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Riding high on reggae 

32 Bleu brings Toots to town

Legendary reggae act Toots and the Maytals will appear at 32 Bleu on Wednesday, Aug. 27, continuing the club's summer foray into irie grooves. 32 Bleu music promoter Jason Spears thinks the Springs market is ready for more Jamaican rhythms. Although tickets sales for the first two big reggae acts, Eek-A-Mouse and Capleton, were "poor to average," according to Spears, the Ziggy Marley show was sold out long before showtime.

"Marley was cake, a sure sell-out," said Spears. Toots and the Maytals is another big-timer in the genre and has been active since the days of Ziggy's late father, Bob Marley.

Frontman Frederick "Toots" Hibbert formed the Maytals in the early 1960s when reggae's musical predecessor, ska, was the rage in Jamaica. Hibbert's singing (often compared to Otis Redding) along with the band's gospel-style vocals and funkadelic sound distinguished the Maytals from other ska artists of the time.

Then, just when the Maytals were at the height of their popularity in 1966 after the release of their hit "Broadway Jungle," Hibbert was imprisoned for 18 months on charges of ganja use and possession. But he took the sentence in stride, and upon his release recorded another hit, "54-45 That's My Number," a reference to his prison number and his time in the clink.

At a time when the reggae scene was dominated by Rude Boys (rebellious, scooter-riding youths), Hibbert's clean-cut look and cheerful music earned him the reputation as the "nice guy" (i.e., nerd). Nonetheless, the Maytals adapted their early style to a more socially conscious and nonconformist agenda of Rastafarianism, which would later dominate the social consciousness of reggae. Their music became more melodic and syncopated as they moved into the reggae style and the band's popularity soared with hits like "Funky Kingston," "Reggae Got Soul," and the rambunctious "Monkey Man." The nice guy proved he could also be more serious with hits like the bluesy "Pressure Drop" and "Time Tough."

Although the Maytals broke up in 1981, Hibbert created a new Maytals in the early 1990s and has been riding high on the reggae train since.

Cab drivin' bluesman Mem Shannon will open for the Maytals. The New Orleans native is the first major talent to come out of the big NO in some time. He first garnered national attention in 1991 when he entered a talent contest, won, and was awarded a stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Shannon's exceptional ability to combine funk, jazz and rock into a bluesy style soon gained the attention of Hannibal records.

In 1995, the label produced his first album, A Cab Driver's Blues. Partly inspired by his 15 years of driving a cab in the Crescent City, the album drew huge praise for its eclectic sound, which included snippets of conversation with passengers from his cab. A year later, Shannon announced from stage at the Jazz and Heritage Festival that he was retiring as a cab driver to be a full-time blues musician. His latest release, Memphis in the Morning, combines his great composition, superb guitar playing and soulful voice.

-- Aaron Menza

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