By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Widely heralded as one of the pioneering acts of Jamaican music, Toots and the Maytals bring their infectious grooves and sweet reggae sounds to the Fillmore Friday.
Fronted by legendary vocalist Fredrick “Toots” Hibbert (who began singing gospel music in a church choir as a child), the group came together as the Maytals in Kingston in 1962 as a vocal trio Hibbert formed with Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias. Their initial success came with singles the trio recorded in collaboration with producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and backing from his studio house band the Skatalites — initially overshadowing the chart performance of Dodd’s other vocal group, the Wailers.
However, the Maytals would eventually bring on their own group of musicians and rechristened the group Toots and the Maytals. The band took first prize in the inaugural Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition with their original song “Bam Bam” in 1966, but later that year suffered a setback when Hibbert was arrested and jailed for 18 months after a marijuana bust.
Once the singer was released, the Maytals started their collaboration with producer Leslie Kong, scoring a string of hits that would stretch into the next decade with such smash songs as “Do the Reggay” — the first song to use the word “reggae” — “Pressure Drop” and “54-46 (That’s My Number),” which scored the band another Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition win in 1969. Their 1970 hit “Monkey Man” got Toots and the Maytals noticed by Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell, who signed them as the imprint’s first reggae act (even before Bob Marley and the Wailers).
Toots and company would rise to greater fame with the inclusion of two songs on the soundtrack to the landmark movie The Harder They Come starring fellow Jamaican artist Jimmy Cliff. The band’s landmark ’70s albums Funky Kingston, In the Dark and Reggae Got Soul showcased Hibbert’s songwriting and fiery, soulful delivery that earned the singer comparisons to such R&B greats as Otis Redding and James Brown. A tour supporting British rock band the Who in 1975 further broadened their audience.
The group exerted a huge influence on both the punk scene (the Clash would famously cover “Pressure Drop) as well as the British ska revival that began in the late ’70s. Hibbert spent much of the ’80s working as a solo artist, but by the following decade he had convened a new line-up of the Maytals and has remained a popular live attraction ever since.
In 2004, Toots released True Love, a collection of new recordings of his classic songs that were made in collaboration with an array of music royalty including Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. The album would go on to win the Grammy Award for best reggae album that year. Toots and the Maytals come to the Bay Area for their second show in the space of a week during down time from performing on successive weekend at Coachella, headlining the Fillmore Friday night for a sold-out show. Hibbert’s own daughter Leba opens the concert with her reggae outfit.
Toots and the Maytals
Friday, April 21, 8 p.m. $30.50 (sold out)