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Roger Steffens keen on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honour for Toots

Published:Monday | September 28, 2020 | 9:57 AMYasmine Peru/Senior Gleaner Writer
Roger Steffens
Roger Steffens
Toots brought a 'Bam, Bam' to the stage at the Third World and Friends Concert at Hope Zoo on December 2, 2016.
Toots brought a 'Bam, Bam' to the stage at the Third World and Friends Concert at Hope Zoo on December 2, 2016.

Reggae historian Roger Steffens has pledged to lobby for late Jamaican icon, Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals, to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So far, two Jamaican artistes, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, have been recognised with this honour.

“I am certainly going to add my voice to the growing chorus of persons who have been saying it. Toots was the Otis Redding of Jamaica, he deserves it,” Steffens told The Gleaner.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, celebrates the history and cultural significance of rock music and honours the contributions of those who have played an important role in the music’s creation and dissemination. The website, which highlights those who merit being inducted, states that Toots and the Maytals met the eligibility criteria since Tuesday, January 1,1991. “Toots and the Maytals would be an excellent candidate for that third reggae slot. Credited for coining the term ‘reggae’, Toots combined ska, gospel, a bit of attitude and Toots’ soulful voice to create the groundwork for what reggae became. Toots & The Maytals may not have been the most internationally known artistes from the Caribbean, but they were among its most important.”

Toots and the Maytals Do the Reggay, released in 1968, is acknowledged as the first song to use the word ‘reggae’, and for this Toots is credited with coining the name of the genre and introducing it to a global audience. The site lists Sweet and Dandy (1969); Monkey Man (1970); From the Roots (1970) and Funky Kingston (1973) as Toots and the Maytals’ “essential albums”.

“Toots and I were old friends,” Steffens told The Gleaner in a voice filled with nostalgia, as he recalled a ‘Living Legend’ interview he did with Toots at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in February 2007. That year, Toots closed out their Black History Month reggae celebrations. In front of an audience of more than 170 people, Steffens reportedly “led Toots through his 43-year career with a beautiful evening of acoustic performance, interview and audience Q&A”.

“After 2 hours and 15 minutes, we only got to the year 1969. And when I attempted to play some of my rarest 7-inch singles, he wouldn’t let me do it. Why? ‘I never got paid.’ It got to the point where, as he stopped my playing a song, the audience shouted, ‘I never got paid’,” the reggae archivist said laughing.

Credit and payment for his work was something that Toots was not unafraid to speak about. Steffens added, “For the first record he did for Coxsone, he got paid three patties from a very suspicious patty maker who was supposedly chopping up rats.”

Steffens also mentioned something that Toots said which was quite surprising. “He admitted to the audience that 54-46 really wasn’t his number. He said that while in prison he didn’t actually have a number and so he made up one,” Steffens said.

It so happened that the song 54-46 went on to become one of the biggest hits for Toots and the Maytals.

The Jamaican music legend, with a career spanning six decades, passed away peacefully on September 11, at the University Hospital of the West Indies, surrounded by his family. He was 77.