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Toots & The Maytals and Mento


Page last revised: 10/8/11


Having discussed the many threads of mento woven through the Bob Marley and The Wailers story, you may ask, was there there any mento in the story of Toots and the Maytals? When you think of Toots, ska, reggae, soul, funk, gospel and even American country music may come to mind, but probably not mento. But (although not as many as for The Wailers) there are a few threads of mento found in the earlier years of the Toots and The Maytals story.

Although Fredrick "Toots" Hibbert had a church-born soul-gospel styled singing voice, his backing singers, Nathaniel "Jerry" Mathias and Raleigh Gordon had more of a country sound than anyone in The Wailers. And some of Toots and the Maytals material was more rural in overall sound than The Wailers diverse, but urban repertoire. This was especially true of some of the Maytals greatest recordings.

In 1964, they released a single, Little Flea, a ska cover of Lord Flea's popular mento song. That would be the only mento cover the Maytals would record, as another ska single released that same year, Dog War, (also know as "Broadway Jungle") was not the mento song Dog War Inna Mathews Lane (recorded by such mento artists as Lord Fly and Lord Power.) It did however quote a couplet from Lord Flea's Shake Senora.

In 1966, Toots and The Maytals released the original version of Bam Bam. (They would record it at least 5 more times throughout the years, the most recent remake, with Shaggy, in 2005.) The original is a beloved track -- a festival winner -- but is it really reggae? The beat is not reggae, and consider the instrumentation: it opens with pre-Rastafari hand drums and acoustic rhythm guitar. A strong argument could be made that this is a mento music. The later recordings of this song moved closer to reggae in beat and arrangement.

In 1969 came the crucial Sweet and Dandy. This is not a mento song, nor is it cover of a mento song. But the theme, a well observed account of a rural wedding, could have been inspired by not one, but two mento songs by Chin's Calypso Sextet, "I Visited a Wedding" and "Food Wedding". Like the Toots track, the Chin's songs present a detailed, slice-of-life description of the subject, the former concentrating on the ceremony and the later on the food served. And Sweet and Dandy has a country feel that is so reminiscent of rural mento. On an unrelated mento note, 1960s mento artist Denzil Laing plays percussion on this track, as he did for many top reggae acts as a member of The Dynamites. And if you want to see how well this song lends itself to mento, check out this 2009 cover by The Blue Glaze Mento Band at the video seen here.

Pomps and Pride was released in 1972. A great reggae hit, yet a conventional reggae rhythm is not evident. I'm not proposing that the music is mento, but there is something country about this unique track. Perhaps that is what attracted The Jolly Boys who did do a mento cover version of it in 1977. (Once again, 1960s mento artist Denzil Laing is plays percussion on this Toots and The Maytals track.)

In 2009, Toots supplied harmonica on a cover of Sweet And Dandy on the debut CD by rural mento band Gilzene and The Blue Light Mento Band .

In 2011, Toots supplied guest vocals on a song on Blue Glaze Mento Band's  new CD. A clip of him recording his gospel-influenced vocal can be seen here.

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