The Son of Reggae Legend Toots Hibbert Is A Chip Off the Old Pressure Drop
As the son of ska and roots reggae legend Toots Hibbert (of Toots and the Maytals,) Clayton “Junior Toots” Hibbert has had some mighty shoes to fill as a musician, but he also had a great teacher. And now that he’s turned 40, after a lifetime immersed in music, he’s almost an elder himself. At least that’s the feeling one gets chatting with him about his recent fourth album A Little Bit of Love, independently released on his own Crown of Fire records.
Like many foundational reggae artists, Toots senior began a musical dynasty. His children are almost all musicians who grew up touring and performing with him onstage. Like his dad, Junior Toots likes the uptempo end of reggae and stays committed to positivity as a solo artist. In our conversation, he told us all about his new album plus what he learned from his “ska father” pops.
What do you feel sets this album apart from your earlier albums?
This album is my best work so far. I’m really proud of it. I’m working with Aston Barrett Jr. and I’m working with my brother Hopeton Hibbert, who is one of the best bass players in Jamaica and who has played with many bands around the world and I’m working with Fabian Cook. The producers on this album are heavier than any other album I’ve worked on. And this album is very special because it’s promoting love. Love is the best that you can give and love is the best that you can receive. And that is the message of this whole album and of the single.
How do people respond to a message of love in music these days?
They’re embracing it. They’re hungry for it. They’ve been waiting for it.
You’ve got a real ska song on the album, “Puss and Dog.” Are there any young Jamaican artists playing ska?
The ska is like the foundation. Some of the happiest times was when ska music was playing. People used to get dressed up nicely and go out to enjoy the music and to have a good time and to take someone out on a date, or dress nicely so they can meet someone. And people went out to have great time and dance. And the focus kind of shifted from that, between the hard times and the elders, Toots and the Maytals, Bob Marley and those guys. And the ska music was promoting love. So, somewhere along the line, between the hardcore thing that was going on in the ghettos and in the streets, that kind of transferred over and started to dominate the music.
But I did the ska song to remind the people on the island and to bring back the respect for the elders that did ska music and that put so much time and energy into uplifting so many people. I did that to show respect to them and also to show that I’m versatile and that I’m aware of the roots and still connected to the roots in the way of ska.
My father had the “Ska Father” title for a while. He’s pretty uptempo too. I get a lot of my style from my dad. That’s what made him successful, being able to get a crowd response and make the people dance. I experienced a lot of that while I was on tour with him.
What else did you learn about music from him?
Music is something that he loves and something that I love and that I’ve grown to love more. And you have to love what you are doing, because, whatever you are doing, you have to put one hundred percent in. Sometimes more than one hundred percent.
The other thing you need in order to be successful is to be humble. The thing about someone who achieves great things is that they are still humble and real and maintain a sense of humor and really stay on the path and focus on the music, which is your dream and you’re destiny.
I really appreciate everything I’ve learned from him. He’s a great father. I feel really blessed to be a part of his family.
What is your earliest memory of him playing music?
He would always walk around the house and his guitar would be close by. He would always be skanking out stuff on his guitar. When I was young he gave me a song that was my first song. It went something like this: “I’m a little man. My name is Clay. I’m on my way to Montego Bay. So, I’ll catch an airplane.” You know? We made it up together and he kind of gave it to me as a gift right before I came to the States. And then I came to the States and went back to Jamaica and I recorded a few songs with him.
All my memories of him are about music. I remember once we were on our way to a show. We were late and driving fast and got pulled over by the cops. When the cops came over and saw it was my dad, they gave us an escort to get through the traffic!
There’s a Farsi singer on the song “Seek the Truth.” How did you hook up with her?
Well, you know reggae’s all over the world, but I noticed that over in Iraq and Iran and those areas there’s not much reggae. I feel, as an artist, that positive music can really help the people through tough times. I wanted to really include that region through the music in the Farsi language, to give everyone the chance to understand reggae and include reggae and adopt reggae in their lifestyle and ease them of the stresses.
Sol Atash is also my manager. When I hear people talking I can hear the music in it. So, I had the idea and we worked on the idea while we were traveling and we recorded it. It’s a translation of some of the stuff that I’m saying but in Farsi. She’s a singer. She’s from Iran, but she came to the United States when she was young.
As you said, there are reggae bands all over the world. What are your thoughts on reggae being such an international music culture?
I love it and I embrace it. The Jamaicans that created reggae music were also creating music that would get them out of the island, and a lot of the music that came out of Jamaica went to America, went to England. A lot of the vinyl that you can’t find in Jamaica anymore is still in London and in America, and Europe, and Germany. So, it’s great that our reggae is being embraced by everyone around the world and I’m interested to see what the future holds.
And, you know, Jamaica’s under pressure and a lot of Jamaican artists have been under pressure. Being in the reggae music business is very tough for Jamaican artists and acts. Very few of them really make decent money. The standards that were set in the early days were very hard to work with. Being a Jamaican artist living in the States, things are slightly different. In the future, I want to see people embracing the reggae artists from their countries, but it’s very important that all the artists that sing reggae music pay respect to the Jamaican reggae singers who were the frontline and foundation and for all the reggae singers who are singing now to make sure they make space for them in the business.
I understand that you have children of your own now. Are you making music with them?
Yes, they are focused on their education and so forth, but music is in them. I intend to do one more album and then I’m going to record a single with my kids. They’re doing rapping and singing and so on and so forth, so I’m going to produce a single with them for next summer coming.