Toots Hibbert is a reggae god. He’s been making music for 54 years and still jamming all over the world. Despite the fact that he was seriously injured at a gig three years ago, he’s back on top form and ready to put on a Proper Reggae Show at the LCR this month. I spoke to the man himself about his massive track Monkey Man, how he came up with the word reggae and his boundless love for people and music. Hear me now!
You got together in Kingston, Jamaica back in 1964. Did you think that 54 years later you’d still be making music and touring the world?
Yes yes yes! I knew I would be here now because I have a musical ambition and a musical condition!
What was the music like back in Kingston in ’64? Was there a good music scene?
Back in ‘64 yes, but now people are not checking what they are doing at all. They just sing about loving and kissing and “I love you baby baby”. There’s not enough culture now compared to what we used to have, you know, good culture and methods in the music.
So I love all your songs but Monkeyman has got to be my favourite. I have still yet to work out what it’s about - can you tell me what it’s all about?
Well Monkeyman is all about a girl, a very good looking girl like you! I fell in love with her and then a monkey-looking man took her away from me but I thought she was in love with me. The guy was ugly and not good looking like me, ha ha!
That seems very unfair! You were the first band to use the word ‘reggae’ in a song, with Do The Reggay which came out when you were working with Leslie Kong during the late 60’s and early 70’s. How has reggae music developed since then in your opinion?
Yeah I’m the one who came up with the word ‘reggae’. Reggae is still very strong all over the world right now. Young people try to do it but they don’t capture it the way myself, Bob Marley and many other originals did. People are always trying to spell it REGGAE but I spell it REGGAY!
You came up with the word ‘reggae’ but where did it actually come from and how did you come up with it?
Reggae was coming from the roots of Kingston in Jamaica. If someone didn’t dress properly then we called it ‘reggae’. You know, the word originally came from the streets but I was the first to coin it in a song. People learnt about reggae from Toots and the Maytals!
Do you generally write all the songs and the lyrics yourself or is it a joint enterprise?
I arrange and create and produce. I like to just work, work, work by myself, you know.
I know that through the 80’s you were a solo artist, but you got back together with the band and got some new members for the band and I was wondering how you found the right people to be in your band?
Well we never broke up. I’m the leader - my name is Frederick Maytal, and Toots is my nickname. I started singing with my friends Nathaniel Matthias and Henry Gordon. One of them died but we never broke up but have added others to the band.
I know you had a terrible incident a few years ago when you were hit on the head with a bottle and its affected you greatly but you’ve just played your first gig last month your first gig since the incident I wondered how it went for you?
Yeah it was great to play again this year. What happened was we were doing a college show, you know, and one of the guys loved my music so much that he threw a liquor bottle onstage and I tried to catch it but it but it hit my head. It was a pity that it happened. It’s taken me three years to make people happy again.
It must be nice to be back out playing again for people I should think. I know you have 23 studio albums, 5 live albums and a lifetime of performing under your belt, but what’s been your career highlight so far?
My career highlight is just music, you know, reggae music, R & B music and my audience you know..I love you guys!
What’s next for you after your tour this summer? Maybe some new music will be on the cards?
Yes I will be recording some new music - I have a lot of music to release still!
Toots and the Maytals are playing at UEA’s LCR on 7th September. Tickets available from ueatickets.ticketabc.com.