also during this time Jamaica began industrializing and changing into and increasingly urbanized society. Kingston and the larger towns began to fill up with Jamaicans looking for opportunity. Following along with the industrial development of the island was the introduction to the transistor radio, which brought the sounds of American Rhythm and Blues, and soul to the island. Some favorites were Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, Chris Kenner, Lee Dorsey, and Brook Benton. Since Jamaican radio was (and still is) government-controlled, ordinary Jamaicans couldn’t hear all of the blues that the wanted to, this brought on the creation of "sound systems". Most sound systems were extensions of record shops, whose owner would borrow a van and fill it with huge speakers, some turntables, and music right off the plane from New Orleans or Miami. They would set up these traveling discos in someone’s backyard or in the country market on a Saturday night. Some of the first sound-system men were Duke Reid, Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, Vincent "King" Edwards and Prince Buster. Duke Reid owned, with his wife Lucille, the Treasure Isle Liquor Store on Bond Street while Sir Coxsone played his records at his mother’s liquor store on Beston Street; needless to say, there was some rivalry between them. The two went on to become producers and started recording sessions.
It Started With a Beat...
The music of the time in Jamaica was ska and Cecil "Prince Buster" Campbell, had been recording with Coxsone, but left him in 1960 to start The Voice of the People, his own sound system. Jamaican record producers were making copies of R&B that were virtually identical to the American models that were coming in from New Orleans and Miami, but Prince Buster started something new when he had his guitarist, Jah Jerry, emphasize the afterbeat instead of the downbeat; ska was born as a fast music with a vigorous dance style. When the ska beat was slowed during an extremely hot summer in 1964 Rocksteady was born, but that is getting off the point so back to the Maytals.
The Maytals struggled for a little while before auditioning for Sir Coxsone at Studio One in 1962. With a little help from Lee Perry, Coxsone’s then A&R man, they passed the audition and went into the studio. The Maytals still had some work to do though since, as trumpeter Johnny Moore recalls, "when they come in, they were basically doing a Temptations impression. We encouraged them to go deeper into themselves and find something original." Toots went back to the gospel roots of his childhood in May Pen and mixed it with ska beats to come out with tracks like "Hallelujah", "Matthew Mark" and "Six and Seven Books." Apparently some of these tracks were accidentally credited to the Vikings when they were released in the UK on the Island label; it is rumored that the Maytals were forced to use that name when they performed in England.
"I’m Not Saying I Am Right and You Are Wrong..."
Although they were becoming popular and their music was being released and played all over the island, their excitement was overshadowed by the lack of adequate monetary compensation on Coxsone’s part. It was because of this that in 1963 the Maytals left Sir Coxsone on not so good terms. After leaving Studio One, the Maytals were offered a recording contract from Prince Buster, which they accepted. Buster produced several successful tracks by the Maytals, including "Dog War," "Pain in My Belly," and "Little Flea" as well as their famous "Broadway Jungle." Unfortunately their business relationship with Prince Buster was also short-lived and in the same year they found yet another new label with Byron Lee and his Dragonaires. The Maytals made their second LP with Byron Lee, which was a first for a ska vocal trio, and also won the first annual Jamaica Festival Song Competition in 1966 with their song "Bam Bam." However, 1966 was somewhat of a bitter-sweet year for Toots since he was also arrested that year for smoking and possessing marijuana (ganja, jive, or whatever you’d prefer to call it). I was unable to verify this, but one of my sources claimed that Toots was framed for the ganja. Anyway, he served six to twelve months (sources said both, sorry) and upon his release he was greeted by Jerry and Raleigh singing "Reborn" and belting out the line "I’m glad to see you free again."
A New Style and Another New Label...
