Touring with Toots and the Maytals

Published March 26, 2012

ABOVE: TOOTS HIBBERT.

Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert is a living legend. Across six decades, he and his band Toots and the Maytals have coninutally re-defined reggae music. He even goes so far as to call himself the genre’s inventor. As the story goes, his 1968 recording of “Do the Reggay” is among the first songs to use the word and classify the style of music. Regardless of whether he is the originator, Hibbert is certainly one of reggae’s most longstanding and successful practitioners. Toots and the Maytals hold the current record for number-one hits in Jamaica, with 31.

This spring, Toots returns to the road for a series of concert dates on the East coast. After his first stop at the Brooklyn Bowl, we met up and chatted in the back of his tour bus about staying in shape, future collaborations, and the current state of reggae.

JARED LEVY: How did you feel about the concert tonight?

TOOTS HIBBERT: I’m filled with energy; a lot of energy! Arrrr. [flexes muscles] We are working hard every night. We really appreciate when you guys say many thanks, because we put in more than 100 percent. When we’re tired, we put in more.

LEVY: It’s impressive. You’re in great shape. How do you stay in such good shape while you’re on the road?

HIBBERT: I do the gym, but I do everything. I do the hully gully and I do the hoochie coochie. [laughs]

LEVY: [laughs] What’s the plan for this year?

HIBBERT: I’m going to release a lot of music: original stuff. It’s going to be rock-‘n’-roll, hard rock, ska, reggae, blues, and gospel. I’m a bass player; I play the bass. I also play the guitar and keyboard. I play everything. I’m an arranger and a producer. I have my own studio.

LEVY: Are you doing any music festivals this summer?

HIBBERT: I do a lot of music festivals. I just finished with something today, but I’m going to have a lot more to do. A lot more.

LEVY: Do you have plans to collaborate with any other musicians?

HIBBERT: I want to collaborate with a lot of rock artists, guys like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, and, as usual, Willie Nelson. A lot of great guys. Also, JJ Grey. I may be collaborating with Dave Matthews [Band], because they are my friends. Everybody wants to collaborate with me. I was going to collaborate with Whitney [Houston], but she died. Very sad, man. We were very good friends.

LEVY: Are there any young artists that you’ve taken under your wing? Any new, up-and-coming reggae artists?

HIBBERT: A lot of great artists. Artists like my daughter Leba [Hibbert], my friend Chantelle [Ernandez], and my other friend Latoya [Hall-Downer]. And, other artists in Jamaica that do gospel, like my next daughter Jenieve [Hibbert Bailey]. There are a lot of great artists in Jamaica—up-and-coming artists—that I influence. They listen to me and they are going to make it, man. When I sit down, they can stand up.

LEVY: How do you feel about reggae these days? Do you feel positive about the genre?

HIBBERT: My kind?

LEVY: Yeah . . .

HIBBERT: I feel positive about what I do. And, whoever is doing reggae, they have to have positive words and no negativity. They have to be positive. Yes, if you call it reggae, and it is negative words, it is not reggae. You could call it streggae, but not reggae, because reggae brings positive words. And, intellectual words. No nursery rhymes. Nothing like that, of that kind. You have to be logical and use international words so people can relate to reggae music. I’m the inventor of the word reggae music. I’m the one who coined the word reggae. So, whatever I put out on my label – my label called D & F [Music] – it has to be positive.

LEVY: Is that what reggae means to you? A positive message?

HIBBERT: A message of consolation; a message of salvation. The youth are going to the school and they have to listen to the words. The parents have to listen to the words. God has to listen to the words. So, we have to make it positive. If you sing nursery rhymes, it is nothing. You just blow up tomorrow, and the record dies at the same time. But if you give positive words, that song lives forever.

LEVY: Is that why you think you have multiple generations of fans?

HIBBERT: The people always support me. If they come to see my show, they never forget me. They are very proud of me. Are you proud of me?

LEVY: I’m proud of you. [laughs]

HIBBERT: [laughs] I’m never proud of myself. No. People are always proud of me, but I think people can always be greater than me. People call me great; I don’t think that I’m great. But they say, “You are the inventor for the word reggae, you are great.” And I have to say, “Okay, thank you.”

LEVY: Do you still feel like you have a lot to accomplish?

HIBBERT: A lot. I’m not going away now; I’m not going to die. If I’m going to die, it won’t be now. So, I’m not going to limit myself. I will keep on going while I have the strength.

TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS WILL BE PLAYING AT BROOKLYN BOWL TOMORROW NIGHT. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.