Toots and Me
I met Toots for the first time around 2005. My wife, Sam’s, ex, Mike Cacia, was his manager for many years. Every time Toots and the Maytals came to San Diego or played a reggae festival in California, or in Mobile, Alabama, or Avignon, France, Sam and I would most likely be there. We became friends and he would come over to the house in Rancho Santa Fe for dinner after a show or to just to hang. Over the years he got to know me as a singer-songwriter, and we talked about his producing a couple of my country tunes in reggae. He said when he was young, he would listen to the 50,000-WATT C&W stations out of northern Florida beaming country hits into the Caribbean.
That’s where he got ideas for writing country sounding lyrics to his music -to tell a story or a vignette, but to a reggae beat. In 2012, I travelled to Kingston with Sam and spent four days recording in Toot’s Reggae Center studio. He arranged “Black on White” and “J’can Girl” as straight up reggae tunes. I can’t even remember how they sounded as country, now. Toots played drums, guitar and keys on both tracks and his son, Hopeton, played bass. Nigel Burrell engineered and mixed the sessions. One day, I remember sitting in the sound booth, getting ready to sing over the tracks when I heard Toots in the hallway singing away on the chorus to “J’can Girl.” I dropped the mic and stepped out of the booth. His voice, calling to mind Otis Redding or Ray Charles, so soulfully, echoing through the hall. I said, “Toots you gotta sing on this tune!” He demurred, “Nick, it’s your song, you sing it first and then I’ll cover it. If I sing on your track, everyone will know it’s me, and it’s your tune first!”
Toots and the Maytals won the Grammy for best reggae album in 2020, “Gotta Be Tough!” In August 2020, after dropping the album, Toots came down with Covid. He passed away on September 11 at University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston. He was honored posthumously with the Grammy. He thought “J’can Girl” was a hit…but he needed to sing it. Our family lost a good friend and beautiful soul. May he rest in peace. – Nick Binkley