The pioneering reggae band Toots&the Maytals is famously and widely credited with naming a genre with its 1968 hit single “Do the Reggay.”
Just don’t, in 2011, ask founder and frontman Frederick “Toots” Hibbert where the band came up with the word.
“I don’t know myself,” he said in a telephone interview Monday from a tour van somewhere between Colorado and Southern California. “I don’t know what bring it up.
“The beat was there and no one never know what to call it,” he said with a croaky laugh. “They call it blues beat and boogie beat until Toots&the Maytals say, ‘This beat called reggae.’”
Hibbert may not recall the exact origin of the word, but it was a seminal moment for the musical style, with its Jamaican roots and distinctive off-beat rhythm. And in the nearly five decades since, Toots&the Maytals have only grown in stature; today, Hibbert is arguably the most important living reggae artist, though Jimmy Cliff fans might take issue with that.
Which makes it all the more impressive that at age 65, Hibbert is still a road warrior. On Sunday, he’ll bring the Maytals to the Hempstead World Music Festival in Redmond (see “If you go,” Page 4), a benefit for the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 2012 and Portland’s hemp-focused Hempstalk festival.
Hibbert said the key to his longevity is simple.
“The good music makes me stay on the road,” he said. “People need me so they request me to come, so I have to be on the road. I love what I do, (and I) still like to tour to make sure my audience is happy. They love me very much and I love them very much.”
Their love is rooted, first and foremost, in a handful of hit Toots&the Maytals records from the late 1960s and early 1970s, including “54-46 Was My Number,” “Bam Bam,” “Pressure Drop,” “Monkey Man” and “Funky Kingston.”
The band’s early hits are durable classics of the genre, reflective of a time when reggae was a bit grittier and funkier than it tends to be these days.
The Maytals’ music remains popular because it’s “clean” and “positive,” Hibbert said.
“If you’re negative,” he said, “you won’t last long.”
Not that Hibbert expected to last this long. When asked if he ever dreamed in the mid-1960s that he’d be recording and touring in the 21st century, he scoffed.
“No. Never dreamed, never think about, never envision,” Hibbert said. “Just do my work and do it well and it will always be here. That’s why my music lives long.”
And he knows exactly how alive those old songs are. Even though the Maytals released an album of new material in 2010 called “Flip and Twist,” they hear the same requests everywhere they go.
“People don’t want new songs. Really, they just love my old-time songs,” Hibbert said. “When I get (on stage) I have new songs to sing, but I can’t even get time to sing them because they’re calling out for ‘Pressure Drop,’ ‘Monkey Man,’ ‘Sweet&Dandy.’ It’s beautiful.”
Still, after the current tour and a trip to Europe, Hibbert intends to record another album.
Why? What is there left to accomplish?
“Music,” he said. “Music has to be accomplished. I have to accomplish things through music. I wouldn’t put a stop on that.”