THERE’S sad news from the world of reggae today as it was announced that the singer and guiding light with legends Toots & The Maytals, “Toots” Hibbert, has died at the age of 77. He had, it was suspected, been suffering from the novel coronavirus.
Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert was born in May Pen, Jamaica, on December 8th, 1942, the youngest of seven. He moved to Trenchtown, Kingston, as a teenager, and soon afterwards formed the vocal trio The Maytals with Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Matthias. They found success on the island, recording sides with Coxsone Dodd and Prince Buster.
Come 1968, and Jamaican music began to shift towards the sound we know today as reggae; Toots was one of the first to use the newly-coined term on the single from that year, “Do The Reggay”. It wasn’t long before they were picked up by Chris Blackwell, who was combing the West Indies for premier talent. Toots & The Maytals’ album Funky Kingston was released worldwide on Island subsidiary Dragon in 1972.
The same year, the Jimmy Cliff star vehicle The Harder They Come featured what may be considered the Maytals’ finest moment: the beautiful, soulful, “Pressure Drop”. Watch the video, below. The film is popularly regarded to have launched reggae as a serious proposition globally.
In 1980 Chris Blackwell created recording history when a recording of The Maytals live at London’s Hammersmith Palais was mixed, pressed and put on sale in 24 hours; Chris had a strong commitment to the band, saying in a 2018 interview about the ploy to get the live recording in the racks overnight: ““I’ve known Toots longer than anybody – much longer than Bob [Marley].
“Toots is one of the purest human beings I’ve met in my life, pure almost to a fault.”
The recording was rushed straight from the mixing desk to a pressing plant in Leicester, where predesigned sleeves were waiting; Trevor Wyatt from Island then drove some copies straight to Coventry to get them into record shops before The Maytals’ concert there that evening.
The love affair between punk and reggae was illustrated by The Clash, who released their own version of “Pressure Drop” on 1980’s Black Market Clash. The Specials recorded a version of “Monkey Man” for their ’79 debut LP.
Although never quite perhaps recapturing their early commercial success, Toots & The Maytals have toured persistently, and played landmark sets at Glastonbury in 2010 and 2017.
In recent weeks Toots had been battling the coronavirus and was moved to the University Hospital of the West Indies on September 1st, where his condition deteriorated; he was placed on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma, the newspaper Jamaica Star reported.
Fare thee well and RIP, Toots: “Monkey Man” and “Pressure Drop” sealed a place in our hearts. We’ll miss you.