Eight things you didn't know about... Toots Hibbert

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The man who invented reggae talks to Jonny Ensall

Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert - © Lee Abel

Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert is the man who invented reggae – literally. The frontman for Toots And The Maytals is credited with coining the term and is also one of the style's biggest stars, having had a phenomenal 31 Number One singles in Jamaica – the most famous being incarceration anthem '54-46 (That's My Number)' and the irrepressibly upbeat 'Funky Kingston'. At 66 he's still going strong and is in the UK to play at the IndigO2 as part of the Jamaica 50 festival on Friday August 3 (joined on the bill by his son, Junior Toots) and at The 100 Club on Wednesday August 8.

  • 1

    He could cut your hair (and box your ears).

    'My first job was barbering. I can still trim hair. I also used to train for boxing in my youthful days. I fought my schoolmates. I always won my fights – my hands are very quick and my legs are very quick, like Muhammad Ali.'

  • 2

    Without him reggae just wouldn't be reggae.

    'I'm the one who invented the word "reggae". The music was played in Jamaica, and nobody knew what to call it. They called it "boogie beat" and "blue beat". And there was a slang term in Jamaica called "streggae" – if the boys aren't looking good to the girls, the girls just say, "streggae". So maybe I changed that word from "streggae" to "reggae". One Sunday when we sat down [to write], me and my two friends in Kingtson, and the music was just going on, I just said, "Do the reggae." And that was the song ['Do The Reggay'] that coined the word "reggae". I never knew then what it was going to be today.'

  • 3

    He was banged up in Jamaica, though not in prison.

    'They put me in a soldiers' dormitory – kept me away, because I was going to get my first big tour in the UK when I won this festival [the Independence Festival Song Competition in 1966] with a song called "Bam Bam". It made me Number One. They tried to frame me [for possessing] weed and let some other artists go in my place. They kept me up at this place called Saint Mary. I don't remember whether it was for eight months or eight weeks, but I was there. That's why I wrote this song, called "54-46", which went to Number One when I came back out. I was Number One before, and I was Number One again.'

  • 4

    He owns 50 pairs of shoes...

    'They're mostly white.'

  • 5

    ...and he loves leather.

    'I have a stylist, but I pick the clothes that I want to wear. I wear mostly jeans and leathers. Not fabric. I cannot work in fabric. It's too light!'

  • 6

    He played his worst gig in the US, and he blames The Clash for it.

    'The Clash loved my music, and they invited me to [play with them]. But they never did the advertising. They paid me about $40,000 to sing for two minutes. When we went there, people didn't know who we were. They just booed at us. Then two months later, when we went back by ourselves, at the same place that we played, we filled it out. Why can't we ever have people just respect us, you know? They learned after that. They learned who we were.

  • 7

    He's a secret drummer.

    'Nobody knows that I play drums in my band. But they're going to know now! I played drums on "Never Grow Old" [from the 2004 album 'True Love']. I play congas, I play guitar, I play keyboard, I play harmonica... I play everything!'

  • 8

    He gets high to talk to the Almighty.

    'To relax I smoke my herbs and I pray to God. It's part of my prayer. I don't [smoke] otherwise for fun. When I'm going to pray, I burn.'

Watch Toots And The Maytals in 'The Harder They Come'

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