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Artist Hall of Fame

Toots & The MaytalsText by Harry Hawks

The Maytals created a music, “there was nothing else like it on earth”, that could only have been created by Jamaicans in Jamaica; other vocalists and vocal groups often attempted to sound like their American counterparts but The Maytals paved the way for Jamaican singers to sound like Jamaicans.
Date Added: Jul 5, 2013, Date Updated: Aug 1, 2018 Copyright (C) 2018 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Members:Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert
Nathaniel 'Jerry' McCarthy
Henry 'Raleigh' Gordon
1963 -
Place of Establishment: Kingston
Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Maytals
"These youngsters are known in private life as Frederick Hibbert, the lead singer age 19, Henry Gordon age 27 and Nathaniel McCarthy age 25 and they are all Jamaicans." Norma Dodd

Before the arrival on the Kingston scene of Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert, Henry 'Raleigh' Gordon and Nathaniel 'Jerry' McCarthy (also known as Matthias) Jamaican music, and Jamaican vocal music in particular, was often little more than a regional version of American rhythm & blues largely comprised of cover versions of American and South American records. During the late fifties and early sixties the shuffle, boogie and then ska instrumental recordings rapidly developed their own identity. In 1966 the frantic beat slowed down to the cool, elegant pace of rock steady and the vocalists stepped forward into the limelight. However, The Maytals never found any problems at all singing with a raucous ska backing. Toots' vibrant, strident vocals were invariably more than enough to dominate anything that The Skatalites could conjure up and, if a break did appear Jerry and Raleigh would immediately fill it. There were never any gaps in their zinc fence of sound and the song writing talents of Toots Hibbert, who wrote as fluently as he sang, incorporated anything and everything as primary sources of inspiration.

"The Maytals, definitely the most exciting group of singers ever to come out of Jamaica, lived and spent most of their lives in Western Kingston......with a style and language almost of their own......

These compositions are actually taken from genuine incidents out of their lives, and in view of this, they are able to apply true 'soul' to each one. It is no wonder that this group is idolised and worshipped by many entertainers today." The Sensational Maytals

The Maytals, "Raleigh came up with the name for the group", came together in 1962 in May Pen at the start of the ska era. "The Maytals are a versatile group, whose individual members are all members of a church choir" and their first recordings for Coxsone Dodd(CS Dodd) at Studio One included 'Six And Seven Books Of Moses' and 'Hallelujah' and continued in the Gospel tradition translating the fervent, devotional approach of their Baptist church services into their secular music.

But after a series of hit records the group parted company with Studio One over financial disagreements and began to work for Coxsone's arch rival and former employee Prince Buster. They voiced their dissatisfaction "we're out of the jungle. We're going to Broadway... " in an interpretation of the traditional Jamaican folk song 'Dog War A Matches Lane' known rather confusingly by three different titles: 'Jamaica Ska' on Wildbells in Jamaica, 'Dog War' on Blue Beat, and 'Broadway Jungle' as The Flames on Island on the UK releases. Many of their records during this early formative period were credited to The Flames or The Vikings as Toots later explained:

"Promoters in Jamaica called us all kind of different names because they didn't want us to get our royalties." Toots Hibbert

Their stay with Prince Buster proved to be short lived and they moved on again to record with bandleader Byron Lee. The Maytals made Jamaican musical history in 1964 when both sides of one seven inch release on the BMN label, 'Daddy' and 'It's You', remained on the charts for six months and became separate Number Ones on the Jamaican Hit Parade. In 1966 they won the inaugural Festival Song Contest with 'Bam Bam', a record which has now become a Jamaican standard. The original rhythm, totally out of step with then current trends, has been versioned over time and time again. Their work with Byron Lee was superbly showcased on the classical 'The Sensational Maytals' album released on WIRL in 1965.

Toots' imprisonment from 1966 until 1968 for possession of ganja was not only a personal tragedy but also created a gaping hole in the musical scene that many lesser vocal groups stepped forward to fill. None could match the creativity and consistency of The Maytals.

