Reggae Legend Toots Hibbert R.I.P

Toots Hibbert, frontman of the legendary reggae band Toots and the Maytals, has died at the age of 77.

One of Jamaica’s most influential musicians, he helped popularise reggae in the 1960s with songs like ‘Pressure Drop’, ‘Monkey Man’ and ‘Funky Kingston’. He even claimed to have coined the genre’s name, on 1968’s Do The Reggay. Hibbert scored 31 number one singles in Jamaica.

Hibbert’s family said he had died on Friday. The cause was not disclosed, but he had recently been taken to hospital with Covid-like symptoms. The musician was later placed in a medically induced coma, and a spokesman said the musician was “fighting for his life.”

A statement on his website read: “It is with the heaviest of hearts to announce that Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert passed away peacefully tonight, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica…”

“The family and his management team would like to thank the medical teams and professionals for their care and diligence, and ask that you respect their privacy during their time of grief.”

Hibbert’s most recent album, Got to Be Tough, was released in August. He produced the album and guests include Ziggy Marley, Sly Dunbar, Cyril Neville and Zak Starkey.

Keith Richards was amongst Hibbert’s many admirers and recorded a version of ‘Pressure Drop’ with Toots & The Maytals and released it as the B-side to the single ‘Run Rudolph Run’ in 2007. They recorded the song during the sessions for the Grammy Award-winning Toots & The Maytals album True Love, released in 2004 and also featuring guests appearances by Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, the Roots and more.

“I was just very pleased to be working with one of the great reggae greats – what a voice!” said Richards about the recording. “A genuine chap, a real guy. We became firm friends.”

A scheduled tour of Australia earlier this year was cancelled due to problems caused by the bushfires. The group had appeared at Bluesfest, including 2004 and 2011, and undertaken Australian tours.

Lenny Henry paid tribute on Twitter, describing Toots’ music as “a constant” throughout his childhood: “His voice was powerful and adaptable to funk, soul, country, AND reggae.”

Ziggy Marley tweeted that he had recently spoken with Hibbert. “[I] told him how much I loved him we laughed and shared our mutual respect. His spirit is [with] us, his music fills us [with] his energy, I will never forget him.”

Frederick Nathanial ‘Toots’ Hibbert was born in May Pen, 30 Miles west of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, in December 1942. 

The youngest of seven children, he grew up singing gospel music in a church choir. His mother died when he was eight and his father died three years later, after which he moved to Kingston, where he lived with his older brother John (who had nicknamed him ‘Little Toots’) and found work in a barbershop.

There, he struck a friendship with singers Jerry Matthius and Raleigh Gordon, with whom he formed the Maytals. They were discovered in 1962 by Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, who signed them to his Studio One label. They released a string of hit singles during the next decade, including ‘Fever’, ‘Bam Bam’ and ‘Sweet and Dandy’.

In 1967 Hibbert was arrested for possession of marijuana and served nine months in prison. On his release, he recorded ”54-46 (That’s My Numbe)’ – referring to his prisoner number.

Hibbert and his group recorded ‘[Do The Reggay]’ and claimed that this was how the term ‘reggae’ was coined.

The group scored a UK hit with ‘Monkey Man’ in 1970, and, in 1972, Hibbert appeared in the cult classic film The Harder They Come, that also starred Jimmy Cliff. The Maytals’ song ‘Pressure Drop’ was on the film soundtrack – and it was covered by Robert Palmer and, later, the Clash.

After several original members of the Maytals retired, Hibbert formed a new version. The 2004 album True Love, which won a Grammy, featured guests, including Eric Clapton, long-time fan Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and the Roots. 

After the successful album True Love in 2004, Hibbert released a solo album, Light Your Light, in 2007 and undertook a Maytals 50th anniversary tour in 2012. In 2013 he was injured during a concert, when a bottle thrown from the audience hit him, and did not perform again until 2016.