Toots (born Frederick Hibbert) and the Maytals caused an immediate sensation on the Jamaican Sound System circuit with the ska-gospel hybrid of their first single, Hallelujah.
Equally popular numbers swiftly followed, such as the emotive Never Grow Old, plus the sensual Fever and Treat Me Bad, with Toot’s ecstatic tenor counterbalanced by chanted choruses from The Maytals.
Daddy stayed at the top of the Jamaican charts into early 1965, only to be supplanted by its flip side, a joyous love song called It’s You – the first instance of both sides of a single topping the Jamaican radio charts.
Two Maytals tracks were eventually released via Atlantic in the US – If You Act This Way and You Make Me Feel The Way I Do – but forces within Jamaica prevented Toots leaving the country. He was arrested in 1966 on trumped-up marijuana charges and imprisoned for 12-months at Richmond Farm Correctional Centre, a rural facility with a banana plantation worked by its inmates.
Jerry Mathias and Raleigh Gordon tried to keep The Maytals going as a duo, but their 1967 Festival Song Competition entry, I’m A Big Man, fared poorly.
Upon his release, Toots put together an ace set of session musicians who would back the band for decades to come. Bassist Jackie Jackson became The Maytals’ rock-solid anchor, guitarist Hux Brown brought an expressive blues influence, while understated drummer Paul Douglas kept the rhythm steady.
The trio were already huge reggae stars – they were credited with coining the very word on their Do The Reggay (1968) – when they released Pressure Drop in 1970.
But Pressure Drop, and the band’s career outside Jamaica didn’t really take off until the song was included on the soundtrack of the film The Harder They Come, in 1973, which introduced reggae to much of the world.
Their biggest hit, Monkey Man, reached the UK pop charts as a result of its popularity with skinheads, the chugging organ lines and choppy guitar riffs fuelling the dance-floor action.
The 1976 Island release Reggae Got Soul raised the band’s profile abroad, but a planned spot as opening act for The Who on a North American tour in late 1975 proved disastrous, scuppering their assault on the American market.
Despite this, the group continued to tour worldwide, reaching all corners of the US on a 1979 tour, yet albums such as Pass The Pipe and Just Like That somehow missed the edge of their earlier 70s records.
The British 2 Tone movement revived their archive material when The Specials covered Monkey Man, and The Clash‘s post-punk reading of Pressure Drop furthered the reverence. But the icing on the cake was Island’s Live album, which caught the band’s blistering performance of tried-and-true hits at the Hammersmith Palais on 29 September 1980.
Although the bluesy Beautiful Woman from the Knock Out! LP (1982) topped the charts in New Zealand, Toots had already been told that his backing vocalists no longer wanted to continue their musical career. Jerry got married and moved to New York while Raleigh moved to the UK to search for his family.
Toots continued to release impressive material, as heard on the Toots In Memphis album (1988). The 2004 release True Love was a Grammy winner that featured duets with the likes of Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Ben Harper.