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12 September 2020 12:36

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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. 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 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. In 1965, they released Bam Bam, a song that became one of the cornerstones of reggae, covered umpteen times over the ensuing decades, impervious to changing styles and tastes: the melody of its chorus has subsequently turned up everywhere from Lauryn Hill's Lost Ones to Kanye West's Famous.

Instead, his time in prison inspired another classic song, 54-46 (That's My Number), part of material recorded with producer Leslie Kong between 1967 and 1970 that included most of their best-known songs. The Funky Kingston album was good enough to break through – the title track is particularly magnificent; Love Is Going to Let Me Down a perfect demonstration of Hibbert's soulfulness – but it sounded rough-hewn compared to the Wailers' Catch a Fire, at least after Blackwell had finished with the latter. To his credit, Blackwell kept trying to replicate the Wailers' success with the Maytals, releasing a revamped version of the album in the US, replacing a number of tracks with songs from its equally great follow-up, 1974's In the Dark, including the fantastic Time Tough and a lovely cover of John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads. He also sent them out on tour with the Who. But an audience who'd paid to hear Pinball Wizard and My Generation proved uninterested and the Maytals' subsequent albums, Reggae Got Soul (1976) and Pass the Pipe (1979), were less inspired, lacking the fervent edge of the greatest roots albums of the late 70s: the Congos' Heart of the Congos, say, and Culture's Two Sevens Clash. The arrival of punk and Two Tone meant more exposure for the Maytals' earlier material – the Clash covered Pressure Drop, the Specials did Monkey Man – while Jamaica seemed to remain under its spell: quite aside from the umpteen takes on Bam Bam, the title track of dancehall star Yellowman's 1984 album Nobody Move was based on 54-46 (That's My Number).

It meant that Hibbert never wanted for live work, even after the Maytals disbanded and his recording career slowed down following 1981's Knockout, an album on which the excursions into disco (Will You Be Kind) and straightforward soul (the wonderful Missing You) were more satisfying than the reggae tracks – the latter in particular was enough to make you wish he would try his hand at an album along similar lines. He came closest in 1988 on Toots in Memphis, which made explicit his debt to US soul, Hibbert charging through covers of Hard to Handle and Love and Happiness. Meanwhile, if no reasonable person would pick any of the remakes on the 2004 album True Love over the original versions, at least the celebrity of the guest stars – Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, the Roots, Bootsy Collins and Willie Nelson among them – gives you an idea of the regard Hibbert was held in. His own latterday material never quite matched the stuff he made in the late 60s and early 70s, though his voice still sounded great on his final album, Got to Be Tough. Toots Hibbert, whose glorious songcraft as frontman of Toots and the Maytals helped make reggae globally famous, has died aged 77.

A statement from his family on Saturday read: "It is with the heaviest of hearts to announce that Frederick Nathaniel "Toots" Hibbert passed away peacefully tonight, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. With his full-throated, anthemically soulful vocals and multi-instrumentalist talent, Hibbert made songs like Pressure Drop, Monkey Man, and Funky Kingston into all-time reggae classics, and even brought the very term "reggae" to wider attention with the Maytals' 1968 song Do the Reggay. Lenny Henry paid tribute on Twitter, describing his music as "a constant" throughout his childhood: "His voice was powerful and adaptable to funk, soul, country, AND reggae," he tweeted. Frederick "Toots" Hibbert was born in 1942 in Clarendon parish, Jamaica, to parents who were Seventh Day Adventist preachers – his first music-making came as a child singing in the church choir. Aged about 16 he moved to Kingston, where he formed the vocal trio the Maytals with Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias, with the gospel harmonising of his youth deployed on rhythm and blues, ska and more.

Hibbert was arrested in 1966 for marijuana possession and served a year in prison – he professed his innocence on one of his signature songs, 54-46 (That's My Number), whose title came from his prison identification. After being released, he renewed his partnership with Matthias and Gordon, renamed the group Toots and the Maytals, and their popularity continued to grow. Along with Bob Marley and the Wailers, they were one of the reggae acts signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records label, which further promoted their work outside Jamaica. Songs including Pressure Drop were prominently included in the 1972 movie The Harder They Come, which helped popularise reggae in north America. The crossover between the UK's late-70s punk, ska and reggae scenes, which spawned Marley's Punky Reggae Party and saw Lee "Scratch" Perry produce the Clash, also benefited Toots and the Maytals: the Clash covered Pressure Drop and the Specials covered Monkey Man. They influenced a new generation of Jamaican artists too, with the chorus of Sister Nancy's 1982 hit Bam Bam – one of the most respected and sampled reggae tracks of all time – inspired by the Maytals song of the same name. The core trio split in 1981, with Hibbert going solo and taking a hiatus from recording for much of the decade, though 1988 brought the first of four Grammy nominations, for the album Toots in Memphis. Hibbert eventually won best reggae album in 2004, for True Love, which revisited greatest hits via starry collaborations with artists including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, No Doubt, Shaggy, and more. By that time he had reformed Toots and the Maytals with new members, and the band became a longstanding live favourite, more frequently recording studio albums. Around 1962, he formed a vocal trio with Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Matthias, and the young men soon became a top act in the new scene that developed around ska — the up-tempo style, heavily influenced by American R&B, that predated reggae. Mr. Hibbert recently told Rolling Stone that Mr. Dodd, one of the most influential Jamaican producers of the era, who died in 2004, had sometimes paid Mr. Hibbert for his songs with food. "I was very hungry," Mr. Hibbert added, "and I love a patty, and that's what I got paid for my first song." Over the years, he frequently complained that, like other reggae pioneers, he had not been compensated fairly for his music. Toots Hibbert, the legendary frontman of reggae group the Maytals, has died at the age of 77. The death of the singer - who was behind hits including Pressure Drop, Monkey Man and 54-46 That's My Number as leader of Toots and the Maytals - was announced in a statement issued by his family. "It is with the heaviest of hearts to announce that Frederick Nathaniel 'Toots' Hibbert passed away peacefully tonight, surrounded by his family at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica," his family said. "The family and his management team would like to thank the medical teams and professionals for their care and diligence, and ask that you respect their privacy during their time of grief." Widely recognised for the power of his soulful voice - which was compared by some to that of Otis Redding - Hibbert and his group were considered pioneers of reggae and its growth in popularity across the world. The band's 1968 single Do the Reggay is believed to have been the first song to use the word "reggae". Born in 1942 in Clarendon, Jamaica, Hibbert was the youngest of seven children and had continued to perform regularly up until his recent illness. He was taken into hospital just days after his and the Maytals' first album in more than a decade - Got to Be Tough - was released.