WITH Usain Bolt rinsing the Olympics and Jamaica also celebrating 50 years of independence, it is a good time to be one of the hotspot’s most legendary names in music.
And with Notting Hill Carnival in full swing yesterday and today, it’s a good time to be the man who invented reggae.
Just ask Toots Hibbert, who formed his band Toots And The Maytals in 1962 – the year Jamaica gained independence.
If he hadn’t created such classic reggae tracks as Monkey Man, Pressure Drop and Reggae Got Soul we might have seen him in at the Olympics having a crack at boxing.
The 5ft 7ins singer, whose carnival classics have been covered by Amy Winehouse and even The Clash, told the Daily Star: “I was a good runner too.
“Not as good as Usain but he’d only have beaten me because he’s so damned tall. I had a good rhythm in my fsts but I just didn’t like punching people, so I put all that rhythm and power into making music.”
In London for the release of their first ever acoustic album Unplugged On Strawberry Hill, Toots And The Maytals played a scorching gig at the legendary 100 Club in aid of Converse Represent.
As we meet, Toots – real name Frederick Hibbert – is sipping champagne and smiling. His mood darkens only when asked what he thinks of modern reggae.
The singer, who has Dr Hibbert from The Simpsons named after him, frowned: “Reggae never changes. It is all about spreading the positive word and making people dance because they are happy.
“But some make songs with negative messages and call it reggae. If they make songs about hate, they don’t know any better.
“That means they haven’t understood a thing me or Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff or a thousand other reggae singers are telling them. I feel sorry for them.”
Toots, 66, gave reggae its name on the classic tune Do The Reggay in 1968 but he wishes he had conjured up another name for it, before creating the music that gave the world the likes of Marley and UB40.
Toots admitted: “If I’d had chance to think about all the ways reggae would help people I would have called it something else. If I had my way people would spell it reggay like my song.”
Despite being a pensioner, Toots still spends three months a year on tour and lives quietly in a modest home in Jamaica’s capital Kingston with wife Doreen for the rest of the time. The couple married when they were both just 18.
Toots based reggae, which was previously known as bloodbeat music, on slang.
He said: “If a girl didn’t look so nice or she wasn’t dressed properly, we used to say she was streggay. I was playing one day and I don’t know why but I started singing: “Do the reggay, do the reggay” – it just stuck.
“I might have stuck with calling it streggay if I’d thought longer. That’d be something – everyone dancing to streggay music.”
Although happily wed for 48 years, Toots admits he enjoyed the attentions of female fans thanks to his trademark stage move of doing the splits.
“My trousers would split,” he laughed, “and when they did, oh boy, the girls would try to feel what Toots has.
My wife didn’t like that so much but I’d say to her: ‘Sweetheart, they’re just trying to zip me back up.’”
Toots, whose nickname was given by his parents, means “darling”, plans to slow down eventually. “I can’t see myself doing this forever,” he confirms.
“Maybe one day it’ll be time for a rest, but as long as I have the energy to give to the people, then I will sing for the people. “It’s easy to do because all I do is give back the energy that the people give to me.
“That gives the audience more energy, which gives me more energy and before you know it, everyone is
dancing. Even if there is only one person there in the crowd, that is enough energy for a good show.”
A deeply religious man, Toots broke The Maytals up in 1981 so he could study Rastafarianism. He then reformed the band more than a decade later in 1995.
His faith is the reason he has lived in the same “respectable” small home for 30 years.
Toots, whose children Junior and Leba are also reggae singers, said: “I really don’t need anything more. All I need are my family and God’s love... and sleep, of course. If I get enough sleep then my shows are good.
“So long as I don’t drink or smoke too much before going on stage, my shows are good and it just doesn’t matter how old I am.
“After a show, then maybe it is time for a little drink.
“But before that, I sleep.” And with that thought, the legend who invented reggae finished off his champagne and said: “Just one glass!” before grinning hugely and going off to get some kip.
● Acoustic album Unplugged On Strawberry Hill is out now.