Last week we mourned a man who changed the sound of music. Toots Hibbert, one of the founding fathers of reggae and the lead of Toots and The Maytals, passed away at 77 in Jamaica. In the 1960s, he propelled his craft during the time of rocksteady by combining his background of ska with his love of R&B and Northern soul. Hibbert performed 50’s covers like "Louie Louie,” which is about a Jamacian sailor, to his own songs like “Pressure Drop” by using clever innuendos about weather terminology to get the message across. "A storm is coming for you”, when the song is actually about karma.
I have always thought reggae was one of the most powerful genres of music. It is a sound that gives a great description of political, religion, and spiritual landscapes. That's where Hibbert thrived. He knew how to give his songs such great meaning in the simplest of words. Hibbert introduced the repetitive nature of singing we hear so much in pop music today.
The world really first saw Hibbert in Perry Henzel's movie, "The Harder They Come,” about a musical outlaw. Toots and the Maytals received a cameo performance in the studio singing a few tracks like “Sweet and Dandy,” which was later exhibited on the soundtrack.
A collaborator and friend, Shaggy, told KCRW that “we lost a legend of our culture today. I knew Toots well and he understood the work and culture he gave to our music. May he be recognized forever.”
His songs have been covered by many respected artists and continues to be considered to be one of the pioneers of reggae music. If you are not truly familiar with his work, take some time and learn something special.
As a personal note, I had the opportunity to spend some part of an afternoon with Toots. Many years ago I went with my friend Richard, who produced his Grammy-winning album, "True Love" and picked up a then new demo version of “Three Little Birds”, which he was working on at a studio in Venice. After we got to the facility, we all sat outside on a white picnic bench, rolled up a spliff and sat back and enjoyed the sun. At that time, I got to feel and understand what Toot's meant when he coined the word reggae.