Graphics by Kevin Shin
Not every musician gets to go down in history as a pioneer of their genre of music, but Toots Hibbert does. He may not have been as high profile as Bob Marley, but Toots and his band The Maytals were absolutely key players in the development of reggae.
Frederick Nathaniel Hibbert was born in Jamaica in 1942. After becoming an orphan at 11 years old, he moved in with his brother in the Trenchtown section of Kingston, Jamaica. The nickname Toots (rhymes with "newts") came from his older brother calling him "tuts" when they were kids. He started The Maytals when he was 19, and from the beginning, Toots could play all of the instruments in the band, in addition to singing and writing songs.
As for the term "reggae," the very first use of the word in a popular song was in Toots & the Maytals' "Do the Reggay," which was about a dance style going on in Jamaica at the time. Toots said the name (later spelled as reggae) was derived from the term "ragamuffin."
Here's one more thing about Toots: I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but every single person I know that did has mentioned what a great guy he was. He was amazingly talented, kind, humble, and giving. You hear him in interviews and it's never about Toots, it's always about the band.
Thank you, Toots Hibbert, for 77 years on earth, and a whole lot of amazing music. We'll keep it playing.
-George Knight, Host of Mornings with George Knight
"Sweet and Dandy"
If you have ever been fortunate to attend a wedding in Jamaica, you most likely have heard the music of Toots and The Maytals singing the Jamaican wedding favorite, "Sweet and Dandy."
"Sweet and Dandy" is a perfect blend of reggae music, as Toots Hibbert sings enthusiastically about a joyful wedding occasion while the falsetto voice of Jerry Matthias and the tenor sounds of Henry "Raleigh" Gordon make this the perfect get up and dance tune for any wedding.
The lyrics talk about a poor Jamaican family as they celebrate a rural wedding, and the music allows the listener to virtually attend any festive wedding reception, big or small.
"One pound ten for the wedding cake
And 20 bottle of cola wine
All the people them dress up inna white
Fi go eat out Johnson wedding cake"
"Sweet and Dandy" is a favorite on the Jamaican music charts. Toots and The Maytals brought home first place honors with this tune at the Jamaican Independence Day Music Festival.
The next time you attend a wedding, post-pandemic, ask the DJ to play "Sweet and Dandy" by Toots and The Maytals and watch everyone dance the night away, reggae style!
-Hal Slifer, Host of Chagigah
As a '90s kid, I had the pleasure of jamming to "Bam Bam's" countless remakes and samples. Whether it was just a snippet in Kanye's "Famous" or the original remake by Sister Nancy, it's amazing to see how far our reggae roots have come - mixed, flipped, and remastered for crossover greatness. Hats off to Toots and rest in eternal peace.
-Ashley Lindsay, Traffic Coordinator/Administrative Assistant
For many Americans, the introduction to Toots & the Maytals was through the inclusion of "Pressure Drop" on the soundtrack to Jimmy Cliff's movie, The Harder They Come, in 1972, although by that time they had already put out six albums. Toots said the song was about karmic justice served to those who do wrong against innocent people. The song has been covered by a variety of people including The Clash, Keith Richards, The Specials, and Robert Palmer, and it was re-done with Eric Clapton for the 2005 Toots album True Love.
In 1972, the world was just starting to catch up to Jamaica musically. Reggae reached a new audience with The Harder They Come, featuring some contributions from the Maytals, but arguably the first internationally successful reggae record is Toots and the Maytals' Funky Kingston. They released on the legendary Island Records a year before Bob Marley's Catch a Fire and kickstarted a wave of American and British reggae, and later ska groups. While the world was falling in love with Toots, Toots was listening to some American Bluegrass. When it came out again in 1975, Funky Kingston featured a cover of John Denver's "Country Roads." The result is a super fun sing-a-long, but for Toots, by all accounts, it was a deeply serious love song to his home.
-Phil Jones, Afternoon Host
"Do the Reggay"
"Do the Reggay" is an unassuming song that cemented Toots' legacy as one of the founders of Reggae music as we know it. Toots connected the name reggae to the genre's distinct groove, and it went from a dance craze to a full-fledged musical movement. With the reverberating effect of "Do the Reggay," Toots is be remembered not just in his powerful music, but through reggae music wherever it's found.
-Owen Murray, Music Coordinator and Host of All New from 8-9 on 88.9
"True Love is Hard to Find"
This is the (sort of) title track from True Love, which is an album of redone versions of Toots songs done with collaborators including Ben Harper, No Doubt, Trey Anastasio, Willie Nelson, Bootsy Collins, and Ryan Adams. The album won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 2005.
This song is one that Toots & the Maytals first recorded in 1976, and Bonnie Raitt previously covered on her 1986 album, Nine Lives. I'm particularly fond of it because, although Toots and Bonnie Raitt have very different singing styles, I think their voices really sound great together. Bonnie Raitt had always been a big fan of Toots; they first met in person here in Boston at one of her club shows, and they developed a friendship that lasted for the remainder of his days.