There are only a few souls that can transcend any particular genre of art. From da Vinci to Banksy with paint. The likes of James Baldwin, Maya Angelou or Hunter S. Thompson with words. Well, Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert was one of those few souls for music — more specifically, reggae music. On par with Bob Marley and The Wailers as pioneers of Jamaican reggae, Toots and The Maytals blew out of the 60s with Rastafari soul at their back, providing them with so much life, love and consciousness to spread to anyone who was willing to listen. With a kind of inspirational and influential power like that, it can only be wielded by the best and Toots rose to the challenge. After decades of conquering that challenge, it became clear that this particular soul needed to be recognized and remembered for what he was — a true icon.
Enter L.A.-based roots reggae band, The Expanders. With their deep connection to and understanding of roots music, the group was asked to record two covers of their favorite Toots and The Maytals tracks. The songs were going to be used in a planned month-long celebration of Hibbert’s life and the career of The Maytals, set to happen on Rootfire.net in September. Unfortunately, right as the band was wrapping up production on the covers, news spread of the illness that would eventually take Toots’ life, not long after being placed into a medically-induced coma. Toots passed away on September 11th, 2020 at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. The Expanders have since released the covers as a double A-side single through the band’s longtime label, Easy Star Records, with all proceeds made from the release being distributed to Hibbert’s family. Two For Toots, as the release came to be called, is available for streaming now.
Not content with covering some of the more popular tracks from Toots and The Maytals, The Expanders searched deep into the catalog to go with a couple lesser-known singles that still brought an enormously strong message.
“Toots personifies the ‘soul’ of — and in — reggae music,” says the band’s drummer John Asher. “His music speaks to my soul and makes me dance the dance of life.” The first track the group decided to cover, “True Love”, was originally released back in the 1960s, long before worldwide fame had come for Toots. The second chosen was “Love Is Gonna Let Me Down”, which showed up in 1972 on the album Funky Kingston. The pair of tracks might be unfamiliar to most, but that doesn’t stop The Expanders from matching the soul and heart that became so synonymous with Toots’ music. Two For Toots is just another example of how the group is unmatched when it comes to their understanding of what this music represents.
Currently, the band is in production on a new project: a full-length album packed with original jams, their first since the overwhelming success of 2015’s Hustling Culture. This new music is destined to display how The Expanders have been able to take their inspirations and morph them into modern classics, sure to outlive the moment they were written in. In the meantime, the guys have definitely kept busy, releasing a couple of collaborative albums along with working beside reggae giants Slightly Stoopid on the 2019 single “Sweet and Slow”, as well as a volume of classic Jamaican covers, Old Time Something Come Back Again, Vol. 2. The new record is set to hit the virtual shelves in 2021, but for now, these two are for you, Toots! Cheers!