On the road with a legend

On the road with a legend

BY BRIAN BONITTO
Associate Editor ---
Auto & Entertainment
bonittob@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 13, 2020

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REGGAE legend Frederick “Toots” Hibbert's death has sent shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry. Hibbert, 77, was the frontman for Toots and The Maytals for 58 years.

Jackie Jackson, his bass player for the past 52 years, said the singer's passing came as a shock.

“We were all expecting him to pull through. He's rugged and tough. He's not the sort of person that is going to roll over and give up, or stay in bed ... So we never expected it at all,” Jackson, 73, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday. “This is a great loss to Jamaica and Jamaica's music industry as Toots is a legend.”

Hibbert died at the University Hospital of the West Indies on Friday night. The singer was transferred to that facility two weeks ago after experiencing difficulty breathing. He was in critical condition and placed in a medically-induced coma while on a ventilator.

“I got the call after 11:00 on Friday night to say it [his death] just happened,” said Jackson. He recalled how he first met Hibbert, who came to see him at his Kingston home in 1968.

“He and Raleigh Gordon drove to my house. He said he wanted to do a recording an' that recording turned out to be Sweet And Dandy. That was the first time me and him an' all of the guys, (guitarist) Hux Brown, everybody meet up. So we did Sweet And Dandy in 1969 and then we start record, an' record, an' record,” he said.

Sweet And Dandy won the Festival Song Competition in 1969.

Henry “Raleigh” Gordon, and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias completed Toots and The Maytals, which formed in 1962.

“Mi ah the first one in the band to meet him. My mother offered him something to eat an' he came inside an' 'wax off' di ackee an' saltfish. I was living on Laurel Drive off Molynes Road [in Kingston]. We talk about it every time, so the memories go way back,” Jackson said.

According to the bass player, Island Records principal Chris Blackwell made the arrangement formal.

“How we all became Maytals is when Chris Blackwell signed him [to Island Records]. Because we were doing all the recording sessions, Chris said: 'No. This entire unit is going to be Toots and The Maytals',” he said.

After notching another Festival Song title with Pomps And Pride in 1972, Blackwell decided to put the show on the road. It culminated in a tour with American singer Linda Ronstadt and rock band The Eagles at Anahiem Stadium in California.

“We opened for them an' that's how it started. We did some big shows after. We started opening for Dave Matthews, Jackson Browne, Sheryl Crow and James Blunt. But our favourite was touring was with The Rolling Stones,” he said.

Jackson said in 1980 Island Records had this ambitious plan of doing a live album that would be released 24 hours after a concert.

“This album was Live at The Hammersmith Palais in London. We went on stage at 10:00 the night an' we finished 11:30 pm an' 10 o'clock the next day the album was in the streets. From stage to vinyl in less than 24 hours,” he recalled.

Jackson said the last time he saw Hibbert was in August when they did a virtual show for The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.

“That was about three or four weeks ago. We were making extensive plans for tour next year as we were supposed to have left here from June an' in the middle of a US tour but this COVID 'crosses' came down on the land. An' the wickedess part is that we will not be able to celebrate his life due to COVID restrictions. This is so sad,” Jackson added.

Blackwell, in a handwritten statement, mourned the loss of a true pioneer.

“Toots has been a giant of Jamaican music for almost 60 years. He wrote the song, Do The Reggay, which gave the name to reggae which took over from ska,” the statement read in part.

“Over the years, I have spent many days in the recording studio with Toots and will always remember a song I produced with him called Funky Kingston, which became one of his big hits. It so sad that he has been taken from all of us,” Blackwell's statement concluded.

Toots and the Maytals distinguished themselves in ska, rocksteady and reggae. The group's stsndard songs include Country Road, Monkey Man, Pressure Drop, Bam Bam, and Six And Seven Books of Moses.

In 2005, the group won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album with True Love. Seven years later, Toots was awarded an Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaica's music.

In December 2019, he received a Jamaica Observer Entertainment Award for helping take Jamaica's music to a global audience.


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