Toots and the Maytals Personify Real Reggae Rockstardom

By Bryan Bierman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 10, 2013

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Toots Hibbert of Toots and The Maytals

In the same way every teenage garage band must run through Zeppelin or Stones songs to truly be inducted into rock ‘n’ roll, every ska or reggae group has to learn some of the Toots and the Maytals back catalog. “Monkey Man,” “Funky Kingston,” “54-46 (That’s My Number)”—the music of Toots Hibbert is some of the most well-known of the entire genre, in a career that has spanned over five decades. Along with Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, the Maytals helped introduce the world to Jamaica’s greatest export, helped in part by their classic “Pressure Drop,” which appeared on 1972’s iconic The Harder They Come soundtrack.

Heavily indebted to American soul and R&B, the vocal harmonies and offbeat funk of the Maytals are a textbook example of reggae music. (Their 1968 single “Do The Reggay” was even one of the first songs to use the term.) Hibbert and his group have influenced generations of musicians, with covers by the Clash, Sublime and Amy Winehouse sequentially continuing the trend. And with rock groups continually showing love for the Maytals, they have repeatedly returned the favor, notably turning “Louie Louie” into a skittish skankfest.

And though this may be blasphemous to Radiohead fans, I stand by it: The Maytals’ version of “Let Down” tops the original. Appearing on Radiodread, 2006’s all-reggae cover of OK Computer, their rearrangement is not only the highlight of the record (by a mile), but ends up as one of the best moments in the group’s legendary career. While the original is an understandably dour affair, the band’s energetic and horn-filled take changes up its feel, but oddly gives it more meaning. Toots’ soaring vocal performance, with his noticeably gruffer voice—he was, at this point, in his 60s—gives his lugubrious recollections of being “crushed like a bug in the ground” even more weight than Thom Yorke ever did. It’s the sound of a man who’s been thoroughly beaten down attempting to put on a brave face, which is, ultimately, much more tragic a circumstance.

Wed., April 10, 8pm. $29.50-$35. With Steppin Razor, Spokey Speaky, DJs Reggae Vibration & Black Roots Sound System. Trocadero Theatre, 1003 Arch St. 215.922.6888.

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