CL Feature: Legendary reggae-ska forefathers Toots and the Maytals return to Jannus (with video)

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Toots’ devotion to his music has been a boon for Tampa Bay music fans. The Maytals have played Tampa Bay venues on pretty much an annual — heck, sometimes a semi-annual — basis, and they never seem tired, old or hackneyed. The touring lineup includes original members dating back to 1964, minus the deceased Winston Wright. They return to Jannus Live in downtown St. Pete Friday, Nov. 19, in support of the new CD, Flip and Twist. The large, spacious outdoor Jannus is ideal for the band’s lively dance-party performances.


Opening the show is up-and-coming Atlanta groove act The Constellations, who’s playing tunes from their 2010 release, Southern Gothic. If you haven’t heard the funked-up, Beck-ish psychedelic indie band, look up their tune Setback on Youtube. They’ve got the requisite high-octane catchiness to get the party started.

In conversation, Toots is affable and cordial. He has a sing-song-y manner of speaking, repeating words, like, “thank you, thank you.” He also pronounces a hard “c” in Connecticut when mentioning his tour stop at the time of our interview.

“I just do what I do; I love what I do and have a certain amount of energy to do it," Toots responds when asked how he keeps up his kinetic performance style. "My show always has a lot of energy. I built it up slowly but surely and everybody feel happy.”

Like Desmond Dekker and Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals have created music that’s enduring and universal, spanning generations of music fans. Not only has the gospel- and Motown-influenced band covered numerous R&B classics, they’ve been covered by countless others, including Willie Nelson, Ben Harper and Amy Winehouse — living testaments to the notion that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

When asked to name a favorite, Toots politely refuses. “There’s too much,” he says. “We could talk about Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, a lot of people … the Rolling Stones … a lot of people, man.”

Toots and the Maytals, likewise, have covered a boatload of R&B hits over the years. On Flip and Twist, they redo Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and the late-great Teddy Pendergrass’ “Well Be Together Soon.” Toots has recorded "Country Roads" by John Denver and even  a rendition of Radiohead's "Let Down" for an OK Computer tribute album.

He formed his band, originally named the Maytals, in 1962 in Kingston. The Maytals are considered forefathers of ska — that bouncy style of music people love or hate. He was one of the first to combine traditional elements of calypso, American soul and rhythmic accents on the upbeat. Music heads name the horn-blessed and melodic band as an enduring favorite — one of the authentic originators of the genre they love, even if they don’t care for the rest.

What's more, Toots and the Maytals inspired bands that surfed ska’s successive “waves” — its second “two-tone” late-’70s-‘80s trend that encompassed British bands like The Specials and the third American late ’80s-’90s wave of bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

They topped the charts in Jamaica, more than 30 No. 1 hits, including "Sweet and Dandy" and "Pressure Drop," which has been covered by several artists including the Clash and the Specials. One of their tunes, “54-46 Was My Number” is about Toots’ 18 months in prison in the late ‘60s, and “Do the Reggay,” includes the first-known reference to the word that would live on to represent a style of music (Toots says he’s not really sure how he came up with it but it might be based loosely on the term streggay, slang for a loose woman). When Toots is not on the road, he’s at home in Kingston and has been married to the same woman for 30 years.

Furthermore, he isn’t too self-important to admit that he has to watch his diet to maintain his health, so he can keep up that famous live energy.

“When I’m on the road I can’t take good care of myself, no,” Toots admits with a laugh. “I eat things and always put on weight, so, you know, for a while I have to eat a lot of vegetables and garlic, pepper.”

Deep-down-in-the-belly soulful, feisty and still going strong at 64, reggae-ska godfather Frederick “Toots” Hibberts is an unstoppable force. The influential frontman of Toots and the Maytals keeps touring, collaborating and recording even if the newest tune you can recall by his band is "Monkey Man."

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