There was a post here recently concerning famous people that you’ve met etc. It made me think about lots of reggae personalities but Toots Hibbert in particular. I’ve seen Toots perform dozens of times over the years and we became friends, he’s an amazing guy and probably rates as my favorite musical personality. Here’s a couple of anecdotes that’ll give you some insight into the man.
1. I bumped into him in Kingston one day and we stood there chatting, he told me that he was going into he studio at Federated records the next day to start recording his new album and if I’d like to come I’d be welcome. I arrived mid morning and Toots and all the guys were sitting outside on a bench in the sun, I asked him ‘What’s happening’ and he told me that his drummer had just received in the post one of these new electronic drum machines [this was early '80's] and he was trying to figure out how to program it; we all just sat and waited. This went on and on and finally about 3pm I told him that I had to leave, too bad, I didn’t get to hear any of the new tunes but I had lots of conversation with Toots and many of the musicians and the Maytals.
2. I often found myself in Toots dressing rooms either before or after shows, there was one occasion, I think it was an all-day reggae festival at the UCLA Pauley Pavillion, Toots was the headliner and was due to go on last. It was about 10.30 pm and one of the promoters stuck his head in the door and said ‘Toots, you’re up next’, Toots replied ‘You need to talk with my manager, I’m not going on until I get my money, and I mean in cash, no cheques!’
The promoter didn’t know what to do, he said ‘We don’t have that sort of cash’, Toots said ‘Talk to my manager.’ The word came back to us that they were frantically counting out the money from the 5 box offices at the stadium, the figure I remember was $30,000 and the were counting it out in fives, tens and twenties. About midnight the manager came in and said ‘OK, we’re all set’ and so Toots went on and did his usual great 90 minute set. Been burned too often.
3. Another time I was in his dressing room before a show and it was fairly crowded, probably twenty odd people there, all talking, drinking and smoking. At some point his manager stood on a chair and said ‘We’re going to have to clear this room, Toots needs to get ready and he’s on in half an hour’, I was sitting on a settee next to Toots and I stood up as everyone streamed out, Toots put his hand on my arm and said ‘No, not you, you stay’, so I sat back down and we continued talking. At some point he said ‘OK, I need to get dressed’ and he stood up and stripped down to his shorts. His clothes were laid out on a table and he picked up the trousers, a pair of very fine, very thin black leather, ‘Give me a hand with these’ he said, they were very tight fitting and had a lace-up down the back, ‘Pull that as tight as you can get it’ he said. Next on was a matching leather sleeveless vest that was open down the front, he then put of a metal belt that looked just like one of those that are awarded to boxing champions and finished it all off with a gold pendant. He then put on a pair of tight black boxing boots that I laced for him ‘cos with those tight pants he could no longer bend down far enough. Now he was ready!
Toots is not a big guy but he’s very fit and very athletic, he looks about like a bantam weight boxer and that’s what came next. The room was a decent size and there was a table in the middle, Toots started jogging around that table dodging and weaving and throwing punches just like a boxer in training, he kept this up for maybe 5-10 minutes until the sweat was pouring off of him. About then the door opened and the stage manager said ‘Mr Hibbert, you’re on’ and Toots without breaking his step went straight out of the door, down a corridor and up some steps to the side of the stage with me running right behind him. The stage door was open, the band were playing his opening number and the announcer was doing his ‘Give a warm welcome to Toots and the Maytals routine’ as Toots raced to the mic and into his opening routine.
I posted this youtube video a couple of weeks ago but I’ll post it again here and you’ll recognize the outfit that I just described and also the energy level that Toots brings to his performances.