Monday, August 6, 2012

Toots And The Maytals - The Unsung Legends Of Reggae

Toots And The Maytals - The Unsung Legends Of Reggae

Here is a trivia question that most people who like reggae would probably get wrong: ?Which reggae band has the most number on hits in Jamaica?? The answer is not, Bob Marley and the Wailers. Nor is it the iconic, Peter Tosh. This record is held by the one and only, Toots and the Maytals, with a staggering 31 number one songs in Jamaica. Why they are better know in Jamaica than the rest of the world remains a mystery. No matter how hard they tried or who they toured with, they were never able to make the same international impact that acts like Bob Marley and Wailers or Peter Tosh did.

Toots and the Maytals (originally known as, The Maytals), formed in the early 1960s, in Kingston, Jamaica, and very quickly found success on the Jamaican charts. Their original records were in a style of music known as ska, which later evolved into what is now known as reggae. The strong vocals of The Maytals set them above their fellow musicians during their career timeline. Comparison to Otis Redding, were not unknown for front man, Frederick "Toots" Hibbert. The Toots and the Maytals were almost ended as a band by Hibbert, unfortunately.

Just as Toots and the Maytals were gaining traction in Jamaica, and establishing themselves as the top recording act in the country, tragedy struck the group. Hibbert was arrested and jailed for eighteen months, which forced the band to go on hiatus. If nothing else, prison proved as a fertile ground for song writing. Hibbert emerged from prison with a song that would become one of Toots and the Maytals all time classics: 54-46 (his cell number). Upon his release, the band hooked up with new producer, Byron Lee, and recorded a stream of classic reggae songs. Around this time, Toots and the Maytals, were also one of the first groups to use the word, reggae (originally spelled, reggay), in a song.

Success was coming quickly for Toots and the Maytals. In a burgeon music scene, they had established themselves as the number one act in Jamaica by 1971, and were also the band having the most international success (limited as it was). "Pomps and Pride" won them their third Jamaica Festival popular song award, as their success continued in 1972." The Harder They Come, the legendary Jamaican movie, showcased two of their songs that year, as well. The soundtrack for, The Harder They Come, is considered to be one of the best of all time.

Toots and the Maytals, were asked to open for The Who, on their North American tour, as they had put out several popular albums at this point. In retrospect, The Who, may not have been the best band to tour with as their North American fan base may not have been as receptive to reggae music as Toots and the Maytals would have wished. As it was, the tour did not turn out well for Toots and the Maytals, and the success that had come to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, as a result of touring North American, did not come their way.

The music had a life of it's own, even after the band had called it quits in the early 80s. An array of up and coming bands were embracing their music and honoring it with their own cover versions. Legendary English bands such as, The Clash and The Specials both released versions of songs by Toots and the Maytals. Thankfully, the band reformed in the 90s and have been touring and recording successfully ever since.

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