It’s with much likely humility that today we say goodbye to someone who was truly one of the galvinizing voices in authentic Jamaican reggae — Toots Hibbert, famed frontman of Toots and the Maytals. If Bob Marley and Peter Tosh are the Nirvana and Pearl Jam of founding reggae music, Toots and the Maytals stand as a proud Soundgarden, or Mudhoney — not quite as famous but with every bit the history and perspective for contributing to such a fomenting musical zeitgeist. Actually, the chronology of Peter Tosh’s 1961 career genesis and Bob Marley & the Wailers’ of ’63 would seem to position the Maytals, who kicked things off in ’62, as the first full Jamaican band to ever receive international notoriety.
For a punctilious bolstering of their fame we have Sublime to thank and their cover of “54-46 That’s My Number,” which ended up on their ’92 album 40oz. to Freedom. Despite having been a Sublime listener for several years, then, I personally didn’t discover Toots and the Maytals until a college class at Indiana University, which then prompted me to go nab this greatest hits disc that I proceeded to lean on pretty considerably for a boost of spirits, in a cold, cloudy winter. And yeah, there was that Sublime song on there, first — that certainly didn’t hurt.
But this brings me to my primary query here — that CD cracked a long time ago and I can’t FIND that album anywhere on Spotify. And what’s more, I can’t find any other greatest hits disc of Toots’ (of which there are certainly plenty) that has anywhere near as good of a track list. That one that was my domain in college didn’t seem to have a boring or lukewarm cut on it anywhere and raced out of the gates after “54-46” with other great jams like “Alidina”; “Monkey Man” and “Pressure Drop” to name a few I can recount off the top of my head. Looking at their discography on Wikipedia just now I see a The Best of Toots and the Maytals title and I think that’s probably the one I had although since there’s no Wikipedia page dedicated to the album I have no way of ascertaining that, right now, at least. And for a band that’s got at least 10 greatest hits packages listed on Amazon, that’s a pretty puzzling omission from Wiki, you’ve gotta admit.
But that’s part of why I’m choosing to write about this guy: it’s still really underrated and underexposed, to this day. I was a huge Bob Marley fan in high school, got into Tosh in college but Toots was right there with them, arguably even doing things with more professional FULLNESS, seeing as he always toted his whole band with him. What’s more, under the grainy, throaty delivery and ornate reggae melodies, you can hear a visceral peal of emotion, if you listen closely enough to politically tinged songs like “Monkey Man” and “Pressure Drop.” Toots Hibbert carried a sense of urgency to the microphone and to his contributions to the golden era of Jamaican reggae while also boiling things down to a final product that you don’t need an historical perspective to enjoy.
Now, this is where I would be otherwise ending the post, but I don’t know where to turn because I don’t know just WHAT Maytals session or product to turn to. I mean, I guess you could just go with this boxed set, Keep on Kicking, which opens with a track called “Jungle” that’s really nothing like his other work but sort of hilariously features this fake tiger roar sound bite and some programmed house drums. Eh, maybe we’ll skip that one for now. Anyway, all the “best-of” offerings are what I’d call “adequate,” from what I’ve heard, but I still can’t help but reminisce on that old classic I had, with its bulbous 21-song anatomy, and how “54-46 That’s My Number” just seemed like the perfect opening track, with its easy, playful jollity and its ubiquity with American ska punk I mention earlier.