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The Rise of Reggae and the influence of Toots and the Maytals.

Matthew Sherman

Reggae music is one of the world’s few living folk music’s. It has remained incredibly popular and spontaneously generated by people’s experiences, emotions and traditions. Since it’s birth reggae music has been Jamaica’s emotional outlet, to express thoughts and feelings about life, love and religion. These popular sounds have been created without the interference of outside multinational markets, press agents and spin doctors. Reggae music is created with incredible amounts of soul and pride. It is more than just music, it is a way of life for those who live in Jamaica and many others around the world.

Reggae music is soulful entertainment in Jamaica today, it’s a powerful social force that represents the pressures of everyday life putting them into words that describe, reveal and persuade the people that listen to its powerful messages. The music originated from confrontation and struggle, it’s based on freedom and never giving up. Politicians have been know to use reggae music as the central part of their campaigns. Prime Ministers have had songwriters create songs for their political campaigns, knowing full well that this music can easily

bring crowds of people together, while uniting a country, and political party at the same time.

The music of Jamaica began five centuries ago, when Columbus colonized the land of the Arawak Indians. This dates the start of oppression by first the Spanish and then the English in this area of the Caribbean. Blacks were brought in as slaves by the English, and although Jamaica has had it's independence since 1963, the tension of authority and control still reigns. Jamaica is a story of injustice, international influence, ineffective governing, and unequal distribution of wealth; all of these elements provide a solid base for the theme of oppression and the need for a revolution and redemption in Jamaican music. Reggae in particular reflects these injustices, and the feelings, needs and desires to change the lifestyle that Jamaicans have historically lived.

Reggae music has two meanings. It’s generic name for all Jamaican popular music since 1960 (West Indian style of music with a strongly accented subsidiary beat, according to the Oxford dictionary) Reggae can also refer to the particular beat that was extremely popular in Jamaica from around 1969 to 1983. Jamaican music can be divided into four areas that carry their own distinctive beat. (ska, rocksteady, reggae and dancehall) Each of these types of music had their own

individual styles: Ska dated around 1960 to 1966, rocksteady was from 1966 to 1968. Reggae was from 1969 to 1983, during this time period reggae had two time periods, "early reggae," from 1969 to 1974, and "roots reggae," was from about 1975 to 1983. From 1983 until now the music has been called dance hall. Outside of Jamaica dance hall is referred to as "dub," or "ragga," which refers to the heavy bass that is created by mixing out other instruments and leaving the drum and bass only All of these different forms of reggae have different beats.

The names and styles of reggae have changed over the years but the traditions and intentions of the music has not. Reggae music has grown and developed from the people and the experience of Jamaican like. The amazing thing about this style of music is that it stretches the globe with it’s popularity and is the only music not of European and American origin that is listened to in every country on earth. In modern time it is the first third world nation that is sharing its culture to such a diverse culture. I am fascinated at the fact that such a small, impoverished country could have created a music style that is so popular around the globe, with out the aid of corporate hype or planning committees.

Reggae music has been used as inspiration for many third world liberation movements. Bob Marley was honored by Zimbabwe’s 1980 Independence celebration because his music had given inspiration to freedom fighters in the bush. Chinese students used the Wailers’ "Get up stand up" as their marching song in the 1989 Tienanmen Square demonstrations. In the Nicaraguan civil war Marley’s music was popular with both the "Contras" and "Sandanistas" who were fighting oppression. And finally another example of how reggae music has stretched out across the world and affected so many people is when the Berlin Wall fell, people stood at the fallen rubble and sang, " Three little birds," for hours. This music has acted to unify the communal activities when threatening forces are present. The export of Reggae music has earned Jamaica an exceptional global presence. Not other country of comparable size has had such an impact on international pop culture.

Reggae is based on the everyday life experiences of life. It seemes that the greatest and most popular reggae songs were written before 1975 before the music became so popular world wide. When reggae music became commercially available artists would spend a great deal of their time traveling overseas touring. This practice diminished contact with their roots, and some say, a consequent loss of instinctive vigor.

I believe that one of the most influential reggae bands, and my personal favorite is Toots and the Maytals. This band was formed in the early sixties, and started a vibe that would energize the entire island of Jamaica. Toots and the Maytals used early sixties ska, rock steady styles and three-part harmonies to create a distinctive sound that would rock Jamaica, and spread interest of Reggae music around the world.

