Toots has gone from choirboy to musical legend



Frank Micelotta/Getty Images


Toots is credited with helping coin the term reggae and is known for consistently pushing the genre’s sound.


Before reggae was even called reggae, Toots was singing his sun-soaked tunes.

Born in Jamaica, Toots (real name Frederick Hibbert) grew up singing as a church choirboy. At 16, he moved to Kingston, and in 1964, started performing what became known as reggae — a term he helped coin through 1968’s Do The Reggay.

“What is now called reggae was then called blue beat or looping beat,” he said. “They ask me what to call the music, I said reggae, so that was the way I got into reggae.”

Years later, Toots is known for consistently pushing the genre’s sound, partly through his takes on classic tracks, including country (John Denver’s Country Roads) and alt rock (Radiohead’s Let Down). His original music, which includes classics like Pressure Drop and Pomp And Pride, is just as eclectic, touching on ska, R&B, soul and rock.

“Few other (reggae artists) sound like R&B … I try to do things my way,” he said. “I’ll give audiences ska, R&B, the blues — all that I’m meant to do, I do.”

Bands from the Clash to the Police have also covered his songs. Toots said hearing his songs interpreted by others makes him smile, while shoddy versions make him laugh. He also records alongside a roster of musicians: collaborations on 2004’s Grammy-winning True Love included Keith Richards and Ben Harper. As for writing original music, Toots’ creative method varies. Sometimes he jots down ideas in a big book of lyrics he carries around, and sometimes he just feels the vibe.

“I’ll consider the good things in the world, (and try to) make people feel those things,” he said. “I get ideas as I go around, put them down on paper, type it all in my own brain, go to the studio, and create rhythms. That’s the way it is.”

Toots and the Maytals are playing two shows at the Commodore Ballroom — April 18 (with Jah Cutta) and April 19 (with the Greyboy Allstars, which is sold out). They also play a free show at the Whistler Ski And Snowboard Festival on April 20.