Remembering Toots Hibbert one year after his death
Junior Toots, manager Jeffrey Stephenson hail ‘Fyahball’
On September 11, 2020, the music-loving world paused to come to grips with the announcement that beloved Jamaican singer, songwriter and frontman of the ska and reggae band Toots and the Maytals had died. The reggae pioneer, who had toured consistently for six decades and who was credited with naming the genre, with his song Do the Reggay, had complications from COVID-19 and passed away at the University Hospital of the West Indies, St Andrew. He was 77.
For his son, singer Clayton ‘Junior Toots’ Hibbert, it has been a challenging 12 months as he adjusts to life without his father, even as the world is still in the grip of a pandemic.
“I am still in shock that my father is not around. I miss him very much. This year has been difficult with everything that has been happening, but my father’s spirit is still alive within me, and it is always leading me forward, encouraging me to keep going. My father was always such a good example. He worked so hard for himself, his family and his fans,” Junior Toots, the leader of the California-based Fire Squad band, told The Weekend Gleaner.
The musician, who shared that he recently became a grandfather – and a very proud one too – was eager to relive the good times. “Every single memory of my dad is the happiest memory. Every conversation was good. Even when he was talking to me about different things, whether I was in the right or in the wrong, he always had a way to make the conversation comedic and get his point across at the same time. So, it would be cordial and would come across smoothly,” he said.
Last year, Junior Toots did a cover of one of the songs from his father’s extensive catalogue, the Maytals’ 1969 winning Festival Song entry, Sweet and Dandy. It was released on December 8, on what would have been the 78th birthday of Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert.
“I am just glad to be alive and grateful and humble and just doing everything I can do to make him proud and carry on the message of love that he promoted. I did over Sweet and Dandy now; I am also covering Reggae Got Soul. I just returned from the East Coast doing some festivals and shows, and I also did some shows here in California before I left. They were sold-out shows, and people were saying I was the reincarnation of my dad,” the singer who has been carving his niche in the music business for some 20 years stated.
He added, “When I want to see my dad, I just look in the mirror.”
Toots’ manager, Cabel ‘Jeffrey’ Stephenson, hailed the man whom he affectionately called ‘Fyahball’ for his tenacity, his professionalism and for leaving a body of work that will thrill generations to come.
“Is three times Fyahball tried to come to Kingston as a young boy leaving the country. One time they kicked him off the truck, and he rolled in the bushes and fell asleep; the second time, he came off in Spanish Town, thinking that he had reached Kingston, and the third time he finally made it. Jackie Jackson [Maytals bass player] was the first person he met, and while standing at his gate, Jackie’s mother called him in and gave him a meal. That was his first meal in Kingston, and Fyah always talked about it,” Stephenson recounted.
A prolific hitmaker from the era of the sixties, Toots’ landmark album, Funky Kingston, turned him into a global superstar, and soon he was opening for supergroups such as The Who and the Eagles. A two-time Grammy winner, Toots released his final album, Got To Be Tough, on the Trojan Jamaica label in August last year, one month before his death. The set subsequently won the Grammy award for Best Reggae Album for 2020.
“Fyah was a professional to the end. He would always say, ‘Jeffrey, I need to be in the venue one hour before my performance to get acclimatised.’ The clothes that he wore to the venue were not the same clothes he would wear on stage. Toots was very particular about his appearance, so he would walk into the venue as Frederick Hibbert, but when he walked on stage, it would be Toots and the Maytals. COVID steal a lot of the great ones, but the legacy that Fyahball leaves will endure. I travelled the world with him, and Toots was loved everywhere. I love him, and I truly miss him, but on Saturday, his music will be playing everywhere as fans remember the great Frederick Nathaniel ‘Toots’ Hibbert,” Stephenson said in closing.