"I am the inventor for the reggae right now in the Guinness Book of World Records. So I think that’s a very big input." -Toots (Timm)
The trio was back together and Toots had taken advantage of his time in prison to do some soul searching and be inspired to write some more great tunes namely "54-46, That’s My Number". Since Toots was in jail when ska began to be replaced with the slower, cooler Rocksteady beat, that was popularized by Duke Reid among others, he never really recorded in that style. Once released from the slammer though, Toots and the Maytals hooked up with Leslie Kong under Beverley’s label just in time for the faster, more upbeat, body-grooving sound which was to be called Reggae after Toots released "Do the Reggay". He explains,
"Reggae means comin’ from the people, y’know? Like a everyday thing. Like from the ghetto. From majority. Everyday thing that people use like food, we just put music to it and make a dance out of it. Reggae mean regular people who are suffering, and don’t have what they want." (Davis)
With Kong, Toots pounded out 80 some-odd titles of some kicking reggae, slow ballads, and even Methodist hymns. Toots was much too deeply tied to soul and gospel influences to adapt his stylings to the sounds that many young musicians were following. In 1969 Toots was once again a winner in the Festival Song Competition for his "Sweet and Dandy", which became the title of his third LP. This album contains some of his Rocksteady tracks as well as the new Reggae sounds which were evolving. The Maytals also put out two Trojan LPs; "Monkey Man" (1969) and "From the Roots" (1970), both of which did very well in the UK and helped Toots gain some international following. Unfortunately in 1971 Kong died of a heart attack at the age of 38, and Kong’s associate Warrick Lyn took over Toots’ management. Toots took the Song Competition once again in 1972 with "Pomp and Pride," and it was included on his reverse titled "Slatyam Stoot."
The Big Screen...
In 1969 Toots was asked to be filmed voicing "Sweet and Dandy" with the Maytals at Dynamic Sounds recording studio, but at the time he wasn’t really sure what it was for. In 1972 the footage turned up in The Harder They Come, starring Jimmy Cliff. This was the first Jamaican feature film ever made, and the inclusion of "Pressure Drop" and "Sweet and Dandy" on the movie’s soundtrack gained the now "Toots and the Maytals" a global audience. The Harder They Come was also a landmark film for the island of Jamaica since it caused Americans to take notice that this beautiful island in the sun was not just a tourist destination. This appearance in the movie also helped Toots and the Maytals sign their first major contract with Island Records.
By 1970 there were even more changes going on in Jamaican music; the Wailers were recording with Lee Perry the more dready roots reggae that was emerging, creating yet another genre. Also by the end of the Sixties the production techniques had changed and multi-track studios began operating. This brought three men into light who would each make significant contributions to the development of Jamaican music: Edward "Bunny" Lee, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Osborne Ruddock, better known as King Tubby. All three of them had previously worked for either Coxsone or Duke Reid, but now they were in competition with them to get musicians. They began spinning some of the new faster beats of Rocksteady as it moved out of its Rude Boy phase. King Tubby, while working as Reid’s master cutter, had cut one-off soft wax discs for his personal use. Soon he realized that his followers enjoyed hearing the new versions of songs they already knew. Along with deejay U Roy’s addition of jive talk, King Tubby had discovered not only Dub, but also deejaying or "toasting".
With these influences filtering into the Jamaican music scene, Toots once again tossed up their sound with a few other music genres. The best example of their multiple influences is their energetic, phenomenal track, "Funky Kingston". It mixes Toots’ gospel vocals with New Orleans funk, some Memphis soul, "a little funky guitar", and "a little reggae" to create a tossed salad of sounds that is an amazing achievement. This crossover song, recorded with Island records boss Chris Blackwell, became the title track of Toots’ next album which was picked up by Trojan Records in England. Also on this LP was Toots own version of John Denver’s "Country Roads" in which Toots sings of West Jamaica instead of West Virginia. With Trojan Records Toots and the Maytals released the album "In The Dark" in 1974 which former manager Byron Lee put up the money for. The liner notes to this album by Tommy Cowan offer,
"The ethnic music of Toots and the Maytals has proven again that there is nothing a man can do better than that in which he believes. This music relates to a time in creation when worshiping WAS worshiping - when all knew God and therefore all they had to do was Praise him. In this album the Maytals play and sing praises to attain yet another degree of ROOTS REGGAE."
