Toots and the Maytals
Most music historians agree that the word reggae was derived from a 1968 single by the Maytals, "Do The Reggay." No one, least of all Toots Hibbert, the lead singer on the record, could have predicted that more than three and a half decades later, the worldwide popularity of reggaethe accepted spelling came about shortly after the '68 hitwould still be growing.
Toots and the Maytals formed in Kingston at the beginning of the ska craze in 1962. The original lineup consisted of lead vocalist and songwriter Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, born in May Pen, west of Kingston, in 1946, with Nathaniel "Jerry" Mathias and Ralphus "Raleigh" Gordon on low and high harmonies, respectively. Their earliest singles owed to gospel music, but the Maytals were also attracted to American R&B&#151;all of those roots came together into something unique in the late '60s, and the Maytals' consistently effusive brand of reggae was born. The group caught on quickly in Jamaica, and even the two years Hibbert spent in prison for a 1966 ganja possession rap could not dampen their steamrolling success. One of the Maytals' most popular hits of the period was in fact the Leslie Kong-produced "54-46, That's My Number," Hibbert's 1968 account of his incarceration.
By the beginning of the new decade, the Maytals were arguably the number one vocal group in Jamaica. "Monkey Man," released as a single in 1970, was a spirited gem, but it was the inclusion of "Pressure Drop" and "Sweet & Dandy" in Jimmy Cliff's startlingly revolutionary 1972 film The Harder They Come (which also depicted the Maytals recording in the studio) that turned Jamaica's best-kept secret into an international phenomenon. By the early '70s, Toots and the Maytals were among reggae's first superstars. The virtually flawless Funky Kingston album included the classic title track, as well as the animated "Pomp And Pride" and an amazingly soulful reworking of Richard Berry's American garage-rock anthem, "Louie Louie."
In 1974, the group recorded In The Dark, highlighted by Hibbert's "Time Tough," with its funky, snaky groove and its lament of the overall sad state of affairs. In 1975, Toots and the Maytals signed their first American record contract, with Island Records, the beginning of a new era that would see Hibbert and the group (which was expanded to as many as eight members) releasing the excellent Reggae Got Soul and Toots In Memphis albums. Still going strong into the new century, Toots Hibbert remains one of reggae's great showmen. Jeff Tamarkin, Courtesy Global Rhythm Magazine: www.globalrhythm.net