Toots and the Maytals still touring the world

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Sunday, July 01, 2012

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SIX days before embarking on another tour, Toots Hibbert relaxes in his spacious living room, sipping red wine and browsing the Soap channel.

It's his umpteenth tour, but there is no slowing down for this road warrior.

"Bwoy, I never get tired of it yuh nuh. Is a great thing feeding off positive energy of the people," said Toots, his eyes hidden behind thick shade glasses.

Toots and his Maytals band are scheduled to hit the road on Thursday, kicking off a three-week United States leg in Portland, Oregon.

They move on to Japan for two shows before winding down in Europe, long his happy stomping ground.

This is all in support of three projects which will be launched this week. The Unplugged at Strawberry Hill album recorded two years ago at music magnate Chris Blackwell's popular mountain retreat; the documentary Reggae Got Soul, and the six-song EP Ska Never Grow Old.

The latter is a tribute to Never Grow Old, Toots' first album, which was recorded in 1964. That set was produced by Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd and featured the Skatalites.

Now in his late 60s, Toots is the best touring Jamaican entertainer, pulling bigger crowds than the Marleys and hottest Dancehall acts.

He says his fan
base is diverse, consisting grandparents to college students. Toots is quick to point out they have something in common.

"They love the old songs... Monkey Man, Pressure Drop, Sweet and Dandy. Yuh haffi work to find space for the new ones," he said.

Monkey Man has won Toots a horde of new fans, especially in the US where the song has been used in television ads by several major corporate companies.

Other standards, like Funky Kingston and Pressure Drop, are favourites of white ska bands in the US and Europe.

Those songs have also earned the admiration of A-list musicians like Willie Nelson and Eric Clapton, who collaborated with Toots on his 2004 album, True Love, which won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album the following year.

Four years ago, he toured with American pop singer Sheryl Crow and British singer/songwriter James Blunt.

Propping up his stocky frame, he declared: "All I can sey is all dat is happening now is good, cause it neva always nice," he said.

Even though had many hit songs during the 1960s —including Bam Bam, the first Festival song winner in 1967 — Toots says money was hard to come by early in his career.

The last of 14 children born in May Pen, Clarendon, he had a hit-laden run for most of the 1960s. He cut chart-riders for Dodd (Six and Seven Books), Prince Buster (Pain in My Belly) and Leslie Kong.

Kong was the Jamaican-Chinese producer who first recorded Bob Marley, and had great success with Desmond Dekker.

He produced some of Toots and the Maytals' biggest hits including 54-46, Do The Reggay, Peeping Tom and Monkey Man.

"Out of all the producer dem back then, him treat wi the best. Him pay wi one pound when everybody else jus' tek," Toots said of Kong who died in 1971.

Hibbert and his 14-piece band, which include veterans Jackie Jackson on bass and guitarist Rad Bryan, are scheduled to close their tour on August 24.




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