Born and raised in the small town of May Pen, within the parish of Clarendon, Toots spent moved to the island's bustling capital, while still in his teens. Although still a youth, he was already determined to make his mark on the island's fast-developing music scene and in Henry 'Raleigh' Gordon (b. St Andrew, 1937) and Nathaniel 'Jerry' Mathias McCarthy (b. Portland, 1939) he found two singers whose ambitions matched his own. After months perfecting their harmonies, the newly named 'Maytals' auditioned for one of Kingston's leading producers, Clement 'Coxson' Dodd. Possessing a keen ear and astute business sense, Dodd wasted little time in offering the trio a contract, his belief in the group soon bearing fruit with a series of hit singles. But despite their success, dissatisfaction over monetary arrangements led to the trio walking out on the producer in 1964, with Prince Buster the first to benefit from their decision. Under Buster's direction, the run of hits continued unabated, although the union ultimately proved short-lived, the lack of financial remuneration again cited as the cause of the breakdown in the relationship.
Over the next few months, the Maytals recorded for a variety of producers, including Leslie Kong, Sonia Pottinger, Vincent Chin and Richard Khouri before finally finding a man with whom they felt had their best interests at heart: producer/manager/promoter Ronnie Nasralla. Nasralla ensured the group consolidated their position as Jamaica's most popular vocal group, overseeing the release of a number of best selling 45s on the B.M.N. imprint he had launched in association with the group and Byron Lee.
In 1966, the trio became the inaugural winners of the Jamaican Festival Song competition with their entry, 'Bam Bam', but just as their long-term future seemed assured, their career suffered a serious setback. Toots was arrested for possession of marijuana and despite his pleas of innocence, was imprisoned, spending a year behind bars at Kingston and Richmond Farm prisons. During his internment, Gordon and McCarthy continued to work as the Maytals, but without their lead singer and songwriter, their work lacked the originality and (ahem) conviction of their earlier material.
Thankfully, around the close of the following year, Toots was finally released without charge and the Maytals resumed their recording career in earnest. By this time, Nasralla had withdrawn from the music business and handed the group over to Leslie Kong. In Kong's capable hands, their career was soon back on track, the trio cutting a series of popular singles including 'Do The Reggay', the title of which provided the name for the new style just beginning to supplant the slower rhythms of Rocksteady.
By 1969, Reggae was in full swing, its infectious rhythm providing an ideal foil for the group's fervent style. During this exciting period, the trio recorded some of their most enduring material, including their second Festival Song winner, 'Sweet And Dandy', 'Pressure Drop', and the song that became their first international hit, 'Monkey Man'. The latter went on to reach number 47 in the British pop charts around the spring of 1970 and provided the title of the group's third UK collection, released by Trojan the same year. The Maytals' output at this time was so prolific that many of their recordings remained unreleased in the UK until Trojan finally issued them in 1973 on the LP, 'From The Roots'.
The trio continued to enjoy considerable local success into the early months of 1971, but once more, fate struck them a cruel blow when Leslie Kong suffered a fatal heart attack in August. After taking time out to recover from the tragedy, Toots, Jerry and Raleigh resumed their recording career under the guidance of Kong's former sound engineer and right-hand man, Warrick Lyn.
Before long they had scored their third Festival Song triumph, 'Pomps And Pride' and appeared in a memorable studio scene in Perry Henzell's cult film, 'The Harder They Come'. Subsequent hits were later gathered on the two best selling albums, 'Funky Kingston' and 'In The Dark', both of which served to lay the foundation for sustained success on a global scale. Soon after, the group signed to Island Records and in 1976 they enjoyed a sizable international hit with 'Reggae Got Soul', yet despite the high standard of their material and their exceptional live act, they never managed to equal the success of label-mates Bob Marley & the Wailers
In 1982, McCarthy and Gordon retired from the music business after almost twenty years of performing and touring, leaving Toots to continue alone in his mission to spread the gospel of Funky Reggae around the world. Over two decades later, his continued contribution to world music was acknowledged when he finally won the Grammy for best Reggae album with his 'True Love' collection.
Today, he remains as busy as ever, recording and performing to great acclaim, with his most recent album, 'Light Your Light' the fourth of his sets to be among the nominees for the 'Best Reggae Album' Grammy award. Incredibly, almost five decades after making his recording debut, Toots is still making powerful and vibrant music, fully justifying his status as a living legend.