Toots and the Maytals singing styles were unique in the fact that during the early 1960’s many Jamaican artists were trying to imitate American accents in their music. Toots sang is what is called, "the broadest patois," which is singing like the common man spoke. The Maytals also had a distinctive style of response interplay of lead and backup singers. This style is found in most African derived music forms, and the use of this style gave the Maytals a very distinctive sound of energy and exuberance. Many fans of the Maytals feel that this music captures the lost innocence of the sixties which is something that many Jamaicans still yearn for.

The early sixties there were very few records that were made by Jamaican artists, and the few that were made were covers of popular American R&B. Toots Hibbert, has been referred to as the creator of "Reggae music," as well as the man who musically unified Jamaica during the early 1960’s. The Maytals music had a clear modern feeling but still held onto Jamaican rural traditions. This sound helped the Maytals become the biggest selling group that Jamaica had seen to date in the mid 60’s. Toots and the Maytals were the most successful and popular music group that Jamaica had ever seen.

Frederick "Toots" Hibbert is said to be one of the most soulful singers ever to have come out of Jamaica. Toots began his climb to the top of Jamaican music when he left the countryside of rural Jamaica and single-handedly open and closed an entire genre in music. Part preacher, visionary, song writer and Jamaican Soul Man, Toots is a timeless, legendary, and distinctly unique musical force who has given monumental joy and epic groove-inspiration to countless individuals. His father preached in church and Toots began to sing with his four brothers and three sisters, finding his voice in the Jamaican rural church. In his early teens, Toots, like so many other "country boys," left home and headed for Kingston.

In town, Toots found employment in a barber shop and impressed passers by with his vocal talents. The refined, urban visions of Ray Charles and Otis Redding hit Toots, and he loved what he heard. The soul/gospel seeds had been sewn. Also impressed were Kingston mates

Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and Nathaniel "Jerry" Mathais. Jerry, from the parish of Portland on the eastern side of the island, had some singing experience, having cut "Crazy Girl" for producer Duke Reid in 1958. The three decided they would form a trio with Toots taking care of the lead. The name of the new group sounded like a flower but was really a

reference to his home town of May Pen. In 1963, the music of the island was no longer imported American R’ n B and ballads, nor

Mento (calypso). Ska was the style that was currently rocking Kingston. It had evolved out of a fusion of these two elements, with jazz. That same year the Maytals queued in with other eager youth for an audition at Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd’s Studio One. With a little help from Coxsone's then A&R man Lee Perry, the Maytals passed the audition, and into the studio they went.

Leaving Studio One, the group were offered a recording contract by singer, producer and amateur boxer Cecil "Prince Buster" Campbell, who produced "Dog War," "Pain in My Belly," and "Little Flea" (amongst others) by the group as well as their famous "Broadway Jungle," which makes reference to their experience with Studio One. "We were in the jungle, at the hands of a man, now we’re out of the jungle, let’s go to Broadway…" Broadway was coming, but not in 1964. Their sojourn with Prince Buster was short-lived, and in the same year they had found a new label and management in the form of Byron Lee. Lee was the bandleader of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, which did the hotel and tourist circuit both in Jamaica as well as throughout the Caribbean and abroad. Lee formed a label, BMN, which reportedly stood for Byron Lee,

the Maytals, and Lee’s partner, Ronnie Nasralla. With Byron Lee, the Maytals created second LP (a first for a ska vocal trio), as well as

winning the first annual Jamaica Festival Song Competition of 1966 with the Latin-flavored "Bam Bam."

As ska gave way to the slower, cooler Rocksteady beat in 1966, The Maytals were going to a show in Ochos Rios, on Honda motor bikes. Jerry had Raleigh on his bike and was pulled over by the police. Toots went to the station to bail out, where he was instructed by the police to go and get their manager, Ronnie Nasralla. Toots left his luggage at the station and upon his arrival back at the station the police said that they found ganja in his luggage. Toots, had the misfortune of being framed on a trumped-up ganja charge. Toots insists that there are personal reasons why this occurred. Toots spent 18 months at Tamarind Farm, where he wrote one of the most famous reggae song in music history. He wrote "54-40" to let people know that he was innocent. Later Toots found out that the arrest was planned by a promoter to keep him from going on tour to England.

