Toots & The Maytals 

Toots Hibbert is Jamaican music's own contribution to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" maxim. The collection you have hear is almost entirely drawn from between 1964 and 1974, a decade of music-making during which he and the original Maytals found their way in music, settled on a style and took it as far as it could go.

Long since the departure of his harmonising mates Henry 'Raleigh' Gordon & Nathaniel 'Jerry' Mathias from the fold, Toots still tours the world wowing audiences and preaching the gospel of revivalist soul-Reggae with the same songs from this era, thirty years on.

To critics, his soul revue-style two-hour shows, each one a replica of the last, with stretched-out songs, extended audience interplay and heavy guitar solos, indicate an artist who has silenced the creative muse. Yet fans still want to hear '54 46', 'monkey Man', 'Pressure Drop', 'Funky Kingston', and listening to them here, along with the earlier less appreciated classics such as 'It's You' and 'Bam Bam', it's obvious why. These are timeless, evergreen originals, and any number of modern twists cannot remove the kernel of brilliance.

Though Raleigh and Jerry helped shape the stomping, gospel-tinged sound that the Maytals made their own, it was Toot's early influences that drove them towards it.

He grew up in May Pen, Clarendon, in rural west Jamaica - the birthplace of Denroy Morgan of Morgan Heritage amongst others. In the 1950s, Clarendon was a kind of multi-faith bible-belt. Alongside tub-thumping gospel and Seventh Day Adventist preachers like Hibbert's own father, there were sects celebrating old Africa's arcane religions with drums and chants.

Equally influential to the young Hibbert were the strains of Ray Charles and, especially, Otis Redding and the Stax Soul sound. Memphis still vies with Clarendon and Nashville in his vocal style.

By the time Hibbert had moved to Kingston as a teenager, Jerry had already cut 'Crazy Girl' for then-R&B producer, Duke Reid in 1958, and palled up with Raleigh, Toots found work in a barber's shop, entertaining the customers with his singing while he worked.

Raleigh and Jerry were looking for a lead singer and Toots fitted the bill. In 1961, Kingston was brewing up for the coming storms of Rastafarianism and Ska, both of which captivated Hibbert. "It was the music the Skatalites were playing when I go to Kingston. That's the kind of music that was there," he reminisced, matter-of-factly, later.

So it was that The Maytals came into being.

The way in to the Jamaican music industry back then was through auditions, and the Maytals eventually succeeded in passing one in front of Coxsone Dodd and his sidekick Lee Perry, though the Studio One label was looking for something different from the Temptations-styled harmonies the trio offered.

Toots harked back to the gospel and Southern soul of his youth and created the sound that has served him ever since. On 'Hallelujah', its follow-up 'Fever' and the Perry-produced 'Six And Seven Books' something rare, potent and original was delivered.

But as with so many of their peers, the experience with Studio One turned sour over money and the superb 1964 hit 'Broadway Jungle' (aka 'Dog Wars') says it all about their joy at leaving Dodd's stable: "We were in the jungle, at the hands of a man, now we're out of the jungle, let's go to Broadway..."

'Jungle' was recorded during epic sessions for Ska legend Prince Buster, but it was a switch to working with the more commercially-minded Byron Lee that set them on course for international stardom.

With Lee, best known for his tourist circuit band the Dragonaires, the Maytals helped score a series of hits, including 'It's You', 'Never You Change' and the Cuban rumba flavoured 'Bam bam' which won the first annual Jamaican Festival Song Competition in 1966. Topped by Toot's wailing falsetto, it was a product of its turbulent times: a rebellious statement of black discontent and threat of reprisals: "If you trouble this man, it will bring Bam Bam, what a Bam bam". The tune was later recut in the Maytals' classic, chugging Reggae style with a more laid-back, but no less threatening vocal.

Ironically, at the peak of the song's popularity, it was a brush with the law that dashed hopes of following up. Toots has always maintained he was fitted up with the marijuana the police found on him in 1966. His incarceration as prisoner 54-46 disrupted the Maytals' progress, allowing other groups to steal the Rocksteady honours.

'54-46 That's My Number', cut early in 1968, marked the return to recording following Toot's stint at Her Majesty's pleasure. The song's potent protestation of innocence struck a chord that has resounded ever since. It also offered a sense that he wasn't alone in being failed by the Jamaican justice system: "Right now," he sings, "someone else has that number."

The trio were now signed up with Leslie Kong's Beverley's label. Kong, a Chinese-Jamaican businessman based on Orange Street, was one of the key figures of early Reggae, his crisp production values and bouncy rhythms contributing greatly to the Maytals formula and proving attractive to audiences in the UK.

