Toots and the Maytals, we call them, but to the island of Jamaica, they were and always will be simply the Maytals: the rah-Jah Temptations of ska, reggay champions before there was reggae music, the most soulful and sensational vocal group to come out of the Caribbean in the 1960s.
Led by the restive rasp of Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, the original trio (Hibbert, Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias) fell short of the stateside chart heights and pop-cultural impact of Bob Marley and the Wailers, though a handful of its Jamaican-record 31 No. 1 hits — chiefly "Sweet and Dandy," "54-46 (That's My Number)" and "Pressure Drop," all products of a fertile, rapid-fire recording period from 1968-70 — became ubiquitous cover selections and worldwide rocksteady standards. This "failure" of complete U.S. saturation means that for many listeners, the Maytals' early output remains an unspoiled pleasure. And what a pleasure it is: the Studio One gospel of Never Grow Old and Life Could Be a Dream, backed by the Skatalites and captured by production icons Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and Lee "Scratch" Perry; The Original Golden Oldies Vol. 3, a joyful noise coming from the back of Prince Buster's Record Shack; and above all, The Sensational Maytals, put to tape with Byron Lee at Federal Studios from 1964-66. The latter plays like a greatest-hits collection, and it is, contrasting opening tandem "It's You" and "Daddy" later forming the first double-No. 1 45 in Jamaica's history, and the effervescent "Never You Change" appearing here in the first of several guises.
As strong as that run was, the Maytals went wild after Hibbert's release from an 18-month marijuana-related imprisonment in 1967 (with 54-46 becoming the most invoked inmate number ever), teaming up with Leslie Kong for a unflagging sprint of singles from 1968 until Kong's death in 1971. That year, returning producer Lee dubbed them Toots and the Maytals, spawning a second decade that saw six more albums, including genre psalms Funky Kingston, In the Dark, Reggae Got Soul and Just Like That. — Noah Bonaparte Pais