Reggae legends to rock Durango

Courtesy of Fort Lewis College

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller awards the Order of Distinction to Frederick “Toots” Hibbert at an Oct. 16 ceremony in Kingston. Toots is now a member of an exclusive club of nationally honored musicians that includes peers Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff. Toots & The Maytals will play an acoustic show tonight at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.

By Mark Hayden Herald staff writer

Jamaica and reggae. They go hand in hand.

Since the 1960s, the laid-back, feel-good music has transcended the island’s borders and is enjoyed by the world. From Tokyo to London to Honolulu, reggae has a global influence.

Late icons such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and the very much alive Toots and the Maytals helped make that happen. They brought reggae to the average listener, and shared their stories of toil and strife, as well as the joys of living in Jamaica, to an international level. Ever since, the genre has been synonymous with those names.

Tonight, the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College will host Toots and the Maytals. And not only will one of reggae and ska’s biggest legends, Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, be in Durango. This is the first-ever acoustic tour for the band, which is remarkable when considering Toots is 66 years old and has been performing since the early 1960s.

“I can’t wait. I’ve never done it before, so we’re going to do it now and people are going to remember it,” Toots said by phone from Kingston, Jamaica.

Toots’ enthusiasm for music is apparent and, so far, it doesn’t seem like he has plans to slow down. He’s currently working on multiple projects.

“These days, I’m working on about three albums, reggae, ska, R&B, you know, the classics,” Toots said. “Music is part of my life. It’s my train, so I have to keep going that way.”

On the phone, Toots presents a happy mood. He says that staying positive is the most important thing.

And, in Toots’ case, that means staying positive even when you have to spend about a year in jail for a crime you believe you didn’t commit.

In 1966, the Maytals’ first U.K. tour was canceled when Toots was arrested and jailed on marijuana-possession charges. Toots denies any wrongdoing and says that it could have been “all politics” that put him behind bars.

It was after playing a festival in Kingston that his song “Bam Bam” took off, and Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, scheduled him for the U.K. tour. Blackwell, a prominent record producer in the reggae industry, also went on to give Marley a record deal, as well as U2.

At the time, Toots was in his early 20s, much younger than some his predecessors who had yet to make their mark on the music industry.

But through his experience, he was able to score another No. 1 hit, “54-46 That’s My Number,” which he wrote while in jail. There, he says, life wasn’t bad. He was fed and clothed, and was allowed to play music for his fellow inmates.

“They gave me a guitar, and I had regular visitors who supported me in the end,” Toots said.

And well-loved he was. Toots was given his nickname by his older brother as a baby, he said.

Toots was born before reggae, a genre he went on to master, was formally named. There are a few theories on how the term “reggae” was coined. In 1968, he released the song “Do the Reggay,” which was the first time it was used, Toots said. Before the term was coined, people referred to reggae as “boogy beat” or “doo beat.”

“No one knew what to call it till I used the word reggae. It stuck. I never planned it. I took it from the word ‘streggae,’ which describes a good-looking girl,” Toots said.

Since the ’60s, he’s recorded so many albums, he “can’t even count them all.” But hits like “Pressure Drop,” “Funky Kingston” and “Monkey Man” are staples of his career.

Toots’ “True Love” album won a Grammy award for Best Reggae Album in 2005. It includes collaborations with Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and others.

Along with love, Toots says the message is simple in his music. “My music is about doing what you have to do and never giving up on yourself, never getting weary, believing in God and being sure you’re doing the right thing,” Toots said.

As for the unplugged set tonight, he assures that his band will be entertaining as usual. “We never let the audience down musically. My music inspires and makes people’s lives turn around.”

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