Toots & the Maytals

funky kingston

54 46

Toots and the Maytals are a Jamaican ska and reggae vocal group. The Maytals were key figures in reggae music. Formed in the early 1960s when ska was hot, the Maytals had a reputation for having strong, well-blended voices and a seldom-rivaled passion for their music. Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert (b. 1945) is the group’s frontman.

He met Henry ‘Raleigh’ Gordon and Nathaniel ‘Jerry’ Mathias, forming in 1961 a group whose early recordings were incorrectly attributed to ‘The Flames’ and ‘The Vikings’ in the UK by Island Records. The Maytals first had chart success recording for producer Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd at Studio One. With musical backing from Dodd’s house band, The Skatalites, the Maytals’ close-harmony gospel singing overshadowed Dodd’s other up-and-coming vocal group, The Wailers.

After staying at Studio One for about two years, the group moved on to do sessions for Prince Buster before recording with Byron Lee in 1966. The group’s musical career was interrupted in late 1966 when Hibbert was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months.

He wrote a song called ’54-46 (That’s My Number)’ about his jail time. The song claims that he was arrested for a crime related to marijuana, which he later admitted was not the case. However, it was one of the first ska songs to receive widespread popularity outside Jamaica and is seen as being one of the defining songs of the reggae genre. Following Hibbert’s release from jail towards the end of 1967, the Maytals began working with the Chinese Jamaican producer Leslie Kong, a collaboration which yielded a string of hits throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s.

By 1971, they had not only become the biggest act on the island, they were also (thanks to signing a recording contract with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records) international stars. The group was also featured twice in the soundtrack to ‘The Harder They Come,’ the 1972 film starring Jimmy Cliff. The band was invited to tour as the opening act for The Who during their 1975-76 North American tour. The tour went poorly and they never went on to the success of Bob Marley or Peter Tosh in the US.

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