I caught up with Junior Toots (in California) – son of legend Toots Hibbert (of Toots & the Maytals) – on the eve of his East Coast tour (in August of 2012). He's soft spoken and thoughtful, with a smoldering fire within. It's interesting to look at which questions he gives me longer answers to. We'd first connected through Facebook, and I've since done some PR and Booking work for him and Royal Management. Here's how the conversation went:
KR: I understand you've done plenty of interviews – most of them on the air – at radio stations?
JT: Yes. It's good to be heard.
KR: If someone were to get a snapshot or reality show snippet about your daily life, what would they see & learn about you?
JT: I'm hard working, I'm a lot in the studio – ya – working on a new album (almost finished).
KR: Do you ever give the studio a break?
JT: Yeah, I work and then I rest. It takes a lot of energy to work on the music, to recuperate.
KR: How do you rejuvenate?
JT: Exercise, jogging, biking – I get out in nature – yeah, love nature.
KR: I looked at your Bio – you have a long history with music (and the West Coast!) – going back to the turn of the 90's.
JT: It was 92.3FM in LA that played my first song. I was working on a project with some producers there, and we won, opened up a show for Biggy Smalls. It was exciting and I've been in California for awhile.
KR: Were you there from then, or after that happened?
JT: No, I stayed there from then.
KR: Coming back East will probably bring back some memories…you went to school in Connecticut, anything you can tell me about that?
JT: I was a dance instructor working for Audrey Appleby. I used to dance on MTV when I was in high school, then I started rapping.
KR: How did dance come into the picture?
JT: I always into it, as a typical young man…battle of the bands in school, talent contests. I got 2nd place, 1st… lip synching to Bel Biv Devoe, Heavy D and the Boys…hip hop dance.
KR: Still doing any dance?
JT: I don't put time into now, except on stage…my dancing days are on stage now.
KR: Where did you grow up?
JT: I grew up in St. Mary, it's on the north coast of Jamaica…the vibe is very different than Kingston.
KR: How's that?
JT: My grandfather was a farmer, I was into farming too. My grandmother was a nurse, going to the church. I was usually in one place or the other.
KR: The Marley movie recently out portrays the complex family life he had…how does the 'Toots' family compare?
JT: When I was younger, I didn't think much about it, but as I get older, singing more, I'm carrying my father's name.
KR: Any other of his children doing that?
JT: My older brothers and sisters toured with him – as I did – but I've been working more on a solo career. I've been doing work and research on it.
KR: Is your father also living in the States as well?
JT: No, he lives in Jamaica and I've been here, working on my music.
KR: You toured with him for several years, how was that for you?
JT: It was a good experience, national tours in America and Europe…a lot of it.
KR: What would you say were some specific lessons you took away from that experience?
JT: You have to pace yourself, take what you're doing seriously. I also learned that you have to be ready mentally and physically, cause it's very hard.
KR: What is particularly hard?
JT: You have to give it your best every time you perform, and if you perform every night, it's hard to take a rest. When you sing, your vocal muscles become dehydrated, under the lights. You have to cut it short after, not hang out as much. You have to be disciplined to achieve the best every night.
KR: I see you're looking to do a number of dates on the East Coast, is that gonna keep you singing more often than you have been, on the West Coast?
JT: About the same.
KR: So you're used to it?
KR: Have you had formal vocal training?
JT: Of course: my dad.
KR: How was he as a teacher?
JT: He's good, he's a serious teacher
KR: Was he strict?
JT: No, music is more like fun.
KR: Did he take special interest in you, or all his children the same?
JT: I was the last to get onto the music trail. I'm younger, so I started a little bit later than everyone else. I grew up more in the country, singing in the church. Once I was around him, it took a while to learn the lessons he had taught me…I really started to understand them in the States.
KR: You came the U.S. for High School?
JT: Yes, Junior High and High School.
KR: Did you experience culture shock?
JT: Not really. The weather was different. Everything that I go through in life, I look at as a learning experience. I like adapting to new situations.
Also, my mom migrate to the States when I was very young, we weren't reunited til I moved to the States and lived together.
KR: Sounds like that was a bigger transition for you?
JT: First I lived with my grandparents, then my dad, then I lived with my mom.
KR: You must've learned different lessons from them about family and life and such?
My mom is a very strong woman, I had a younger brother (7 years younger). Me, my brother and my mom, we lived in a housing complex in Connecticut. My mom worked as nurse. Then while I was in High School, my mom got really sick – hospitalized, medical condition, chemical imbalance – sick from then until now. When she got sick and went in for 3 years, we moved to California and she went back to Jamaica. She was so sick she didn't recognize me and my brother.
