In His Final Interview, Toots Hibbert Reconnects With Ziggy Marley

On September 11, 2020, the world lost a reggae legend in Toots Hibbert, the Jamaican singer-songwriter and leader of Toots and the Maytals. His passing came shortly after the release of Got To Be Tough (Trojan Jamaica/BMG), the band’s first studio release in a decade. The first album that Toots had produced himself, Got To Be Tough is an uptempo ode to family, freedom, and resilience. Carrying the reggae torch, Ziggy Marley, a lifelong friend and protegé of Toots, joins him for a rendition of his father Bob’s classic, “Three Little Birds.” Marley first met Hibbert at 56 Hope Road, the studio and home where his father spent most of his life; in “Punky Reggae Party,” Bob sings, “the Maytals will be there,” referring to group gatherings with Toots and the band. Ziggy, too, is set to release an album, More Family Time, which brings together friends (Sheryl Crow, Tom Morello, Busta Rhymes) and, naturally, family (his brother Stephen, four of his seven children, and his puppy Romeo.) In Toots’s final interview, he spoke with Ziggy over the phone from Jamaica about music, spirituality, and the children. 

Toots Hibbert was a father figure to me. I am so thankful for the memories, and more. He was so full of life. What a radiant energy that gave joy and happiness. When you were around him, you can’t help but feel blessed. For me, he was a connection to my roots to the foundation. There was always a joy when Toots and I crossed paths. There were many times throughout my childhood to my manhood that I was humbled to be around his greatness, his soul, his life force. Today, something is missing in this realm and I can feel it, a void in the connection. And I know that I am not alone, for those who truly knew this man know he was more than man. We will always miss his presence here on Earth. I will never forget him, and I will always cherish the last time we spoke. R.I.P. to the mighty and powerful Nyah Fyah Ball. Jah Rastafari! —ZIGGY MARLEY

Toots Hibbert in 2017. Photo by Hugh Wright.


TOOTS: Hello, my nephew!

ZIGGY: What up, father?

TOOTS: It’s good to hear your voice, man.

ZIGGY: Yes, man. Good. Where you deh?

TOOTS: I’m in Jamaica still, in my little studio.

ZIGGY: So wah gwaan? Everything alright? Everything cool down there? You keep safe?

TOOTS: So far. It’s not cool enough, but cool.

ZIGGY: Me hear you. Me just listen to “Warning Warning” a little while ago.

TOOTS: Your kind of vibes. Me and you have the same vibes, you know that.

ZIGGY: Which part you record at?

TOOTS: In my little studio in Jamaica at my home. It’s called Reggae Center. Any time I want to go in, I can go in and create, edit and play instruments myself. I have a good time doing that, one by one. I arrange and create as usual, and then I get Sly [Dunbar] to redo my drumming. And by then, we’re at the same kind of vibe.

ZIGGY: So this the first album in how long? You didn’t put out an album in so long!

TOOTS: Yeah. About ten years.

ZIGGY: Long time, man.

TOOTS: Yes. Me and you, we worked on this track together quite a while, and through me and your father, so close and things, we just decided to do this, and I was excited when you put your input in it for me. Nuff respect and love, man.

ZIGGY: Weh we did deh? Have some deh, a long time that you was in L.A., right?

TOOTS: L.A., yeah man.

ZIGGY: Yeah, me remember that.

TOOTS: Yes. Me, you and Mike, you know?

ZIGGY: Yeah, the touring. The touring thing get scratch out this year though, eh?

TOOTS: Yeah, the touring thing. It’s scratch out because of Babylon system. I don’t think Jah have anything to do with it. I don’t know. But, He always gives us the strength to carry on, Jah the Almighty. So we will have to carry on, you know? We’ll carry on. And overcome.

Toots and the Maytals in 1968. Back catalogue images courtesy Trojan/BMG.

ZIGGY: You have any more guests ‘pon the album?

TOOTS: We have Ringo and we have Zak [Starkey].

ZIGGY: Ringo from… Ringo who? De Beatles? De Beatles drummer?

TOOTS: Yeah. Ringo [Starr] plays a little percussion. I’m a true guitar person, but I had asked Zak for his input because he’s a cool guy. The songs are from way back, three years ago and more, and then Zak came on board and did what he does with the songs. And Sly dub on his drums and so forth, because it’s Sly Dunbar, you know? He’s a great guy, so we’re glad to have him.

ZIGGY: I can’t believe that it’s been ten years.

TOOTS: Yeah. Ten years, man.

ZIGGY: Well me definitely haffa go support it, push it out deh. Me a just tell my youth deh mek we line up some posts and tings for support wha’gwaan cause we have to. Because you’re the father. You’re the father right now.

TOOTS: I really appreciate. Any time you call me to do the thing, you know me there!

ZIGGY: Me have to just shout ya up.

TOOTS: We have more musical things to do together. We have more of my music that I would want you to deal with. But not let time go by, save it for the right time.

ZIGGY: Yes, father. Yeah man, respect. Mek me know. How much songs deh pon the new record?

TOOTS: About ten.

ZIGGY: [Singing] “Giving you a warning, don’t take it for granted.”

TOOTS: Yeah, that one. “That one deh warning.” That’s right. You must have something on the album that you would like. I know you know good music. My brotha. It’s mostly family on it, like you and me man. [Anyone on it] should be like us. Should be coming from your father and the mission. It’s good to talk and to communicate with each other.

ZIGGY: So good to hear your voice, father. I mean, it’s just like a great joy. You come from so far man, I mean, cho! It’s just a treasure. Valuable! Very valuable. People need to understand that.