"54-46," is a song about a man unjustly imprisoned, robbed of his humanity and reduced to a number. The song is about Toots ability to grow and thrive amidst the hardships of injustice. Toots turned his time behind bars, right down to his prison number, to his advantage, with the rocksteady smash "54-46, That’s My Number," a giant seller for himself and his new label, Beverly’s records. The Maytals greeted Toots from his prison release with "Reborn," in which they belt out "I’m glad to see you free again." "54-46," is one of my personal favorite reggae songs, and has proven to be an incredible motivator for the Jamaican people who have endured the brutalities of slavery and retained their dignity and self worth. The creation of this song has been seen as reggaes finest moment. And with out the injustice of Toots imprisonment the song would have never have been.

In the winter of 1968, the cool rocksteady beat gave way to a faster, brighter, more danceable sound. Reggae was born. Toots heralded the new sound with the seminal, complex groove monster "Do the Reggae" advertising "the new dance, going around the town." Toots wanted "to do the Reggae, with you!" Already a great song writer reflecting life's simple turn of events, as the case with the very sweet "Sweet and Dandy," one could see within Toots an increasingly growing respect for Rastafarianism, which was not usually acknowledged verbally in Jamaican popular music. In "Sun, Moon and Star" (1969) Toots mentions Haile Selassie's arrival in Jamaica ("Ten thousand people come to see and admire the plane") and also slips in "Jah Rastafari," which was fairly radical for a Jamaican single in 1969. From '69 to '71, Toots could do no wrong recording for Leslie Kong. With the consistent nucleus of musicians, the Beverley’s All-Stars (Jackie Jackson, Winston Wright, Hux Brown, Rad Bryan, Paul Douglas and Winston Grennan) and the Maytals’ brilliant harmonizing, Toots wrote and sang his unmistakable voice about every subject imaginable. He was also gaining exposure in the UK -recordings from 1969 and ’70 were licensed to Trojan records, who issued two more albums, "Monkey Man" (1969) and "From the Roots" (1970), both of which did very well in the UK and helped Toots gain a following there.

In 1971, the 38 year old Kong died of a heart attack, and Kong’s associate Warrick Lyn took over Toots’ management. Toots took the song competition yet again in 1972 with "Pomp and Pride," and was included on the album, "Slatyam Stoot," which was named after the bands backwards title. 1973 was to prove a good year for Toots, he now realized what they did with that footage of him doing "Sweet and Dandy." He, and thousands of other Jamaicans, saw himself on the big screen in The Harder They Come, the first Jamaican feature film ever made. The 1972 release of this movie introduced the Maytals to the U.S.; the film's soundtrack featured "Sweet and Dandy" and "Pressure Drop." Along with Bob Marley and the Wailers’ two first albums, was forcing Americans to sit up, take note of that volatile little island in the sun which previously

was just a tourist destination. This movie turned white middle class kids onto reggae music and launched artists like Toots and the Maytals,

Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley and the Wailers into international stardom.

In 1975, Toots and the Maytals, signed their first major contract with Island Records. Island released Funky Kingston--a collection from Trojan's Funky Kingston and In The Dark--which contained the Maytals' unique interpretation of John Denver's "Country Roads," in which "West Virginia" became "West Jamaica." Also in 1975 Toots and the Maytals made their first tour of the U.S., opening shows for the Who. The tour was badly planned, and the Maytals could never match Bob Marley's or Peter Tosh's popularity. Toots went solo in 1982, although he continued to tour as Toots and the Maytals.

Toots’s rough ‘n’ tough vocals make him a singers singer. He was a favorite of the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. His peers regularly check Toots’ live shows to study his high voltage delivery. Nineties star Shabba Ranks owes much of his dynamic stage presence to the fervor of his musical forefather. Toots is responsible for being the first to spin the word reggae into music with his 1968 dance classic, "Do the Reggae." It was Toot’s Reggae Got Soul in 1973 that created a tight bond between

Jamacian music and American R&B. Funky Kingston articulated the similarities between downtown Kingston and Harlem.

Many music historians agree that the word reggae first appeared in 1968 by Toots and the Maytals. At the time, "reggae" was simply the latest in a series of dance crazes to hit Jamaica, a slower, more beat heavy, bass dominated rhythm than ska and rock-steady. The styles that had swept the nation before reggae had come into its own. More than three decades have passed, and reggae music is becoming increasingly more popular. Toots once explained to writers Stephen Davis and Peter Simon in their book Reggae Bloodlines what the meaning of Reggae is. He said that, "just mean comin’ from the people….comin’ from the majority. When you say reggae you mean regular, majority."

In the seventies Rasta Far I became a calling card for Jamaican musical artists and the label’s marketing them. Dreadlocked lion revolutionaries like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh were the new international selling image; one that Toots, a "bald head" never fit into, though he was just as real an expression of Jamaica. Few artists had the confidence to, "Nice it up" like Toots, who loved to express a simple

irie feeling in tracks like "Spend the Weekend" and "You know who I am."

