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Reggae and ska pioneer Toots Hibbert has died, aged 77

Toots
(Image credit: Getty)

Reggae legend Toots Hibbert (real name Frederick Nathaniel Hibbert) has died, aged 77. 

As the leader of Toots & The Maytals, Hibbert was was a pioneering figure in ska and reggae music, credited with inventing the very word 'reggae', and a songwriter whose compositions have been covered by artists like The Clash, The Specials, Keith Richards, Izzy Stradlin, Govt Mule, Robert Palmer, Willie Nelson, Amy Winehouse and more.

His latest album, Got To Be Tough, was released on 28 August 2020. 

Hibbert fronted The Maytals (later called Toots & The Maytals) from the early 1960s. In 1968, writing a novelty song about a passing dance craze Toots miss-pronounced the Jamaican term “streggae” as “reggae”, giving rise to a whole new term. 

"In Jamaica we had a slang," he told the BBC (opens in new tab). "If we're not looking so good, if we're looking raggedy, we'd call it 'streggae'. That's where I took it from."

The song, Do The Reggay instead came to define the sound being developed by bands like the Maytals and the Wailers.

“I never knew it was gonna be so prevalent, or so good,” he told The Independent (opens in new tab) just last month. “But it feels good to know I was the one who put the ‘R’ in the music.”

By the late 60s, Toots & The Maytals had a string of hits, including Pressure Drop, 54-46 (That's My Number) and Monkey Man. In 1971, they signed to Island Records, and the following year appeared in the movie The Harder They Come, contributing two songs to the soundtrack.

Critically acclaimed albums like Funky Kingston (1972) and Reggae Got Soul (1976) followed and the band toured the world, supporting artists like The Who, Eagles, Jackson Browne and more.

The UK punk movement embraced his music too, with The Clash covering Pressure Drop in 1978, and the Specials doing a version of Monkey Man on their debut album the following year. The ska punk scene of the 90s was also indebted to his sound and frequently covered his music.

"I’ve always thought Toots and the Maytals were the punk rock of reggae,” Zak Starkey, drummer for The Who and co-producer of Hibbert's final album, told Rolling Stone (opens in new tab) last month. “We had a lot of reggae playing in my house as a kid, and the feeling I got from Toots was the same I got from The Who — a feeling of aggression and excitement, the songs were about something."

To this day, Toots & the Maytals have had more Jamaican no.1 singles (opens in new tab) – and more no.2s – than any other artist.

The cause of death is unconfirmed. Hibbert was admitted to hospital at the end of August and tested for Coronavirus.

Scott is the Content Director of Music at Future plc, responsible for the editorial strategy for online and print brands like Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, Guitarist, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Total Guitar etc. He was Editor in Chief of Classic Rock magazine for 10 years and Editor of Total Guitar for 4 years and has contributed to The Big Issue, Esquire and more. Scott wrote chapters for two of legendary sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson's books (For The Love Of Vinyl (opens in new tab), 2009, and Gathering Storm (opens in new tab), 2015). He regularly appears on Classic Rock’s podcast, The 20 Million Club (opens in new tab), and was the writer/researcher on 2017’s Mick Ronson documentary Beside Bowie (opens in new tab)