Trojan
 

Almost forty years have passed since Toots Hibbert first made his mark in the music industry. Back then he was still a raw, ambitious teenager from the country, with hopes of finding local success with his recently formed three-piece vocal group. In the years since, he has surpassed his original goal beyond his wildest imaginings, his unique brand of music finding devoted followers way beyond Jamaica's shores. The reason for his enormous popularity around the world are manifold: his talents as a songwriter and showman are second to none, while the power and energy of his vocal delivery would put James Brown to shame.

His extraordinary life began in 1945 in May Pen, a small town within the parish of Clarendon. The youngest of eight children, music played an important part in his life from the beginning, and throughout his formative years he was encouraged to participate in the musical gatherings both at home and at the local Baptist church. While still a youngster, he fashioned a basic guitar and when he made his way to Kingston in the late fifties, it was his only possession of value. Once settled with an older brother in the island's bustling capital, he found work in a barbershop, entertaining customers with impromptu renditions of popular favourites. Two clients, Nathaniel 'Jerry' McCarthy (b. Portland 1939) and Henry 'Raleigh' Gordon (b. St. Andrew 1937) were so impressed by his vocal prowess that they asked him to join them in forming a group. The invitation was readily accepted and the trio set about perfecting their harmonies, as Toots later recalled:

"We sang together, rehearsing and teaching each other. The Raleigh came up with a name - the Maytals!"

Of the three, McCarthy was the most experienced musically, having made his recording debut in the late fifties with 'Crazy Girl' for producer Arthur 'Duke' Reid, but it was Toots, who despite his youth, was their natural leader. By 1962, the Maytals had already been turned down by a number of local producers, but he refused to give up and eventually saw their fortunes change after auditioning for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd. Perhaps the canniest of all the record bosses during these formative years in the island's recording history, Dodd saw in the group what others failed to notice and soon after had them in the studio making music. He was almost immediately rewarded with a number one hit:

"I already had the song, 'Hallelujah' from when I was in Clarendon - it was a sort of spelling tune. We got together and worked out how to do it. It was nice to have a number one record - I just wanted to get another one."

Over the ensuing months, hit followed hit for the trio, with 'Fever', 'Six And Seven Books Of Moses' and 'Matthew Mark' among their many successes from this time. their astounding rise was reflected in the 1963 release of one of their first Jamaican albums to feature a single act, 'Never Grow Old'.

The following year the group's contract with Dodd expired and the trio decided to move on to pastures new, signing a short-term deal with the enigmatic Prince Buster. Under Buster's direction, the hits continued unabated with 'Pain In My Belly', 'Domino' and their first version of 'Broadway Jungle' among their best-selling singles. Of the creation of the latter, Toots later recalled:

"I just started singing the song and the others added parts to it and we got that complicated sound, so we call it 'Dog War', as well as 'Jamaica Ska' and they called it 'Broadway Jungle' in England."

Their sojourn with the Prince over, the Maytals recorded for a variety of producers, including Leslie Kong, Sonia Pottinger, Vincent Chin and Richard Khouri before finally signing a contract with manager/promoter, Ronnie Nasralla in 1965.

Throughout the remainder of the year, and well into the next, the trio remained in the public consciousness with further best selling 45s. Among these were 'Daddy', 'It's You', 'Never You Change', 'If You Act This Way' and 'My New Name', all of which were later gathered on their second album, 'The Sensational Maytals', issued around the close of 1965. The following year, the trio became the inaugural winners of the prestigious Jamaican Festival Song competition with 'Bam Bam' - a triumph that brought greater rewards than just a nice shiny trophy:

"When we won the festival, we received £600 and a lot of publicity and promotion on TV, radio, press and we appeared at all the big theatres, y'know! Byron Lee used to play with us - his group (the Dragonaires) did the session for 'Bam Bam'."