"....it was obvious that their phrasing and dynamic delivery had earned unreserved approval....these captured the heart of listeners and secured a position on the public list of favourite singers. The Maytals and their styling changed the entire course of the recording business......this set off strings of imitations that still persist, because groups are still trying to capture the original sound. Imitation may well be the most sincere form of flattery, but it is no fair substitute for talent." Norma Dodd

Their first release after Toots was released from prison was sung over one of the most enduring rock steady into reggae bass lines in the history of Jamaican music. '54 46 Was My Number' was based on Toots' prison experiences: "First thing they say son. Give me your number now...." and released on Leslie Kong's Beverleys label. But their long and fruitful relationship with Leslie Kong did not start auspiciously and they were turned down by Derrick Morgan at their initial audition.

"Derrick Morgan was a singer but he also selected the artists for Beverleys... Derrick was the man at Beverleys... He turned The Maytals down once and then he admitted that he'd made a mistake and they went back and worked together. Heh, heh, heh... it shows anybody can make a mistake. We still laugh about it. He said Toots sounded too much like a pocomania singer!" Bunny Striker Lee

The record proved to be a huge hit and they would later return to the theme with '54 46 Was My Number'. The Maytals stayed with Leslie Kong until his tragic and untimely death from a heart attack in 1971. The contribution of Beverleys Records to the history of Jamaican music often tends to be overlooked but Leslie Kong's artists included not only The Maytals but also Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers, Derrick Morgan and Jimmy Cliff and he enjoyed an unparalleled run of hits throughout the sixties and early seventies. He was the first to break the sound of young Jamaica internationally with Desmond Dekker's 'Shanty Town/007' but his productions are somehow now deemed not 'authentic' enough for today's reggae historians. He was the first producer to popularise Jamaican music outside of its immediate target audience and he deserves far better; his records were not weak pastiches aimed at a crossover audience but superb slices of Jamaican life and art that became international successes without being compromised in any way.

Consequently The Maytals recordings with Leslie Kong are still considered to be 'unfashionable' despite forming one of the cornerstones of Jamaican musical history. Their work together on a series of essential seven inch singles and long players is a summation of the entire reggae era from 1968 to 1971. The Maytals were among the first to use reggae in a song title with 'Do The Reggay' in 1968, they won the Festival Song Contest again in 1969 with 'Sweet And Dandy', 'Monkey Man' narrowly missed a place in the UK National Charts and songs such as 'Day And Night' and 'Pressure Drop' sound every bit as thrilling today as they did at the time.

In 1972 they returned to Byron Lee at his revitalised Dynamic Sounds and won the Festival Song Contest for an unprecedented third time with 'Pomps And Pride'. Followers of reggae always assumed that when the music finally broke overground... and everyone knew that it eventually had to... that The Maytals would be at the forefront of the final acceptance. However, as everybody now knows, it was Bob Marley & The Wailers who crossed over first. There is an oft-repeated story that alleges that Chris Blackwell signed Bob Marley & The Wailers because he was unable to obtain The Maytals' signatures at the time... although he did eventually sign The Maytals to Island Records.

Now known as Toots & The Maytals, for the first time in fourteen years of recording, they began to establish a reputation outside of the reggae audience with their new work for Dynamic Sounds on long players such as 'Funky Kingston' and 'In The Dark'. Their 1976 release on Island, 'Reggae Got Soul', was their biggest selling album to date and took them into the UK album charts for the first time. Few recordings are able to capture the spontaneity and the atmosphere of a live performance but, in 1980 in an attempt to make the Guinness Book Of Records, a show recorded at London's Hammersmith Palais, 'Toots Live', was mixed, mastered and pressed overnight and was available at the next night's concert in Coventry.

The Maytals are undisputed giants of Jamaican music. Toots Hibbert continues to tour and his concerts are truly mesmerising occasions for both the power and majesty of his voice and imposing stage presence, accrued over half a century of music making, have never diminished while his 2012 album 'Unplugged On Strawberry Hill' gained Toots his fifth Grammy nomination. Long may he continue...

Source:
Norma Dodd: Liner notes Never Grow Old The Maytals Studio One LP 1966
Liner Notes The Sensational Maytals The Maytals WIRL LP 1965
Jul 5, 2013 (Aug 1, 2018 Update) Text by Harry Hawks
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