Toots and the Maytals: how we made Pressure Drop

‘When I got out of jail, I had a sense of injustice. This is a song about revenge: if you do bad things to innocent people, bad things will happen to you’

Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert, singer-songwriter

After independence in 1962, Jamaica had a new energy. Music started springing up all over the island. People told me I had a good voice, so after leaving school I practised in church, made my own guitar, then started doing gospel, ska and rocksteady.

I came up with the name Maytals and worked with hot producers, such as Coxsone Dodd and Prince Buster. Then I was suddenly arrested and thrown in jail for a year. I don’t like to talk about it – it wasn’t a good period for me – but I was innocent. There was a lot of political stuff going on. People were doing bad things to each other.

When I got out of jail, I had a sense of injustice and a desire to make up for lost time. Ideas just started flowing. One of my early songs, Do the Reggay, is credited with coining the name – later spelt reggae – for the new music that emerged as rocksteady slowed down even further. I got the name from ragamuffin, the term for people in Jamaica who didn’t dress too good. The idea was that reggae was for everybody.

Pressure Drop just came to me on guitar. It’s a song about revenge, but in the form of karma: if you do bad things to innocent people, then bad things will happen to you. The title was a phrase I used to say. If someone done me wrong, rather than fight them like a warrior, I’d say: “The pressure’s going to drop on you.”

The song became very popular after it was used in the film The Harder They Come. It’s now been covered by everyone from the Specials to the Clash. That’s great, an honour, although I haven’t always been paid for everything that I have done. Whenever anyone rips me off I just think: “The pressure’s gonna drop on you.” Ha ha. Usually, it does.

Toots and the Maytals from the sleeve of Pressure Drop.
Toots and the Maytals from the sleeve of Pressure Drop. Photograph: Charlie Gillett Collection/Redferns

Clifton ‘Jackie’ Jackson, bass-player

When I was a kid, studying piano at music school, I saw the Skatalites play. The moment I saw Lloyd Brevitt thumping away on the bass, I knew that was what I wanted to do. “The piano has 88 keys,” I told my music teacher, “and I only have 10 fingers. I’m switching to bass.”

They called me the King of Rocksteady, because I played on all the hits that came out of the Treasure Isle studios. When I was asked to play with Toots and the Maytals, I jumped at the chance. Pressure Drop was our first song.

The producer, Leslie Kong, was known as the Chinaman, because he was Chinese-Jamaican. He was an absolute sweetheart. He’d never interfere or tell us musicians what to do. He’d just sit in the control room and let us do our thing, in the belief that this made for the best music.Previously, I’d only worked with singers who laid down their vocals separately, but Toots prefers to record everything live. He loves the kick of singing right there – as the music is playing, as if he’s on stage. All the “Oh yeah yeah yeahs” on Pressure Drop were done by the group live. It sounded riotous in the studio – and that’s the vibe you hear on the record.

In 1975, we supported the Who, playing to a crowd of 90,000 people in California. We were absolutely shitting ourselves – because the crowd just stood there staring, like they were going to have us for their supper. We said: “What the hell are we going to do?” Then someone suggested opening with Pressure Drop. The place erupted.

Toots and the Maytals play Manchester Academy on 10 September.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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