A Style All His Own...
Toots & the Maytals performed on both coasts of the U.S. and joined the Island records label in 1975. Toots hit the road with Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Matthias, and Dynamites Paul Douglas, Jackie Jackson, Winston Wright, Hux Brown and Dougie Bryan (the musicians he’d been recording with since 1969). Following this they went into the studio again and came out with "Reggae Got Soul". Now that I’ve mentioned their performances, I think it’s time to discuss what that is really like. Toots Hibbert is a legendary live performer who pumps up his audiences with a crazy reggae-soul revue. When asked who his earlier models for stage performance were, Toots replied, "Well I just listen to Otis Redding and learn my way from there. I love James Brown, I love Michael Jackson…." To give some kind of example of his performance, this is what music reviewer Haven James has to say:
"It’s been almost 15 years…, in those days, Toots had a huge band, complete with female backup singers, multiple guitarists, and giant speakers lofting to the ceiling. He appeared in skin-tight black leathers and his dance antics were stunning, complete with twisting and twirling microphone tricks that would culminate as he grabbed the wire mid-air, his body falling to a full split on the stage floor."
I saw Toots a few years ago opening for J. Geils’ Band at the Tweeter Center in Massachusetts, and I was blown away. At that time I had never heard of Toots & the Maytals, but as soon as they started I knew that Toots was a man that I would not soon forget. His costume was a flamboyant red suit, and he danced his ass off. He reminded me a lot of James Brown, who I had seen a few years prior, not only in his dress and dance, but also in his voice stylings. The man, regardless of his age (which is hard to judge when you see him perform), knows how to get a crowd up and dancing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an opening band get the whole crowd up, dancing, and singing along like Toots.
Sometime around 1978-79 Toots started Righteous, his own label in Jamaica under which he released singles not included on the Island albums. Some of the products of these releases were spiritual insights into Toots’ private, religious views. His single "Pass the Pipe on the Right Hand Side," shows his feelings that "The Bible and the sankey and the kali and I, they all get together in unity…" - the Methodist church should follow the Pocomania/Revival cults and Rastafari in their ceremonial use of ganja (kali). Toots never gave up his Jamaican church background when Rastafarianism spread through Jamaica, but he did acquire a respect for the new religion while in Kingston. He had encountered Rasta men in their camps and with Toots they discussed their beliefs in Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, and the Bible while offering him a sacred chalice of ganja. There is some mention of Rastafarianism in a few of his songs, like his mention of Haile Selassieís arrival in Jamaica in "Sun, Moon, and Star" (1969). "Ten Thousand people come to see and admire the plane", he sings, and he also slide a "Jah Rastafari" in there which in 1969 was a pretty radical thing to do. It is his comfort in singing traditional Rastafarian music and Toots’ religious open-mindedness which kept him in the spotlight even when roots reggae was fast becoming the music of the Rastas; this stemmed from his spiritual upbringing and diverse experiences with religion. As writer Joshua Green put it,
"May Pen was the home of many religions, including Pocomania, Pentacostalism, Coptic and Cumina (a Yoruba variation on ancestor worship thatís related to Santeria), and music was central to virtually all of them... but the inspiration of religious shouters and chanters is perhaps most apparent in the Maytals’ signature call-and-response harmonies and Hibbert’s revivalist approach to singing." (Gorney)
Island records put out "Pass the Pipe" and the dance-oriented "Just Like That" in 1979 and ë80, adding to their long list of LPs. Also in 1980, Toots put out "Live at the Hammersmith Palais" which helped him land another spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the fastest record ever made; it was recorded, mixed, mastered, pressed and in record stores only 24 hours after the show! This was a first, but Toots was responsible for a lot of firsts in Jamaican music; Toots & the Maytals were the first to have a two-sided record in Jamaica, they introduced the new style to the ska beat, and they were the in the first Jamaican feature film.
