Toots hailed as a passionate performer with big personality
Not only has Jamaica and the music industry lost a national treasure with Friday’s passing of reggae icon Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert, but his death has left a mammoth vacuum in the island’s cultural landscape.
“We have lost an icon, a real genuine human being. I am lost for words,” Entertainment Minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange told The Sunday Gleaner yesterday. “The doctors tried everything to keep him alive. He was at that stage where all of what was due to him was coming.”
Heartbroken, there was no disguising of the pain Grange was going through, having experienced the death of three close associates in days.
Hibbert, of Toots and The Maytals, renowned for anthems such as Sweet and Dandy, Take Me Home Country Roads and Monkey Man, died at the University Hospitality of the West Indies late Friday night, two weeks after being admitted and placed in an induced coma.
Grange, who has known the 77-year-old artiste for decades, said Toots had bequeathed those he left behind with wisdom to carry through at this time.
Her comments were bolstered by the president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians and Affiliates Union, Karen Smith, who knew the legend personally and professionally.
Still shocked by the news, Smith said that, to say his death was a blow or merely the loss of a giant would be an understatement, as the maestro was unique, “a big personality, a big talent, a perfectionist.
“But we have the legacy, the wonderful music that will never die,” she said.
Toots had been riding high before his death, recording several interviews with a number of international media houses. His most recent stint was the Festival Song Competition, of which he was the first winner in 1966.
He had just completed his latest album, Got to be Tough, which was released on August 28 and has been nominated for the 2021 Grammy Awards.
“Great things were expected,” added Smith as she spoke glowingly of the veteran, who won his first Grammy in 2004.
Bass player Jackie Jackson, one of Toots’ closest allies, did his first recording with the legend in 1969. The two have been touring together since 1976 and Jackson recalls the first international stage they went on.
“We opened for Linda Ronstad at Anaheim Stadium in California, with some 90,000 patrons watching the concert,” said Jackson.
He described his friend as one of a kind.
“There is nobody like him. I will remember him as a passionate performer with the biggest personality ever. Whether you knew him or not, you had to love him. There was no way around it,” he reflected.
“He was a perfectionist. We would work for one week on one song. I am sure his name is Frederick ‘Perfectionist’ Hibbert,” added Jackson, the fondness evident in his voice.
Jackson also worked on Toots’ latest album, which was released after a 10-year hiatus in the studio.
He said the musician was loved and respected by many artistes across several genres, remembering how when Toots and the Maytals performed on the Reggae Cruise a few years ago, the acts who went before and ones scheduled to appear after packed the ship in anticipation of his show.
“Quarter of them only knew the name. Another quarter never saw him perform before, and the other half had to see if what was being said was true. When he walked off the stage, many admitted that they were in college,” Jackson said as the veteran schooled them.
Toots and Jackson worked together in about 60 countries in the continents of Africa, Europe, Australia, North and South America, and “he was no tour diva, who wanted limousines, or boxes of chocolate. The only thing he always pointed out was that his hotel must be clean and comfortable. It never had to be five-star”.
Hibbert died leaving his wife of 39 years and seven of his eight children.