“Country Roads” – Toots & The Maytals
Toots and the Maytals, originally called simply The Maytals, are a Jamaican musical group and one of the best known ska and reggae vocal groups. Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, the frontman of the group, was born in May Pen, Clarendon, Jamaica in 1945, the youngest of seven children. He grew up singing gospel music in a church choir, and moved to Kingston in 1958 at the age of thirteen. The group was nurtured there by producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd at Studio One, and for a time the Maytals actually overshadowed Dodds’ other group, The Wailers. After staying at Studio One for about two years, the group moved on to record sessions with Byron Lee in 1966. With Lee, the Maytals won the first-ever Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition with their original song “Bam Bam” (later covered in a Dancehall style by Sister Nancy, and also by Yellowman in 1982).
The Maytals have gone through many studios and styles, some have been arrested and the group has even broken up for a time. However the group continues to tour often; I have seen their yearly show in Boston twice, and loved it both times. They are also one of the most prolific bands around, with 28 studio albums, 5 live albums, 8 compilations to their name and a Grammy for best reggae album for True Love (V2, 2005). The group also holds the record for most number one hits in Jamaica, with a total of 31.
“Country Roads,” is a remake of a song written by John Denver, Taffy Nivert, and Bill Danoff and initially recorded by John Denver. The Maytals have adapted it to fit a different sort of country roads, and this version is a ballad about the rolling hills of Jamaica. Toots’ gospel background shows in this song, and the joy with which he belts this song out makes the hair on the back of my head stand up.