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Toots & The Maytals Biography

Home > Music > T > Toots & The Maytals > Biography

Birth Place: Jamaica
Years Active: 1963 to early 1980s, early 1990s to present
Genres: Reggae, Ska, Rocksteady

Toots & The Maytals, originally called simply The Maytals, is a Jamaican musical group and one of the best knownska and rock steady vocal groups. Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, the frontman of the group, was born in May Pen, Clarendon, Jamaica in 1945, the youngest of seven children. He grew up singing gospel music in a church choir, and moved to Kingston in 1958 at age 13.

In Kingston, Hibbert met Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias, forming in 1961a group whose early recordings were incorrectly attributed to “The Flames” and “The Vikings” in the U.K. 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 ensured success, overshadowing 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. With Lee, The Maytals won the first-ever Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition with their original song “Bam Bam.” However, the group's musical career was interrupted in late 1966 when Hibbert was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months. He stated that he made up the number 54-46 when writing “54-46 That's My Number” about his time in jail.

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. These included “Do the Reggay,” (one of several songs released in 1968 to first use the word “reggae“ spelled “reggay”) in a Jamaican recording, ”Pressure Drop,” “54-46 That's My Number” the 1969 Jamaica festival's popular song winner “Sweet and Dandy” and “Monkey Man” the group's first international hit in 1970.

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. In 1972 they won their third Jamaica festival popular song with “Pomps and Pride.” The group was also featured twice in the soundtrack to “The Harder They Come,” the 1972 film starring Jimmy Cliff.

After Kong's death in 1971, the group continued to record with Kong's former sound engineer, Warrick Lyn. Their re-instated producer Byron Lee renamed them Toots & The Maytals. The group released three best-selling albums produced by Lyn and Blackwell on Island Records, and enjoyed international hits with “Funky Kingston” in 1973 and “Reggae Got Soul” in 1975.

Toots & The Maytals' compositions would be given a second airing between 1978 and 1980 during the reggae punk and ska revival period in the U.K., when The Specials included “Monkey Man” on their 1979 debut album and The Clash covered ”Pressure Drop.” They were also included in the lyrics to Bob Marley & The Wailers song, “Punky Reggae Party.”

In 2005, the group released “True Love,” an album consisting of re-recorded versions of their earlier hits, alongside Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Trey Anastasio, No Doubt, Ben Harper, The Roots, and Shaggy. The album won the Grammy Award that year for Best Reggae Album.

In 2006, they recorded a reggae/ska version of Radiohead's “Let Down” for the tribute album, “Radiodread,” by the Easy Star All-Stars. The album was a song for song makeover of the English rock band's album “OK Computer” in the form of reggae, dub and ska. In 2007 Toots & The Maytals released “Light Your Light,” which featured re-workings of older songs such as “Johnny Cool Man,” as well as new material. The album was nominated in 2008 for a Grammy in the Best Reggae Album category. Their 2012 album “Unplugged on Strawberry Hill” earned a fifth Grammy nomination.