Toots and the Maytals
Toots and the Maytals
Toots and the Maytals
When the soundtrack for the groundbreaking Jamaican film Harder They Come was released in 1972, it proved instrumental in expanding the audience for reggae music beyond the island and a small loyal fan base in the United Kingdom. A compilation of tracks by different artists, Harder They Come included two standout cuts by the Maytals, “Pressure Drop,” and “Sweet and Dandy,” both anchored by the rousing soulful vocals of Frederic “Toots” Hibbert. The Maytals’ Funky Kingston, released the following year, received worldwide distribution and cemented the group’s reputation as one of the most exciting to come from Jamaica. Although it took a while to achieve international success, the Maytals had long been household names in their native Jamaica. With their distinctive blend of ska, rocksteady, and gospel-influenced three-part harmonies, they stacked up a number of hit singles for legendary producers such as Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd, Prince Buster, Byron Lee, and Leslie Kong.
Born Frederic Hibbert in the rural Jamaican town of May Pen, Toots found his voice in the Baptist church were his father was a preacher. This perhaps explains the “soulful” quality of Toots’s singing, which has been compared to Otis Redding’s. In an interview included in Chris Salewicz and Adrian Boot’s Reggae Explosion. The Story of Jamaican Music, Toots recounted, “Every time I sound, people would make a lot of noise—clap and joyful. At singing class everybody lift me up, so I come up in the churchical order. So that is where my talent come from—most of my songs are coming from the church.”
Toots left rural Jamaica and migrated to Kingston when he was about 13 years old. There he was first introduced to Rastafarianism, a religious sect indigenous to Jamaica that worships Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie as the Lion of Judah and holds the smoking of ganja (Jamaica’s powerful homegrown marijuana) as a sacrament. Toots found work in a barbershop in Trench Town, a once-posh community that had become dotted with squatter’s shanties and the center of rasta culture. Toots was reportedly heard singing at work by Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias. The two had already cut a single, “Crazy Girl,” for producer Duke Reid in 1958 but it was clear, upon hearing Toot’s deep, soulful voice, that he could provide something special. He was asked to join them and, as Toots recounted to the authors of Reggae Explosion, “I teach them harmony. I teach them to write song. And they teach me how to grow up.”
In the early 1960s, the sounds of ska music—a fusion of American R&B and calypso with a steady, insistent beat—were pulsing through the island. Toots, Jerry, and Raleigh formed a vocal trio and auditioned for Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd at the famous Studio One in 1962. Musical mastermind Lee “Scratch” Perry was reportedly instrumental in influencing Dodd to sign the
Members include Henry “Raleigh” Gordon (born c. 1945), harmony vocals; Frederic “Toots” Hibbert (born in 1946 in May Pen, Jamaica), lead vocals; Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias (born c. 1945 in Jamaica), harmony vocals.
Group formed in Kingston, Jamaica, c. 1961; released singles “Hallelujah” and “Fever” for Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One label, 1962; released single “Six and Seven Books of Moses” for Studio One, 1963. recorded “Daddy” for Byron Lee; recorded “54-46 That’s My Number” for Leslie Kong, 1968; recorded the singles “Do the Reggay,” “Monkey Man,” and “Pressure Drop,” for Leslie Kong, 1969-70; “Pressure Drop” and “Sweet and Dandy” included on Harder They Come soundtrack, 1972; group signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, released Funky Kingston, 1973; In the Dark, 1976; Reggae Got Soul, 1976; Hibbert released the solo album Toots in Memphis, 1988.
Awards: Jamaican Song Festival, first place for “Bam Bam,” 1966; Jamaican Song Festival, first place for “Sweet and Dandy,” 1969; Jamaican Song Festival, first place for “Pomp and Pride,” 1972; Stereo Review Record of the Year Award for Funky Kingston, 1976.
Addresses: Home —Toots Hibbert, 74 Windward Way, Kingston 2, Jamaica, W.I., (876) 928-5013. Record company —Island Jamaica, 8 Worthington Ave., Kingston 5, Jamaica, W.I, phone: (876) 968-6792-4, fax: (876) 967-6779, website: http://www.islandjamaica.com.
group. Toots, however, appeared to minimize Perry’s involvement in David Katz’ People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry, as saying, “Scratch always work for these people. He tell them, ‘Go listen to what Toots have, go listen what the other guy have,’ That’s what he have to do with it.”
The trio signed an exclusive contract with Dodd. Under the unlikely name the Vikings, and backed by the Studio One house band, they recorded their first single, “Hallelujah.” A blend of gospel- and soul-style vocals with a ska beat, “Hallelujah” went straight to number one. A second single, “Fever,” also reached the top and, in 1963, the group recorded their greatest hit to date, “The Six and Seven Books of Moses.”