TOOTS: God bless you, man. It’s important to me, too.

ZIGGY: So you never did the viral thing, dem Toots?

TOOTS: No. I mean, we can, but you know, it would be deeper than that. Downloading the days of everything deep, you know? Everybody could think about those things, but it’s not something to think about. It’s not something to sing about.

ZIGGY: We are not touring this year, but we play some song and put it up on the internet and people have some little thing there. People get to see us still, even though we can’t tour. People can still get to share through the internet and everything there. I feel like we haffa do some of dem things for fans who can’t see us face-to-face. Me a love to see dat.

TOOTS: Never really thought of it, but I seen you on TV, and you were talking about it. You were playing the guitar wicked wicked wicked. So you think we should write a song about it?

ZIGGY: Yeah, man. I mean, I don’t know any other way to get it out so that it gets out in front of people now without going online. That’s the next way, with technology and things. To let it out to the people in that way.

TOOTS: I can create that thing and send it to you, you know. And you can do your part.

ZIGGY: Yeah, man. I’ll do it.

TOOTS: I’ll probably sing something about this corona thing.

ZIGGY: More Family Time. We wrote them songs for the children. You were on the first one. “Take me to Jamaica…”

TOOTS: I love that tune. The album that you’re coming out with now that you’re going to release—it’s going to be great because it’s all about family. It’s a good follow-up.

ZIGGY: I just feel like the children them, you know. Especially now. ‘Cause the children, them a feel it too. All what a gwaan.

TOOTS: Bad bad bad bad bad.

ZIGGY: They go through some things.

TOOTS: Worse than big people because they’re young and need many good lessons and good treatment. There is a lot of controversy about children, but we do what we can do and let the younger generation follow.

ZIGGY: Yeah. The music is important right now, more important for people to hear. But me really don’t wanna talk about me, nah me prefer more to talk about you, to hear what you have going on. Me more interested in you right now. What me a talk about me for? Me talk to one of the greatest in the world!

TOOTS: Never go back from your roots where you’re coming from. We have got to talk already, and we have a good time. But the important thing is the future. There will be a video, man. Now you think about the future because we can talk about that old things. Because we in nations against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms. Churches against churches. What is the world coming to? Everything they do is just brutal. That’s another song on the album, too—one of them is called “Just Brutal.”

ZIGGY: When you just say that, me a day, “That sound like a good song.”

TOOTS: But you’re not like the children. You know what is good from what is bad and you know what is great and what’s not great. That’s how we know it. Magical.

ZIGGY: I’m sorry, did you talk to someone?

TOOTS: No, sir. You’re the only one, the special one that can tell me it’s real for the first time. Artist and artist must meditate and be as one. The way you write yourself. We raise up, and the next generation doing everything like we rise up and stand up. Stand up for them rights as one nation and God’s people. I was watching a lady sing named Bonnie Raitt. She sang something on the True Love album. Eventually, we go on the road. I tell her that, “No, this is when I will be not just me ‘pon the road, but we will be coming together.” We just want to talk about music. We don’t want to go to their side, as their side is just politics. We just want to talk about music.

ZIGGY: True that, Toots. I hear you. That’s good advice for me, too. It’s just about music, don’t bother get into their thing. Me like that. So, you keep healthy and everything? You’re good?

TOOTS: Yeah, man. I keep healthy as usual.

ZIGGY: You have to make sure of that, you know.

TOOTS: Well, yes. More healthy now, because of this virus that’s going around. You and me have to be more peculiar. Just survive. You have to have the conscious way. Spirituality. You have to go into the Old Testament and get certain psalms. We say them all the time, because it can be very serious.

ZIGGY: True thing, man. It’s nice to hear that, though.

TOOTS: That’s why we need it. We need to have an album like yours and an album like mine to tell a story for the younger generation to learn. And they have to observe singers like you, singers like meself, from original father coming way back up to other great singers from Jamaica, and from all over the world. People have to come together and do the right thing and try to make people know how good it can be. Everybody just know bad. We have to let them know good. We have to let them know how good it can be.

ZIGGY: Get them up, teacher! You inspire me, man. You give me some good vibes right now. What you talking about—true, true, true. You give me the right talk right now. Give thanks. You have the wisdom. As me said, me don’t need to talk about myself right now. Me just need to listen to you. You come from all of dem wisdom from now and the future. That tings that me respect and love. You’re my father figure, Toots. You’re my father figure.

TOOTS: I’m the old foundation and you are the young foundation, so put them together and they can be strong. Stronger than strong.

ZIGGY: That’s how it goes. For real.

TOOTS: Love it, man.

ZIGGY: We need to link up again, man, ’cause what I feel from you right now, it’s a blessing.

TOOTS: We have the same desire. I know you from when you was much younger. I’d hold you hand when you were a little baby. There’s your father. I watched you grow. I see the talent of all of your brothers, and I respect the talent of them. But you’re first. You come first. You really doing a good work for the almighty because you not singing no stupidness. We have things of cultural knowledge, wisdom, and then everything else come.

ZIGGY: My father and you, our inspiration. You inspire we to do what we do as my generations. When I was young, your album was in the house long time. And me a say, “A who this? How the man have so much energy?”

TOOTS: Yeah, man. I am your uncle.

ZIGGY: Oh, man. Continue the inspiration.

TOOTS: Yes. Because right now I have your album in my house also. And your father’s album. Everybody knows.

ZIGGY: Good to hear from you, father. Keep safe and keep healthy. Stay strong. Love you, Toots. Thank you, brother.

TOOTS: Yes, I’ll try. Love, love.