Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Lucid Culture Interview: Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over forty years since the Maytals cut their first 45 in a little studio in Jamaica. Since then, Toots & the Maytals have become one of the world’s best-loved reggae bands, filling clubs around the world with good vibes and their unique blend of classic, funky, gospel-inspired roots reggae, rocksteady and ska all summer long. With a perpetual smile on his face and that inimitable, gruff patwa-infused voice, legendary frontman Toots Hibbert was generous to take some time out from his grueling schedule to do some talking with Lucid Culture:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: You’ve been on tour for over two weeks now. How much time do you spend on the road every year?

Toots Hibbert: It varies per year. Sometime I travel doing benefit shows, sometimes other shows. I would say about three months.

LCC: You had a day off yesterday, tonight you play Salt Lake City. How do they like Toots & the Maytals?

TH: We played Minneapolis the night before. It’s good all the time!

LCC: You’re playing B.B. King’s in New York on June 2 at 8 PM, a place you’ve played several times…

TH: They always request me back all the time, they always want me at B.B. King’s. I remember leaving Jamaica to do a show there, a special show, a benefit. They have a lot of artists, five different artists, some of us from Jamaica…a great memory, when I go there I feel it all the time.

LCC: As anyone who has ever seen you knows, you are one of the most energetic performers in any style of music – it’s hard to imagine that you’re in your sixties now. How did you refine your style over the years?

TH: Well, you know it is, they see me come up and start to do my thing, like no artist from Jamaica did with respect to the audience. I can’t sing without dancing first – and let the audience go from there. It’s about one person. He or she will go away feeling the feeling, you know they love it every time.

LCC: Is getting up on stage your daily workout routine, or do you have another secret to staying in shape?

TH: I just exercise, and make my psalm in my vocal chord…I do everything that’s good!

LCC: Who are some of your influences, as far as your performance onstage? I see a little James Brown in you up there…

TH: Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson – people before you were born! I’m a performer; I’m a jazz player, and I still do this way. I don’t copy anyone. I’m just my kind of style.

LCC: Your new album Flip and Twist is on your own D&F music label, it’s out now digitally at all the usual places and it’ll be in stores on May 18. Is this the first time you’ve released an album yourself?

TH: D&F is a Jamaican music label. I have a contract through William Morris, they are the ones who are going to distribute and everything like that.

LCC: How does it feel to see so many of the younger generation being influenced by classic ska and roots reggae, to see so many inspiring new bands with real horns, real keyboards, real vocals, no computerized stuff, who sound a lot like Toots & the Maytals?

TH: Yeah, they fill the place! I saw them in Europe, in the UK, all over, in America, all over! I feel good about it – people try to be real again, positive, work in themselves, mostly white groups and white youths and a few black ones in Jamaica too: you have Chinese and Japanese! Their songs are good, so I leave with a good feeling, they can follow in my footsteps. Other people, Marley, other good people from Jamaica too. Some of them are negative – but I listen to the positive ones!

LCC: Can you tell us about the DVD you’re making for the BBC on your life story?

TH: The BBC documentary’s not done yet. We’ve started on it already, we’ve just finished this album now, and across the country is the next step!

Toots & the Maytals play B.B. King’s in New York on June 2 at 8 PM. The rest of the US tour schedule is below:

05/12: Flagstaff, AZ @ Orpheum Theater

05/13: San Diego, CA @ SoundWave

05/14: Las Vegas, NV @ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – Outdoor Pool

05/15: Hermosa Beach, CA @ Saint Rocke

05/16: West Hollywood, CA @ Key Club

05/18: San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom

05/19: Eugene, OR @ McDonald Theatre

05/20: Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater

05/21: Seattle, WA @ Showbox At The Market

05/22: Missoula, MT @ Wilma Theater

05/23: Billings, MT @

05/25: Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue

05/26: Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom

05/27: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

05/28: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

05/29: Niagara Falls, NY @ Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel – The Bear’s Den

05/30: Boston, MA @ House of Blues

05/31: South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground – Ballroom

06/02: New York, NY @ B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

06/03: Amagansett, NY @ The Stephen Talkhouse

06/04: Hunter Mountain, NY @ Hunter Mountain

06/05: Hyannis, MA @ Cape Cod Melody Tent

May 11, 2010 Posted by | interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The International Songwriting Competition – Worth It or Not?

Today is ripoff day. A ripoff differentiates itself from a scam by not being downright illegal. The $25K grand prize for the International Songwriting Competition may or may not exist, the latter case which would vault it into the former category. The promoters of the competition claim that the judges include Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Loretta Lynn, Black Francis, McCoy Tyner and Toots Hibbert, but even if that’s true, and those luminaries voted en bloc, they’d still be outnumbered many times over by a crew of schlockmeisters from the soon-to-be-defunct major labels. Ultimately, contests like these boil down to a glorified lottery. What chance does a musician’s hard-earned $25 entry fee stand? A look at last year’s winners provides the answer – and the organizers’ decision to make this information public may turn out to be the marketing disaster that shuts them down for good.

The grand prize winner was a generic trip-hop song. The production is laughably obsolete – the drum machine shuffle was over by 1996, something you would expect judges ostensibly the caliber of Messrs. Waits, Hibbert et al. to be aware of. Perhaps far more telling is that the song’s writers, fortysomething pop singer Kate Miller-Heidke and her husband Keir Nuttall already had a gold album and a major label deal in Australia when they entered the contest. Is this contest simply a lower-budget version of the Grammies, a major label circle jerk with zero acknowledgment of what the listening public might prefer? In other words, considering its association with the major labels, is the deck stacked against artists who don’t fit the cookie-cutter corporate mold?

The song that won in the rock category, by Kristopher Roe of the Ataris was even worse, an even more cliched emo-pop song. “The only thing that matters is following your heart, and eventually you’ll get it right,” Roe strains, affecting an intensity of emotion that his band’s third-rate Good Charlotte imitation reaches for halfheartedly before giving up. “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up,” Roe asserts, a tautology for the comfortable upper middleclass children he envisions as a customer base. In case you’re not familiar with the band, they achieved some recent notoriety by recording an earnest Green Day style cover of a Don Henley song. The ersatz emotion recurs with the second-place winner, Quebecois emo-pop band Tailor Made Fable’s A Case of Mistaken Identity. At least the third-place winner, Irish band Chrome Horse’s Reflections of a Madman shows  some passion, even if the verse is a blatant ripoff of the Ventures’ Egyptian Reggae.

A look through the rest of the winners didn’t turn up much of anything worthwhile either. The second-place winner in the World Music category wasn’t remotely exotic: Leni Stern’s 1,000 Stars is a vapid semi-acoustic pop song in the style of the grand prize winner. Americana winner Kevin Meisel’s Cruising for Paradise is a third-rate Jimmy Buffett pop number with a little mandolin overdubbed to give it that down-home Americana flavor. Jazz winners the LeBoeuf Bros. Quartet’s Code Word at least shows some promise, even if it it’s not exactly edgy. And in case cutting-edge lyrics are your thing, for a laugh, here are the winners in the Lyrics-Only category.

In case you haven’t figured all this out by now, the winners here may actually be the best of what the judges had to work with. Consider – would your favorite cool band be caught dead entering a generic corporate talent search like this one? Imagine for a minute a first-class group like the French Exit at Emergenza. They’d clear the room in seconds flat.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 108 Comments