Toots and the Maytals are by far one of my favorite reggae music artists of all time. I admire his high energy performances and passion for his music. Toots has been able to remain true to his roots, but at the same time move forward and advance with time. Toots and his music has aged gracefully over time and seems to be reaching a wider variety of fans every year. I can remember a personal experience that happened to me last year. I had learned of Toots and the Maytals and had become increasingly enthusiastic about the band only three short years ago. During last summer I would four-wheel out onto the beaches of Cape Cod and spend the entire day there with about 25 friends that had also driven out for the day. We would cook out, swim, surf and drink beer on the beach all day. I would usually take the speakers out and place them on my roof so that we could listen to music for the day. Through out the day I would frequently put on a Toots and the Maytals CD. It was usually Toots Live, or The Very Best of the Maytals. Then through out the day most of my friends would come over to me and ask who we were listing to and where they could find the CD. We went out about twenty times that summer and when the grill lit up, and a few rounds of beer had been consumed, Toots and the Maytals had become the most frequently requested album of the summer. The combination of their soulful singing and sweet harmony brings a special energy to the music. Toots and the Maytals won’t fail to bring a smile to your face and light a fire under your feet. Toots and the Maytals will never be as popular as Bob Marley or Peter Tosh, but they will always be known as the band that started a special type of music that is enjoyed world wide. Toots has been able to form a strong bond with the island of Jamaica and has helped to develop Jamaican music and bring it to another level. Toots has been able to bring those feelings to many others outside of the Island community. I will be the first person to admit that I have never been to Kingston or Jamaica, and that I really have never experienced any of the life styles, oppressions and feelings that Toots has. But I can say that I get and good feeling of what those emotions, hardships and feeling are really like from listing to Toots music. There is nothing but a positive vibe and a true feeling of energy that I feel when I listen to Toots and the Maytals. And this is why I feel that this band was worth writing a paper about.



Toots and the Maytals:

Yes I was from before

Christopher Columbus

And I was from before

The Arawak Indians

Trod in creation

Before this nation

I’ll always remember

And I never weary yet

"Never Get Weary"

Scratch Perry on reggae music:

"The rhythm is from the ghetto and the music is from the streets."

-Scratch Perry


Toots and the Maytals: Formed 1962, Kingston, Jamaica:

     Frederick "Toots" Hibbert (b. 1946, Maypen, Jam.), lead vocals

     Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias (b. ca. 1945, Jam.), harmony vocals

     Ralphus "Raleigh" Gordon (b. ca. 1945, Jam.), harmony vocals


                 1971- Monkey Man (Trojan)
                 1972- From the Roots
                 1973- Funky Kingston
                 1974- In The Dark    
                 1975- Funky Kingston (Island)
                 1976- Reggae Got Soul
                 1978- The Maytals (State)
                 1979- The Best of Toots and the Maytals (Trojan)
                 1979- Pass the Pipe (Island)
                 1980- Just Like That
                 1981- Live! (Matthias; Gordon)
                 1982- Knockout (Mango)
                 1984- Reggae Greats: Toots and the Maytals
                 1988- Toots in Memphis


Work Cited:

Middleton, Darren, This is how we flow, Chanting Down Babylon. University of South Carolina, 1999.

Scanlon, Paul, Reporting the Rolling Stone Style, The Wild Side of Paradise. Straight Arrow Publisher, 1977.

Chang, Kevin and Chen, Wayne, Reggae Routs, The Story of Jamacian Music. Temple University Press USA, 1998.

Spencer, Peter, World Beat, A listners guide to Contemporary World Music. Spencer, 1992.

Barrett, Leonard, The Rastafartans. Beacon Press Books, 1997.

Barrow, Steve, and Dalton, Peter. Reggae: The Rough Guide. Ed. Jonathan Buckley. London, England: Rough Guides Ltd, 1997.

Audio References:

Toots and the Maytals, Live. 1980 Island Records.

Toots and the Maytals, Time Tough The Anthology. 1996 Island Records.

The Very Best of Toots and the Maytals, Music Club.

Video References:

Roots, Rock, Reggae. Prod/Dir: Jeremy Marre. Harcourt Films/Shananchie Records, 1988.

Web Sites: Toots History Reggae Source Sweet Toots Toots Article Jamaican Music Roots Reggae Reggae Site