When Toots and The Maytals released “Gotta Be Tough” after a hiatus of a decade, little did we know that this would be the last album while Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was still with us.
The album opens with the gritty rock/bluesy track, “Drop Off Head,” a sound that made Toots and the Maytals a festival favorite. This track is loud, raucous and guaranteed to wake you up with the advice, “Don’t let the enemies get you down.”
Following this is another track, very reminiscent of ‘60 and ‘70s rock/blues. “Just Brutal” incorporates horns, saxophones, and guitars which, combined with Toots’ gravelly voice, depicts the lack of love and the brutality of the world as it is today. The harshness of the track enhances the seriousness of the subject matter.
“Got To Be Tough”, the title track, turns out to be quite prophetic under the circumstances. Toots reminds us to take care of each other and to be tough in these difficult times as life is short and we never know how much longer we have.
When I saw that the next track, “Freedom Train”, was included, I assumed it was the 1996 “Freedom Train” from the “Tough Time: The Anthology” album, but it isn’t. The train-like beat is there but with a rock sound. Toots points out that although there are claims of freedom, many things are still holding the black man back. He’s saying you need to get on board and fight to make a better life, the same message as in the original “Freedom Train” but with more of an urgency in the sound.
“Warning, Warning” is a message to all to let it be seen that you are living your life the right way with decency and respect.
A track with a blues element, a love song about working to keep a relationship going, switches from the harsh warning theme of the previous tracks to a softer, poignant plea in “Good Thing That You Call”.”
“Stand Accused” highlights the critics and naysayers who say Toots is too quick to help people, from the children in need of education, to his enemies. After being hit by a bottle thrown by an excited fan while he was performing at a Virginia festival, he requested leniency from the judge. This was a perfect example of his compassion.
When I saw “Three Little Birds” on the tracklist I was expecting a traditional cover of the iconic Bob Marley song. I should have known better coming from Toots and The Maytals. Toots totally made it his own in a clever version featuring Ziggy Marley.
“Having A Party,” with its fast ska beat, should have everyone up and dancing. It is a much livelier song than the band’s “Having A Party” from the 1973 “In The Dark” album. You can envision Toots arriving at a party saying, “Let’s get this party started.” This track is sure to be a staple in the collection of event DJs.
A plea for the people in his life and people in general to “Stop the fighting, the shooting and killing” is the cry for love and unity that Toots makes in the final song on the album. He touches on things in his life and in the current atmosphere of both Jamaica and the rest of the world.. “We’ve got to find a way to stop it.”
When Toots compiled this album, he didn’t know this would be the last one to be released before he was taken from us. After six decades of performing and recording, “Gotta Be Tough” has encapsulated the essence of Toots and the Maytals; the consummate “life of the party,” but with a serious message. This album is a must for any music collection, not only for the connoisseurs of reggae.
The music world will miss this legend but like all the greats in the reggae industry, his presence will continue to influence and inspire.
The message will live on.