September 12, 2020
By blending gospel and R&B into nascent reggae music, the late Singer became a cornerstone of Jamaican culture alongside his peer Bob Marley
Toots Hibberts pure, powerful voice carried reggae to the world | Alexis Petridis
Bob Marley and the Wailers were the band who transformed reggae from a cult phenomenon outside of its homeland. But it was the Wailers’ rivals, Toots and the Maytals – another vocal trio that expanded to a full band – who were, at least initially, thought most likely to cross over.
And why not? 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.
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