Listening to certain bands and singers take me back in time. Toots & the Maytals, or The Maytals, is one such band.
I remember one garden party that my church had, where we had a maypole – it was after Toots Hibbert, their frontman, who had been in jail – was released and his song, 54-46, That’s My Number, supposedly his prison identification number was played so often, it could have been the anthem of the party. I was quite young at the time but I do remember feeling disappointed, let down, when I heard he’d been arrested. It was as if it had happened to a close friend or family member.
Now this band, this local boy have, through music, transformed themselves into a highly regarded international ska and reggae act, touring Europe, Australia, Japan, the US and now rarely play in Jamaica. It is precisely because of bands like The Maytals that reggae continues to enjoy such popularity abroad (Hibbert is credited for creating the word reggae); at home, the music continues to evolve and a new generation of performers takes their place.
As a reggae purists, I’m surprised that I have never seen The Maytals in concert. I realized that when I saw a clip of an interview Toots gave for the documentary, Made in Jamaica. I was shocked how youthful he still looked, how strong his voice still was. I searched right away for performance dates but they had already performed wrapped up their US tour.
Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, who was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1945 started out singing in church. He met Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Matthias in 1961 when he moved to Kingston and they formed The Maytals.
They won the first Independence Festival Song Competition in 1966 with Bam Bam and again in 1969 with Sweet and Dandy and recorded hit after hit in the 60s and 70s. They were also featured in the soundtrack to the movie, The Harder They Come, which was named as one of Vanity Fair’s Top Ten soundtracks of all time.
The Maytals have recorded more than 40 albums and their music have been covered by performers such as Amy Winehouse (Monkey Man), and Robert Palmer, The Clash (Pressure Drop).