"Knock Out" was the last release on Island Records in 1981 and for the next seven years, which Toots spent touring all over including Japan and Australia. The next year Toots stopped his work with Raleigh and Jerry to start a solo career, during which time he did a reggae reworking of Marvin Gaye’s "Sexual Healing". Toots still used the name Toots & the Maytals when touring even though he was missing a couple of Maytals. It was during this time when Toots began working on a series of new tracks with veteran Jamaican rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. This combination of talents yielded hits such as "Spiritual Healing" and "Peace Perfect Peace" in the mid-80s. "Toots in Memphis" was by far their best work together though; this album features Toots covering Stax classics only as he can, and he did a version of Otis Redding’s "I’ve Got Dreams to Remember", Eddie Floyd’s "Knock on Wood" and Jackie Moore’s "Precious, Precious". Toots work with Sly and Robbie was recognized when the album was nominated for a Grammy in 1988.
Back To The Roots...
Toots got back with the original Maytals, Raleigh and Jerry, in the early 1990’s and they are still touring together today. In 1996 Island Jamaica released a double CD entitled "Time Tough" which is a compilation anthology of Toots & the Maytals from their very beginnings in ska up to "Toots in Memphis". Toots has formed his own label, Alla’s Son, as an attempt to recoup some of the losses he’s taken over the years; the first release which contains both old and new material is appropriately named "Recoup". Toots and the Maytals are still amazing audiences around the world with their unique music stylings and outstanding live performances proving that you can’t keep a good man down.
Art Imitating Life...
One of the greatest things about Toots’ music is that he puts so much of himself into it. The songs and lyrics come directly from his own experiences and they reflect his life and the trio’s history. They’ve thrown in lyrics to make a point, like in 1980 in a live performance, Toots sang "We were with the Downbeat, we don’t get nothing to eat." Downbeat was the nickname for Sir Coxsone and his sound system; he was singing as a ‘screw you for screwing us’ way to get back at Coxsone for his misdealings. Another song that was directed towards their experience with Studio One is "Broadway Jungle" — "We were in the jungle, at the hands of a man, now we’re out of the jungle, let’s go to Broadway…." Toots’ prison stay was another very influential experience on his music, as I mentioned before. His "54-46, That’s My Number"
refers to his prison number from his stay in jail, and "Struggle" is another track that is a product of his sentence. He used "Reborn" though as a confidence builder after his release in which he offers some brief and clear advise to those who detained him.
The Legend Rolls On...
Almost 40 years after their beginnings Toots and the Maytals are ageless legends who travel, perform, and entertain as if they were kids. They have made household name of themselves in Jamaica and their followers extend all over the world. The unique music stylings of the trio has set them apart from many musicians that have come out of Jamaica, and it has no doubt brought them up to the legend status that they hold today. Toots has held on tightly to his influential roots of gospel and soul and to this day his sound is unique and inimitable. Through the years many different music styles have influenced their own, but instead of changing their own style they’ve managed to successfully blend them all into their own music genre. Toots and the Maytals have also influenced other musicians over the years, such as Sublime, a ska influenced band, who covers Toots’ "54-46, That’s My Number". Toots and the Maytals have outlived and out performed some of the greatest Jamaican musicians of all time, making Fredrick "Toots" Hibbert a legend in the eyes of many.
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Toots and the Maytals Homepage. The Music of Toots and the Maytals. http://web.missouri.edu/~c647139t-music.html
Toots and the Maytals Homepage. A Brief History of Toots and the Maytals. http://web.missouri.edu/c647139/history.html
Uhelszki, Jaan. Reggae Master Toots Hibbert’s (Still) Got Soul. Music News of the World: http://www.addict.com/MNOTW/96-04-24-html