Toots & The Maytals
Grammy-winning “Skafather” Toots Hibbert made his reputation in Jamaica with 45’s, the old vinyl, seven-inches played in sound systems and juke boxes throughout the island. It’s fitting then, that this year we celebrate the resilient pioneer’s 45th anniversary of his entry into the recording industry. Thirty one of his singles have reached the top position on Jamaica’s hit parade, a feat no other artist has ever accomplished. Toots’ continuous hold on the public’s attention is verified by the Grammy Award he received for his 2004 release, True Love. His latest effort, Light Your Light, is an equally crowd-pleasing affair and features his all-star band that includes some of the Caribbean’s finest musicians.
Born in 1945 in the Jamaican country town of Maypen, Clarendon, Toots began to sing publicly in church alongside his brothers and sisters. Once he reached his teen years, he left his home for Kingston where he found work as a singer in a barbershop. His encounter with Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Matthias led to the formation of the Maytals in 1962. Just four years later, Toots & The Maytals won the first Jamaican Festival Song competition with their hit “Bam, Bam.” They went on to win twice more before retiring from the competition to give others a chance at the top prize.
The golden age of reggae began with the first mention of the word, albeit misspelled, in the title of the Maytals’ 1968 smash, “Do the Reggay”. Toots remembers, “I say, let’s do the reggae, and that’s the way it is. Coming from the soul, from consciousness, life and living. Reggae is a God music, coming from the vibes of the Rastafari, it’s coming from the dreadlocks.”
Reggae was brought explosively to the world in large part through Perry Henzell’s ground-breaking film The Harder They Come, which featured a pair of tracks from the Maytals, and a broiling studio session from the trio that alerted foreigners to Toots’ prowess. His back catalog led to thousands of new fans and international tours. When Island Records signed him in 1975 and released Reggae Got Soul, the Who invited the Maytals to be their opening act on the road.
Many songs featured during his tumultuous eye-opening live shows in the ‘70s and ‘80s are given thrilling new interpretations on Light Your Light, including “Pain in My Heart,” “I Got A Woman,” and “Premature.” The album also features an incredible new take on “Johnny Cool Man” which, Toots says “never got the kind of attention it should have.” He goes on, “’Johnny Coolman’ was a nickname I made up for some fans who didn’t know who I was. Funny though, he was an actual person. An outlaw in France. The police almost arrested me once thinking I was the criminal of that same name.”
“I Got A Woman” and “Pain in My Heart” underlie Toots’ on-going affection for the progenitors of R&B. When discussing the R&B flavor on the new album, Toots says, “I listen to Otis, Ray Charles….I learned a lot of things from them. They were my teachers.” Toots paid homage to his teachers in 1988 with the release of Toots in Memphis, an album which garnered him his first Grammy nomination.
A love of American soul music was evident on 1976’s Reggae Got Soul, on which “Premature” first appeared. In its reincarnation on Light Your Light, Toots is reunited with one of his biggest fans, the vivacious Bonnie Raitt, on vocals and slide guitar. “She loves me to life,” says Toots, “and I love her to life. She’s a beautiful lady.”
After reforming the Maytals in the early 90’s, Toots went on to release a few more albums including 2004’s True Love, which finally got him his Grammy award. The album featured collaborations with Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Ben Harper, No Doubt, Eric Clapton, The Roots, Willie Nelson and many more.
As the follow-up to his Grammy-award winning album, Fantasy records will release Light Your Light, his debut album for the label. He is joined by his touring band on the album including Jackie Jackson (bass), Paul Douglas (drums), Dougie Bryan (rhythm guitar), Carl Harvey (lead guitar) and Charles Farquharson (keyboard).
Asked why he has been and remains so successful, Toots told reggae historian Hank Holmes, “Because of love. It is because of love that I could retain, and I could gain whatever is good for me, and whatever makes my audience happy. I am not a man who you’re going to hear about today and not hear about tomorrow. I’m a constant man. Do what I do. I live.”