In 1964, unhappy with Dodd’s minimal compensation, the trio signed with his rival, Prince Buster, best known for his own rendition of “Oh, Carolina.” The group’s following widened in Jamaica and spread into Great Britain during their tenure with Prince Buster, but this collaboration would prove to be short-lived. In 1966 they moved on to producer Byron Lee, who dubbed them the Maytals. Hits from this period include “Dog War,” “Daddy,” “Pain in My Belly,” and “Broadway Jungle.” The Maytals were at the height of their popularity when Toots was arrested for possession of ganja and sent to prison for 18 months.
This could have been the end of the Maytals but Jerry and Raleigh waited patiently for their lead singer to return. By 1968, the time of Toots’s release from prison, the ska era was coming to a close. The new sounds reflected the more violent Rude Boy culture. The Maytals negotiated this transition, returning to the scene with “54-46 That’s My Number.” Recorded with producer Leslie Kong, the single recounted Toots’s prison experiences and became a massive hit in both Jamaica and the United Kingdom, ushering in the era of rocksteady. By the end of the year, however, rocksteady gave way to a faster, more danceable sound.
The Maytals were the first to name this new sound in their single “Do the Reggay,” which solidified their position among the leading lights of Jamaican music. Michael Goodwin, writing in Rolling Stone, noted that “The roots of reggae can be heard in the earliest Maytals recordings—the African quarter tones, the insistent polyrhythms, the repeated phrases trembling on the edge of a wordless chant.” Working with Kong, the Maytals recorded “Monkey Man” (later covered by the British group the Specials) and “Sweet and Dandy,” which won the 1969 Festival Song Competition. In 1971, however, Leslie Kong, with whom they’d had such a fruitful partnership, died, and the Maytals returned to working with Byron Lee.
In 1971 the Maytals were the biggest act on the island. The wide distribution of Bob Marley and the Wailer’s first two album, along with the soundtrack to Harder They Come broadened reggae’s appeal and helped launch the Maytals, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Jimmy Cliff to international stardom. Capitalizing on their new popularity and the appeal of their lead singer, the Maytals changed their name to Toots and the Maytals.
Funky Kingston, Toots and the Maytals’ first release to be distributed by Chris Blackwell’s Island label proved to be a critical triumph. Rock critic Lester Bangs, writing in Stereo Review, described the album as “perfection, the most exciting and diversified set of reggae tunes by a single artist yet released.”In the Dark followed, which included a cover version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” The group’s popularity continued through the 1970s, with the release of Reggae Got Soul, Pass the Pipe, Just Like That, Knock Out, and Toofs & The Maytals Live.
When the group disbanded in 1981 Toots began recording as a solo act with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. The apogee of this collaboration was the acclaimed Toots in Memphis album with Toots covering such Stax classics as Al Green’s “Love and Happiness.” Toots reunited with the Maytals in the early 1990s and, through steady touring and the release of old and new material, new generations were introduced to their distinctive hybrid of reggae, soul, gospel, and rocksteady. At the end of the decade, Toots and the Maytals released a couple of albums—Recoup in 1997 and Ska Father In 1998—with the group backed up by Sly & Robbie. Ska Father included a cover version of the Kink’s “You Really Got Me” and was nominated for a Grammy Award as Best Reggae Album of the Year, proving Toots and the Maytals’ continuing viability as they prepared to enter into their fifth decade as per forming artists.
Never Grow Old, Studio One, 1966.
Sweet and Dandy, Beverley’s, 1968.
Monkey Man, Trojan, 1970.
The Harder They Come, Island, 1972.
From the Roots, Trojan, 1973.
Funky Kingston, Trojan, 1973.
In the Dark, Trojan, 1974.
Reggae Got Soul, Island, 1976.
Pressure Drop: Best of Toots & The Maytals, Trojan, 1979.
Pass the Pipe, Island, 1979.
Just Like That, Island, 1979.
Toots “Live,” Island, 1980.
Knockout, Island, 1982.
Toots in Memphis, Island, 1988.
Reggae Greats, Island, 1989.
Time Tough, Island, 1996.
Recoup, Alia Son, 1997.
Live in London, Trojan, 1998.
The Very Best of Toots & The Maytals, Music Club, 1998.
Ska Father, Artists Only, 1998.
Katz, David, People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Payback Press, Canongate Books Ltd., 2000.
Potash, Chris, editor, Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican Music from Ska to Dub, Schirmer Books, 1997.
Salewicz, Chris, & Adrian Boot, Reggae Explosion: The Story of Jamaican Music, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001.
White, Timothy, Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, Henry Holt & Company, 1998.
Rolling Stone, September 11, 1975.
Stereo Review, April 1977.