Artist Profiles: Toots & The Maytals

Toots & The Maytals – Photo by Mike Worhington

Toots Hibbert was born in May Pen in the parish of Clarendon, Jamaica. He was the youngest of seven children and began singing in the church choir at the age of seven. He left home in his teens to go to Kingston where he met Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias and formed the original Maytals in 1962. They were also sometimes recorded as the Vikings.

Toots Hibbert have helped to chart the course of Jamaican music with unrivaled delivery and dynamism, setting new standards of excellence, and becoming the most enduring of all Jamaica’s groups. The Maytals began their career at Studio One, the headquarters of Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, in Kingston Jamaica. The group’s debut release, Hallelujah, was an immediate hit throughout the island, and featured a mix of Jamaican rhythms and gospel vocal influence that would mark much of the Maytals music. Further successes followed, including I’ll Never Grow Old and Just Got To Be Me, each one building a reputation for the Maytals and their energetic straight-from-church style of singing and their ‘spiritual’ ska beat.

In 1966, the Maytals began to work with Byron Lee and the Drangonaires and won the first Jamaican Festival Song Competition with the song Bam Bam. The group returned with a vengeance in 1968, recording with famed producer Leslie Khong. Although these years of post-independence marked a more violent era of Jamaica’s history, Toots and the Maytals were far closer to soul and gospel influences than many of the ‘revolutionary’ young artists of the late 60’s. Nevertheless, the Maytals first single in two years, 54-56 (That’s My Number), combined the story of Toots’ arrest with a powerful downbeat to create downbeat to one of the greatest rock steady/reggae singles of all time.

In 1975, Toots and the Maytals signed a worldwide recording contract with Island Records. The following year the group hit the British singles charts with Reggae Got Soul, the title track to their new album. They also toured America, Europe and Britain. The album was a superb showcase for Toots’ soulful vocals embellished by fine musicianship form a cosmopolitan studio band the talent of Steve Winwood, Eddie Quansah, Dudu Pulwana, Rico Rodriquez and Tommy McCook.

On September 29, 1980, the group made history when they played at London’s Hammersmith Palais. Less than 24 hours later, a live album from that show was on sale in record stores throughout Britain. It was the fastest live album in recording history. After disbanding the Maytals in the early 1980s, Toots began recording with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. The combination produced Spiritual Healing ‘ a chart topper around the world, even reaching number one in South Africa.

Toots reformed the Maytals and picked up the touring pace again in the early 90s. The group released Recoup (1997), and the Grammy-nominated Ska Father (1998). Toots and the Maytals have been nominated three times for Grammy Awards ‘ the other nominations were for Toots in Memphis and Live. The Maytals also holds record for the largest number of number one his in Jamaica, with 31 to their credit.

The 2002 release, World Is Turning, on Toots’ own D&F label, was the first album of all new material to be released in two decades, and features refreshing originals with a wide variety of styles and influences, including rock-steady, reggae root, funky R&B, rave disco, and gospel. The 2004 Grammy-winning album, True Love, revisited some of the band’s most classic works with collaboration with No Doubt, The Roots, Bootsy Collins, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Shaggy and Rahzel, and others.

On Light Your Light (2007), Toots and the Maytals returned to their roots, singing classics as well as new pieces. The overall feel of the album is very bluesy, with excellent electric and acoustic guitar work, combining roots reggae, blues, R&B, ska, Gospel and rock.

Indeed Toots and the Maytals artistry spans every phase of Jamaican music’s evolution, earning him the reputation as one of Jamaica’s most consistent and inspired performers, and one of the greatest reggae/R&B singers of all time.

Discography:

Never Grow Old (1964)
The Sensational Maytals (1965)
Sweet And Dandy (Beverley’s Records, 1969)
From The Roots (1970)
Monkey Man (1970)
Slatyam Stoot (Dynamic Sounds, 1972)
Funky Kingston (Dragon, 1973)
Roots Reggae (Dynamic Sounds, 1974)
In The Dark (Dragon, 1974)
Reggae Got Soul (Island Records, 1976)
Pass The Pipe (Tuff Gong, 1979)
Live (Mango, 1980)
Just Like That (Mango, 1980)
From The Roots ‎(Trojan Records, 1981)
Knock Out! (Mango, 1981)
Live At Reggae Sunsplash (Sunsplash Records, 1983)
An Hour Live (Genes Records, 1990)
Life Could Be A Dream (Studio One, 1992)
Recoup Artists (Only! Records, 1997)
Ska Father Artists (Only! Records, 1998)
Live In London ‎(Trojan Records, 1999)
Live At Red Rocks ‎(PRG Records, 2000)
World Is Turning (D&F Records, 2002)
True Love (V2 Records, 2004)
Interview ‎(V2 Records, 2004)
Hold On ‎(Brook, 2006)
Light Your Light (Fantasy, 2007)
Flip And Twist (D&F Music, 2010)
Unplugged On Strawberry Hill (Phree Music, 2012)
Live! ‎(Island Records, 2012)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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