Jimmy Cliff has rated the recently released album of late fellow reggae legend and tourmate Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert as a high note and fitting end to more than five decades of stellar achievements.
Toots, who passed away on Saturday, September 11, has been acclaimed for his infectious energy and a soulful sound that blended gospel with the strains of ska.
Cliff, whose real name is James Chambers, believes that Toots’ album Got To Be Tough, out since August, captures the essence of his transformation from an emerging singer to a music star who ruled the stage. He is very impressed.
“I have heard this album and I look at it as one of the best,” he told The Gleaner.
“This one was the finality of Toots, the beginning of Toots, the middle of Toots, it’s a combination of all of Toots. It’s a great album. He has managed to put all three [versions] of himself in one album.
“It’s a good way to say, ‘Okay, Earth, mi leff ya now, mi gone and I leave you with this and this you will never forget,” he added.
Cliff still reminisces on yesteryear when the two men shared some of music’s biggest stages. He credits Nature for giving Toots “one of the greatest voices on the planet Earth” that set him apart.
The Rebirth Reggae Album Grammy winner honours his longtime friend not just for his creativity and contributions but for his personality and character.
“We used to do a lot of shows all over the island. The shows were held in cinemas at that time. He had a very kind of friendly competitive way to perform, saying, ‘We go tek it tonight, we ago mash it up tonight. You stay there,’” he told The Gleaner.
Cliff was a contemporary of Toots and the Maytals as they emerged on the music scene in the 1960s and added a global flavour to ska. The Pressure Drop singer was deeply respected and admired by Cliff in the beginnings of their careers.
The 72-year-old said he cherished working alongside the group while starring in the 1972 Jamaican cult classic The Harder They Come.
Cliff witnessed Toots’ journey towards Rastafarian consciousness after he spent nine months in jail for possession of marijuana, an experience that formed the backdrop for his song 54-46 (That’s My Number), released in 1968.
“He said he was not guilty. He said somebody maybe set him up. He said, ‘It looks like I was going too fast and somebody want to set me down. ‘ And so he was bitter about that,” Cliff recounted to The Gleaner.
Cliff has called for Toots, himself a Grammy winner for True Love in 2005 and who is widely credited with giving reggae its name, to be memorialised for coming generations.
Toots’ pursuit of musical excellence, even at age 77 when he died, is a cautionary maxim to the music industry that ‘you are as good as your last hit’.
“How many great artistes are remembered right now, great artistes that are not just Jamaican artistes? … Sometimes when you cross over and you are around and your creative juices are not flowing anymore, people tend to forget,” said Cliff.