If Marley was the rebel and Jimmy Cliff world beat, then Toots Hibbert was reggae’s soul man. With a sound drenched in the revival church, his classic songs reflected his religious upbringing.
Toots, who died on September 11 at age 77 at the University Hospital of the West Indies, never strayed from the roots music he first heard as a boy in rural Clarendon.
Tommy Cowan, whose group The Jamaicans competed against Toots and The Maytals in the Festival Song Competition during the 1960s, said Toots made “a spiritual connection” with songs like Six And Seven Books Of Moses and Daddy.
Cowan added that Toots had a unique sound “that touched the soul”.
That delivery earned him a lasting following in places like Europe where songs such as Monkey Man, 54-46, and Funky Kingston first struck a nerve over 50 years ago.
In the United Kingdom, his fans included an English youth named David Rodigan who discovered Jamaican pop culture in the 1960s.
“He was raw and soulful and his music and songs and that incredible voice spoke to the people; they identified with him because he had no airs and graces. He was a true star,” Rodigan told the Jamaica Observer.
For a generation who were introduced to Toots and The Maytals through the Festival Song Competition, their winning songs, Bam Bam, Sweet And Dandy and Pomps And Pride made a lasting impression.
Among the awestruck was Wayne Armond, who as a member of the Chalice band, covered Toots and The Maytals’ Never You Change. They also recorded a cover of the group’s Peeping Tom with Toots and Yellowman.
“Toots was such a great artiste because his heart was clean and good..he gave 110 per cent to his art and always had time for us younger musicians..and like he predicted in one of his earlier works…he will ‘never grow old’.
“I first saw him live in the early days of Festival and was cought up in his energy..he was the blues singer who roared like the Lion King…his band never left him and he never left them,” said Armond.