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TOOTS HIBBERT,
1942-2020

Toots Hibbert, a father of reggae music who brought a unique soulfulness and punk energy to the Jamaican musical style,  died Friday at a Kingston, Jamaica, hospital. He was 77.

Hibbert, the leader of The Maytals born Frederick Hibbert, was recently hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. No cause was given for his death.

The first artist to use the word reggae on a record, Hibbert started as a ska singer in the early 1960s. In 1966, the Maytals’ won a national song competition with “Bam Bam,” which positioned Hibbert as a voice for social justice. That same year he was arrested for marijuana possession, which he discussed in the 1968 song “54-46, That’s My Number,” which is among Hibbert’s standards in the reggae canon.

Exposure beyond the island nation came with the 1972 film and soundtrack The Harder They Come, which featured two Toots and the Maytals songs that would become classics: “Pressure Drop” and “Sweet and Dandy.”

He would build a seven-decade career singing about making moral choices in a commanding tenor that drew comparisons to soul greats such as Ray Charles and Otis Redding; one of his best-received efforts was his 1988 Mango album Toots in Memphis  that was heavy on Stax/Volt songs.

While Bob Marley and the Wailers would soon surpass the Maytals and Cliff in popularity in the mid’-‘70s, Hibbert’s work found ardent fans in The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Graham Parker and the ska revival bands of the late 1970s/early’80s. Hoping to build their audience with rock fans, Toots & the Maytals opened for The Who on a 1975-76 tour after signing with Island Records and would also open shows for The Eagles, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt.

During their run on Island, Toots & the Maytals released songs that didn’t necessarily chart well as hits but came to be among his classics: the originals “Reggae Got Soul” and “Funky Kingston” and the covers of “Take Me Home Country Roads” and “Louie Louie.” It’s been reported that Toots & The Maytals have had a record 31 #1 singles in Jamaica.

In 1980, Toots & the Maytals embarked attempted to set a world record by recording, pressing and distributing an album in 24 hours. Toots Live hit its deadlines was in stores less than 24 hours after being recorded, but Island failed to properly register with the Guinness Book of World Records.

 Toots & the Maytals won the Best Reggae Album Grammy for 2004’s True Love (V2), a collection packed with new recordings of their best-known songs with guests such as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and No Doubt.

Toots and the Maytals did a 50th anniversary tour of the U.S. and Europe in 2018 and, in August, released their first album in a decade, Got to Be Tough (Trojan Jamaica/BMG). They had planned to tour this year and next.

 

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