With the passing of Toots and the Maytals frontman Fredrick ‘Toots’ Hibbert, it now remains to be seen what future actions will be taken by his estate to recover royalties from musicians who have covered or sampled his legendary hit single, Bam Bam.
The Reggae pioneer, who, in 2010, was named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of all time, died on September 11, at age 77, due to complications relating to COVD-19, leaving behind his wife and seven of his eight children.
Prior to his death, a myriad of famous solo artists and groups were found on record to have sampled or fully covered Bam Bam, which has the distinction of being Jamaica’s first National Festival Song winner back in 1966.
Among the 79 artistes who have sampled, used rhyme schemes, or made cover versions of the song are Kanye West, Chris Brown, Jay Z, Lauryn Hill, Chakademus and Pliers, Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage and Heavy D & The Boyz.
A few weeks before his death, Toots and his manager had told The Jamaica Observer newspaper that they had instructed a team of intellectual property rights managers to launch a thorough forensic audit to find out which musicians have covered Bam Bam and which entities and individuals have been collecting publishing and royalties, without giving him requisite credit.
Under the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) rules, musicians must seek permission from the original copyright owners or their agents such as their record company or music publishing company, before covering or sampling the work of others.
However, Toots, who was the writer, composer, singer, and producer of the original song and is listed as the principal songwriter in the US Copyright Office in Washington DC, had said he never collected royalties for it.
According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright is long-lasting, and so, “in general, the term of copyright is the life of the author plus seventy years after the author’s death” and “if the work is a joint work with multiple authors, the term lasts for seventy years after the last surviving author’s death”.
Veteran dancehall deejay, Sister Nancy, was the first artiste to cover Bam Bam, back in 1982.
A 2018 Billboard article titled “No Grammy, No Cry: Female Reggae & Dancehall Artists Talk Challenges and Victories” in which Nancy was interviewed, attributed Bam Bam to being her original work and said “after 32 years of unpaid royalties from the song, she had hired a lawyer in Dec. 2014” and “while she didn’t receive payment for all 32 years, was compensated for the last 10 years of “her song’s usage and now owns 50 percent of the rights”.
She was quoted in another interview with OkayPlayer, as saying that she has been collecting royalties for Jay-Z’s use of the song as well as from Reebok after she sued the company, which used it (with Toots’ hook) in an advertisement in 2014, as well as another with NME saying: “There was an older song called Bam Bam, so I decided to do a Bam Bam too. I freestyled it. I only wrote it down after.”
Toots told the Observer that he met Nancy at a European music festival some years ago where she told him she did not know Bam Bam was his song, even though it was recorded “before she was born.”
In a tribute on September 12, Nancy saluted Toots as one of her mentors and the original Bam Bam man. “Uncle Toots can never be replaced or forgotten my sympathy and sincere condolences to the whole family of this Giant original Bam Bam man walk good sleep in perfect peace it cut like a knife never expect this at all but Jah knows best,” she wrote.
Toots was credited for officially coining the word Reggae. His band’s single Do the Reggay, which was released in 1968, was the first to ever use the word Reggae, thus officially giving the music genre an identification, before it was introduced to the rest of the world.
On August 28, two days before Toots was hospitalized with COVID-19, his band released Got to Be Tough, a 10-track album, which is a possible pick for Grammy nomination, which focuses on injustices, and, ironically, teaches about a path to recovery and step to better days ahead.
Toots and the Maytals copped the Reggae Grammy Album Award once, back in 2004 with True Love, which featured re-recorded versions of their earlier hits, in collaboration with some of the world’s biggest names in music, including Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, No Doubt, and Shaggy.
The group was also nominated four other times with Reggae Got Soul: Unplugged On Strawberry Hill in 2012; Light Your Light in 2007; Ska Father in 1998 and An Hour Live in 1990.
Toots, who has the distinction of scoring 31 number-one singles in Jamaica, was born in May Pen, Clarendon, on December 8, 1942, the youngest of 14 children for his father.
As a child, he sang in his church choir and in the 1950s, moved to Kingston, where he linked with Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias in 1962 and formed The Maytals, later adding instrumentalists Jackie Jackson, Hux Brown, Rad Bryan and Paul Douglas.
The Maytals are responsible for some of the biggest hits in reggae history, including Pressure Drop, Sweet And Dandy, 54-46 and Beautiful Woman. Monkey Man was the group’s first international hit back in 1970.
In its description of Toots, upon declaring him one of the top 100 singers of all time, Rolling Stones Magazine lauded him for not needing “fancy songs to come across” noting that his most famous tune is ‘Pressure Drop which is just five lines repeated over and over… but his greatest performance could be “54-46 Was My Number,” his defiant, deeply funky memory of a short stint in prison for ganja possession.”
In 1972 The Maytals won the Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition for a third time with Pomps and Pride. That year, two of the group’ songs were used in as soundtracks for The Harder They Come, which starred Jimmy Cliff, with the band also appearing in one of the scenes.
The band has toured with some of the biggest names in music history including The WhoLinda Ronstadt.
US President Donald Trump was quoted by the BBC as appreciating the Toots’ music in his 2004 book Think Like a Billionaire (2004) noting: “I heard the guest band, Toots & The Maytals, practicing out on the set…They sounded terrific, and I went out to listen to them for a while. My daughter Ivanka had told me how great they were, and she was right. The music relaxed me, and surprisingly, I was not nervous.”
In May 2013, Toots took a three-year sabbatical from performing after he was struck in the head with a 1.75-litre vodka bottle while performing onstage at a festival in Richmond, Virginia. His injuries resulted in a concussion and treatment required six staples in his head. Five years later he launched a 50th-anniversary tour with concert appearances in North America and the UK.
Last year Coors Brewing Company used the Toots and the Maytals song “Pressure Drop” in a 30-second television advertisement for Coors Light. In addition, Toots’ 54-46 also made the 2019 44-track summer playlist of former US president Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Toots’ last major live performance was at Rebel Salute in January this year. His last public performance was at the Jamaica National Festival Song competition on July 26, which was televised live.