September 12, 2020

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO TOOTS:

Toots Hibbert's pure, powerful voice carried reggae to the world: By blending gospel and R&B into nascent reggae music, the late singer became a cornerstone of Jamaican culture alongside his peer Bob Marley (Alexis Petridis,  12 Sep 2020, The Guardian)

The Maytals had cut a swathe through Jamaican music in the 1960s and early 70s, releasing a succession of fantastic singles - Sweet and Dandy, Pressure Drop, Monkey Man, 54-46 That's My Number (later re-recorded as 54-46 Was My Number) and more - that had made them the country's biggest band. They had effectively named the genre they worked in with 1968's Do the Reggae. They had two songs on the soundtrack of The Harder They Come, the first reggae album to make commercial inroads in the US, and a great album of their own, Funky Kingston, in 1972. If Bob Marley stole their thunder, and he undoubtedly did, then it was as much about canny marketing as it was about the standard of their music - the way Island Records boss Chris Blackwell sweetened the Wailers' sound with British and American session musicians, or packaged Catch a Fire (1973) more like a progressive rock album than a product of Kingston.

Toots and the Maytals started life as the Vikings, with some of the singles they made after changing their name to the Maytals released as the Vikings or the Flames; their frontman-boosting shift in the late 60s to Toots and the Maytals was pre-empted by the fact that they'd already randomly deployed that name since 1965.

What never varied was the quality of their releases: tight harmonies and Hibbert's powerful lead, both of which increasingly demonstrated the influence of American R&B. While the Wailers' American guiding light was Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, the Maytals seemed to be looking further south. There was a distinct hint of gospel about the harmonies, while, in a certain light, Hibbert's voice seemed not unlike that of Otis Redding.

Posted by at September 12, 2020 10:12 AM

  

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