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Article on Toots and the maytals

Ah a player like Toots comes through and I gotta write about him. Ska, roots music and soul. Here is my article for the ol' times standard.

Visit the soul church with Toots and the Maytals
Maxwell Schnurer/For the Times-Standard
Article Launched: 10/04/2007 04:27:19 AM PDT
Before the advent of television traveling revival preachers were the epitome of entertainment. A good revival preacher had that perfect combination of folksy wisdom, heartfelt thunder and of course was able to perform a good show night after night.

Years after television swept through the nation, you could still find good preachers, almost anachronisms, holding court under tents saving souls and performing their hearts out.

Toots Hibbert and the Maytals are like those holdover preachers -- they are touring hard in 2007 despite having formed in 1962. They are still bringing electric performances to stages and exposing audiences to the sacred music of roots reggae that kept audiences spell-bound for years.

Toots and the Maytals have outlasted almost all of the other contemporary founders of reggae music. Along with Bob Marley, Toots and his gospel-tinged vocal work first found public acceptance as part of Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd's Studio One label. Along with Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Matthias, Fredrick "Toots" Hibbert made smooth and successful soul music.

The evolution of the sound to uptempo ska meant that the band had to jump to producer extraordinaire Prince Buster. With Buster, the band

helped to articulate the roots elements of ska and together they produced hot tunes like "Dog War." A quick stint with Byron Lee gave the Maytals a serious hit with "Bam Bam" in 1966.
As fame rushed in Toots was busted for cannabis (he still claims his innocence) and was incarcerated for 18 months.

Returning to the stage after his time in jail, Toots seemed to embody the new consciousness of righteousness sweeping Jamaica. Many artists were embracing Rastafarianism, and Toots and crew found a means of expressing their anger in their hit "54-46 (that's my number)" a stunning ska song that gave Toots a chance to proclaim his innocence to the entire world.

Many credit Toots with popularizing the term reggae, having recorded the first song -- "do the reggay" -- that used the expression. In Toot's articulation it meant "raggedy everyday things." Whatever you called it, Jamaican music evolved to create downbeat reggae in the early 1970s and the Maytals were right in the thick of things once again.

"Pressure drop" is one of the most famous contributions of this era, which finds a place on the soundtrack to "The Harder they Come." It is one of the great vocal tracks of all time -- Toots explodes with the squeals and grunts -- as if he wants more from his voice than it can physically give him.

The 1973 epic album "Funky Kingston" finds the band in epic form leaning on their gospel foundations and ska upbringing to create a fully expressive song of ghetto funk. From the prickly guitar on "Time tough" to the sizzling breakdowns on "Funky Kingston," the album gave Toots and the Maytals global superstar status.

Like Bob Marley before him, Toots got an international recording contract from Island Records in 1975 and he took his band on the road and toured the world. He never slowed down -- pausing only briefly to record albums. Pass the Pipe was recorded in 1978, Just like that recorded in 1980 and Knock Out in 1982.

Each album created a series of regional or national hits, but the stress of performances and recording caused the band to break up in the middle of the 1980s. Toots continued to perform and record, including a fantastic tribute album of Memphis soul label Stax-Volt recorded in 1988.

In the '90s Toots reformed the Maytals with a mix of original Maytal members and a few global players. Carl Harvey is a guitarist who himself led the Canadian funk revolution with his Toronto eight-person crew Crack of Dawn. Both Paul Douglas (drums) and crack bass player Jackie Jackson played with Toots since the 1970s. These days Toots is harmonizing and sharing the vocal duties with his daughter Leba Hibbert. The band that will back him on Friday is an evolution of years of performance and should make Eureka shine.

Come to reggae church and get a dose of the veteran musicians, a living history lesson and deeply motivational boogie that comes with any show by Toots and the Maytals.


Maxwell Schnurer is a frequent contributor to Northern Lights. Contact him at northernlights@times-standard.com
Tags: reggae, toots and the maytals
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