'Do The Reggay' instantly became the first song to name the new styles of music that were evolving from Rocksteady, though its lyric - "Is this the new dance? (Yeah) / Going around the town? (Yeah)" - lacked the band's usual intelligence and depth.

Another bonus of the Kong relationship was house band the Beverley's Allstars, which included Winston 'Liquidator' Wright on keyboards and guitarist Hux Brown (later of the Sons of Negus and African Brothers) and Rad Bryan (Aggrovators, Revolutionaries).

Once Kong had tied up a deal with Trojan Records in England, the Maytals took off. 'Monkey Man' in 1969 was swiftly adopted as an anthem by the skinhead movement, and would enjoy another lease of life a decade later when covered by 2-Tone band The Specials.

The same year 'Sweet And Dandy' won them another Jamaica Festival Song Competition. This underrated classic, with its looping. rolling melody, paints the picture of a rural Jamaican couple panicking on their wedding day, and records the encouraging comments of relatives.

Thirty-eight-year-old Kong's death from a heart attack in 1971 robbed Reggae of a pioneer, but for the Maytals it was business as usual for a while, Kong's successor Warrick Lyn assuming control of their careers as they delivered another Song Competition winner in 1972 with 'Pomp And Pride'.

When 1969's 'Pressure Drop' (later to be covered by the Clash), with its biblical promise of retribution for wrongdoing, featured in Perry Henzel's 1973 film hit 'The Harder They Come' the world opened up for Toots and the Maytals.

'Funky Kingston' unashamedly targeted an American audience. the title track's words and music, edgy soul guitar chords acting of a stomping Reggae-beat and created an O'Jays-in-Jamaica sound designed for the R&B market.

At the same time, Toots' take on John Denver's 'Country Roads' showed a hedging of bets, aimed squarely at lovers of Country music for whom the churchliness of their harmonies wasn't quite enough.

Bob Marley's patron, Island Records boss Chris Blackwell had spotted the potential. Marley's manager Tommy Cowan contributed an impressive sleeve note for the 1975 'catch-up' compilation 'In The Dark', released on Trojan, which included the immortal suggestion: "This music relates to a time in creation when worshipping WAS worshipping - when all knew God and therefore all they had to do was praise him. In this album the Maytals play and sing praises to attain yet another degree of Roots Reggae." after listening to this album one is finally convinced that Toots could have just as easily gone off and sung the blues and done just as well.

The following year, their debut for Island was 'Reggae Got Soul', including renovations of many early hits. Blackwell's recipe for crossover success - touring, touring and more touring - paid off (and still does).

The Maytals justifiably earned a reputation a hot live act. 1980's 'Live' album - recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest ever album release (it was on the streets the day after being recorded) - became a landmark crossover Reggae album, a must for student record collections.

A year later the original band broke up, but Toots continued to work solo, then with a new Maytals band. His daughters, who cut Lovers Rock tunes for Island under the name 54-46, now sing backing vocals for him. It's not the same as Jerry and Raleigh.

In 2004, 'True Love' was released. It was a collection of Maytals' greatest hits revamped and re-recorded with all-star guests like Eric Clapton, Bootsy Collins, The Roots, No Doubt and Bonnie Raitt, who appears these days to spend all her time sipping coffee in studios and recording for such 'tribute' albums. "I released this album" Toots said, "because people needed to hear the real Reggae from the beginning, way back, so I rearranged these songs for the youth of today (so that they) could copy and see what it is to have a good Reggae music, y'know?"

You could argue that this excellent compilation of his wonderful originals would go far closer to achieving that goal.


My Daily Food
If You Act This Way
You Make Me Feel The Way I Do
It's You (Ska Version)
Never You Change (Ska Version)
What's On Your Mind
When I Laugh
My New Name
She Will Never Let Me Down
Bam Bam
54 46 That's My Number
Just Tell Me
We Shall Overcome
Bim Today (Bam Tomorrow)
Do The Reggay
Scare Him
Pressure Drop
Sweet And Dandy
Monkey Man
She's My Scorcher
Bla Bla Bla
Doctor Lester (aka African Doctor)
54 46 Was My Number
Peeping Tom
It Must Be True Love
One Eye Enos
Monkey Girl
It's You (Reggae Version)
Walk With Love
Johnny Coolman
Never You Change (Reggae Version)
Redemption Song
Louie Louie
Pomps And Pride
It Was Written Down
Sit Right Down
(Take Me Home) Country Roads
Funky Kingston
In The Dark
Sailing On
Time Tough
Reggae Got Soul
Broadway Jungle (2000 Version)

All material © Trojan Records