“You know, I’m the inventor of the reggae,” Toots Hibbert told me in an interview for Creative Loafing Charlotte in 2007. “People used to call it what they want to call it, boogie beat or blue beat. I come up with the words, ‘Lets do the reggay,’ and that fit it.”
Although Hibbert is the godfather of reggae, he never got to reap the financial rewards that Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley pulled down. “Never treated right from the beginning. Not just thief of money, it’s thief of pride,” he said of various labels he claims never compensated him properly or at all for his work.
But this latest outing for Hibbert bodes well for his career, which was interrupted and almost ended when a drunken fan hit him in the head with a bottle in 2013 at a festival in Richmond, Virginia. Hibbert was traumatized and unable to work for years, settling a lawsuit out of court in 2016 and just recently resuming touring.
Red Gold Green & Blue gathers Hibbert and other reggae icons, including Sly and Robbie and Big Youth along with legendary reggae guitarist Ernest Ranglin, on a new label, Trojan Jamaica, started in 2017 by Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey (The Who, Oasis) and Shama Liguz, Starkey’s musical partner in the band SSHH. The concept here was to showcase reggae artists revamping classic blues tunes, but with the quality of the material and the backing band assembled for the occasion, it not only gives Hibbert a shot at making some money from a record for the first time in years but also stands to re-ignite the careers of reggae stalwarts whose stars have dimmed over time.
Hibbert takes on Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green’s “Man of the World,” giving it a screamin’ soul makeover, backed by Robbie Shakespeare on bass and Cyril Neville on drums, totally transforming the mellow love song into a raucous reggae celebration of love and life. Hibbert is at his best form in decades, gritty and funky as ever.
With a grill that looks chopped from a ’53 Buick, Big Youth’s already formidable choppers tear into “Gunslinger” for a bizarre reggae spaghetti western soundtrack, an unholy pairing of Bo Diddley and hip-hop that somehow results in a pleasing cross-cultural mashup that works even for old ears.
But the breakout performance here is Mykal Rose’s take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” The former Black Uhuru singer took Hawkins’ cutthroat hoodoo screamfest and put a glide in it, replacing the unearthly howling of Screamin’ Jay’s shamanistic original with a mellow proclamation that’s seductive instead of threatening. Ranglin (Jimmy Cliff, The Skatalites, Bob Marley) steps in with a solo that sounds like it wandered in off an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Backed by an all-star band with Sly and Robbie as the rhythm section aided by Neville’s drumming and Tony Chin and Starkey on guitars along with Ranglin, it’s a cool and slinky reggae classic in the making.
Rose turns in another interesting makeover on Howlin’ Wolf’s “44 Blues,” which sounds like it was hung on the framework of Hibbert’s 1968 classic “54-46 Was My Number.”
It’s classy, classic reggae done with respect and care, involving many of the cast who created and sustained the music and giving them another chance to shine.