But just when it seemed everything was going their way, the Maytals' very future as a group was dealt a devastating blow: Toots was arrested for possession of marijuana. His pleas of innocence fell upon deaf ears and he was incarcerated in Kingston prison. He was later moved to Richmond Farm prison before finally being released without charge, some twelve months after his arrest. During his internment, Gordon and McCarthy attempted to maintain the Maytals as a group, and in the absence of their lead singer recorded 'Love Is A Special Feeling' b/w 'Ain't Got No Tip'. Although both singles were laudable efforts, the duo were unable to recapture the edge of their work with Toots and finally abandoned the idea, with McCarthy teaming up with singer/producer Ewan McDermott soon after, to record a number of singles for the latter's Jolly label.

Around the close of 1967, Toots was finally released without charge and resumed the task of making hit records with Gordon and McCarthy. By this time, Nasralla had retired from the music business and had handed the group's affairs over to Chinese-Jamaican producer, Leslie Kong, one of the shrewdest men in the business. Under Kong's direction, the group's fortunes were immediately back on track, with '54-46, That's My number' and 'Struggle', the lyrics of which recalled his recent unhappy spell behind bars. Toots related:

"When I make a song, I want you to think that what I sang about really happened or could happen. In fact, '54-46' was my number in jail, but just like 'Jailhouse Rock', when they hear that, a lot of people think that the singer went to jail and that's how he came to write that tune, but it's not. It just has to be written in a way that could be reality - a song must tell a story about something. Like in 'Struggle', a man is doing something that isn't good, so you tell him, don't struggle, because you get yourself in more trouble. 'Struggle' is a good song that I really used to like, it had good lyrics."

Other highlights from 1968 included 'Bim Today, Bam Tomorrow', which placed second in the Festival Song contest, 'Struggle', 'Reborn', 'Just Tell Me' and the hugely influential 'Do The Reggay', the title of which was adopted as the name of the new style then beginning to supplant the slower rhythms of Rocksteady.

By 1969, Reggae was in full swing and its infectious, upbeat rhythm provide ideal accompaniment for the groups dynamic delivery. During this exciting period, the trio recorded many of their most enduring sides, including their second Festival Song winner, 'Sweet And Dandy', 'Pressure Drop', and the song that became their first international hit, 'Monkey Man'. A UK number 47 hit in the spring of 1970, 'Monkey Man' also provided the title of the group's third UK collection, released by Trojan around the same time. The Maytals' output throughout this period was nothing short of phenomenal and they proved so prolific that many of their recordings remained unreleased in Britain until in 1973, when they were finally included on the Trojan LP, 'From The Roots'. Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, Kong released a collection of some of the group's best-known sides to date on the Beverley's album, 'Sweet And Dandy'.

The trio continued to enjoy considerable local success well into 1971, with updated versions of '54-46 Was My Number', 'One Eye Enos', 'Never You Change', 'Peeping Tom' and 'It's You' among their best-sellers. Tragically, in August that year, fate yet again struck the group a cruel blow, when their manager and producer Leslie Kong passed away following a sudden heart attack. After a period of mourning, the Maytals finally resumed there recording career under the guidance of Kong's trusted lieutenant, Warrick Lyn.

Around the close of 1971, the Maytals returned to the studio to record a joyous seasonal number entitled 'The Christmas Song' and while the song marked a solid return to the music-making process for the group, it was not until the release of the follow-up, 'Redemption Song', issued early the following year, that the trio were back in the Jamaican charts. A version of Richard Berry & The Pharaoh's oft-covered 1955 hit, 'Louie Louie', along with an updated rendering of 'Pressure Drop' followed soon after and in the spring they enjoyed their third Festival Song triumph with 'Pomps And Pride'. Later that year, the group's importance on the Jamaican music scene was reflected in a cameo appearance in Perry Henzell's cult film, 'The Harder They Come' in which they performed a rousing version of 'Pressure Drop' at Dynamic studios. The year also saw the release of 'Stoot Slatyam' (you work it out), and album featuring the best of their Warrick Lyn produced sides. A point of interest to collectors is the scheduling of the LP for issue in the UK by Trojan, the collection being given the catalogue number of TRLS-50, before being shelved.

In 1973, the Maytals' next British album did finally see release when 'Funky Kingston' appeared on Island's recently activated Dragon imprint. superbly produced and executed, the LP received an extremely positive response from the British music press, but with Island pushing Bob Marley & the Wailers as their main Jamaican act, the collection was somewhat half heartedly promoted and sales suffered accordingly. Half a dozen or so singles later, a second Dragon LP, 'In The Dark', hit the streets. Again, the quality of the material was second to none, but as with their previous collected works, the company's PR for the set appeared somewhat lacklustre in comparison to the time and effort being spent on Marley and Co. None the less, the two albums did open up a whole new audience to the music of Messer's Hibbert, Gordon and McCarthy and by the mid-seventies, Toots & the Maytals were established as one of Reggae music's most popular international acts.

Their first album release on Island proper came in 1976 when the company issued the 'Reggae Got Soul' LP. With the full weight of the company's PR machinery now behind the release, the album charted in Britain and across Europe. Toots and the boys now seriously rivalled their illustrious Island stablemates, Bob Marley & the Wailers as Reggae's biggest act. Further European and American sell out tours followed, but their emphasis on live work ultimately prevented the trio fulfilling their commercial potential and three years passed before the release of their next album, 'Pass The Pipe'. The following year saw Island issue 'Toots Live', which successfully captured the excitement and raw energy of his performance with the Maytals ay London's Hammersmith Palais. The release was also notable for being possibly the quickest production turnarounds in the recent history of music - the LP hitting the street some 24 hours after being recorded.

For the next two years, the group's incessant touring schedule continued unabated, while the trio also found time to cut two more collections for Island: 'Just Like That' and 'Knock Out'. But by 1982, the heavy workload had taken its toll on McCarthy and Gordon and the pair decided the time had come for them to retire from the music business, after almost two decades of performing as the Maytals. Toots continued alone, spreading the gospel of Funky Reggae to the world with almost limitless zeal and almost twenty years on, he is still going strong. Today, demand for his music is as strong as ever, a fact reflected in the decision by sports giant Adidas to use an updated version of 'Broadway Jungle' for their TV ad campaign during the Euro 2000 soccer championships. Some 36 years had passed dince Toots had first cut the song, but his new rendering illustrated time had done nothing to diminish the power and appeal of his voice and it came as no surprise that it became a hit second time around in the UK and throughout Europe.

This 48-tracl anthology features almost every major side by Toots & the Maytals following the group's sojourn with Prince Buster, up until their initial recordings under the auspices of Warrick Lyn, included are a number of rare sixties sides that are made available for the first time outside of Jamaica, while the collection is brought to a close with Toots' most recent recorded work for Trojan: 'Broadway Jungle 2000'. The music herein is a testament to a pioneer of Jamaican music, whose profound talent continues to influence and bring joy to millions the world over. We are truly proud to be able to present this tribute to the wonderful Mr. Frederick 'Toots' hibbert.

LAURENCE CANE-HONEYSETT

Let's Jump
When I Laugh
When Bam Bam
Love Is A Special Feeling
I'm A Big Man
Ain't Got No Tip
54 - 46 That's My Number
Struggle
Just Tell Me
Reborn
Bim Today (Bam Tomorrow)
Hold On
We Shall Overcome
School Days
Do The Reggay
Scare Him
Night And Day
Water Melon
Oh Yeah
Don't Trouble Trouble
Alidina
Pressure Drop
Sweet and Dandy
Monkey Man
Bla Bla Bla
She's My Scorcher
Dr. Lester
54-46 Was My Number
Peeping Tom
Monkey Girl
One Eye Enos
It's You
Walk With Love
Johnny Coolman
Never You Change
It Must Be True Love
Redemption Song
Louie, Louie
Pomps & Pride
It Was Written Down
Sit Right Down
Funky Kingston
Take Me Home, Country Roads
In The Dark
Sailing On
Fever
Time Tough
Broadway Jungle

Trojan
All material © Trojan Records