I grew my dreadlocks to really grasp the situation and to finish what I started, instead of moving back. It took a lot to find a peaceful to way to live in LA. I was in the ghettos and I grew dreads to separate myself from all the gang bangers. Also, to show them I was ghetto, but not for them to mistakenly think I was someone else. I also did it to be more like Bob.
My mom was sick and there was nothing I could do about it. Why she got sick, I wondered. I started checking to my diet and exercising. I stayed away from things that were not good for me, which would give me high blood pressure. I started exercising. I ate my share of junk food from MacDonalds. Every now and then I eat yogurt and bakery foods. I realize that because it was cheap – we ate canned food when I was growing up – cause it was easy to get, and a lot in quantity. As I get older, I realize – if you want to be healthy in the mind – you have to eat well…quality over quantity. My mom couldn't deal with the vibes. We were tough boys too. She was eating that food that wasn't good for her.
KR: Do you have some children yourself?
JT: I have 6 children.
KR: Are they spread out in different places?
JT: They're all in LA, Arizona, Michigan.
KR: Because of the music, you want keep mobile, you don't want to settle down?
JT: I actually spent most of my time with my children, knowing there would come a time when I'd have to move. I see them every summer…they have time off…a lot of over the phone conversations, like me and my dad did it. They are well grounded: they all get As and B's; Football; Basketball; scholarship…they're all getting awards, taking up music. They're gonna be on YouTube, I'm gonna focus on them. I'll take them into the studio after this next album of mine. I'm gonna perform, work on my kids and my stuff too…a single or something. I talked to them about it. They're older now, and doing so well, I'd like to involve them and they want to be involved.
KR: Are you involved with your fathers music?
JT: Yeah, I always perform with him when he comes through, on some of his songs. Gonna be on Reggae on the River; and last year we were both at Sierra Nevada, same thing this year (him on the big stage). I perform Sweet and Dandy and Reggae got Soul. Definitely love and respect him.
KR: I wanted to ask you about your singing style – it's different from his – what can you tell me about that?
JT: My dad is one of a kind. His style is different, even among his generation. Very talented. I wanted to sound like myself. Between my dad and all the other artists, it's hard to find yourself. Its' taken me some time. And the way he grew up and I grew up – life experience is different – give you different material for writing songs. What he went through inspired him to write what he wrote, what I've been through has inspired me to write my songs.
KR: You've recorded with a bunch of different people, but now it seems you're more on your own label?
JT: I started my own label because I worked with a lot of people in the business and I wanted to develop my own talent. I realized I was ready, when I created the label. Also, at some point in the future, I could find talent that wants to work with me. If I get enough capital, I'd like to work with others. Now it's me, and I have to get it off the ground. I know what it takes, I'm banking on it. I'm reading a lot…getting lots of information.
KR: Yes, and you have a great team…
JT: Working with Amanda – Royal Management – we put together the management company. It's a lot of work, it's mainly her doing. I work with the internet and people like yourself and IDC and many many fans. Mike Cacia, my dad's manager, has given us some leads over the years, and my dad of course. I have people in JA and Europe, and my experience over the years.
KR: What's your main challenge?
JT: Getting people, more and more of them, to hear the music. It's a new label, but it's a positive independent label.
KR: Things are moving faster in the past 2 years, than the previous 2 years?
JT: Yeah, definitely. I'm more organized now. I have team of people now. I'm getting a lot more help. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I also knew it wasn't impossible. Everything we make from CD and T-shirts goes back into the business, marketing, and everything else. It's a very tight budget between child support – everyone's sacrificed – and supporting me. I really am humble and grateful for all the help form everyone, especially you and IDC and Royal Management. I feel lucky
KR: Anything you'd like to add that we haven't touched upon?
JT: I'd like to say – and this is some thing I say live – "love is the best that you can give, love is the best that you can receive." I say that because Love is the Golden Rule. Whenever we forget that, it leaves space for sadness- it leaves space for hatred, oppression, violence – and famine.
KR: I really appreciate the time you've taken to meet with me, sounds like you have no shortage of life experience and things to say…
JT: I'd like to work with you on the book – a lot of interesting things have happened – I've learned a lot, and want to share my experience be able to teach people so they can learn what I found out, coming up.
KR: Can you explain a bit more about what you mean by that?
JT: I was lucky I had the support of my dad – a of musicians get intimidated – even me. When I was young, a lot people didn't want to give me good advice. People try to play with your brain – people can take advantage of artists in the business – cause they're so open and vulnerable and want to be successful…bad minded people get away with a lot.
KR: And you'd like to see things done differently?
JT: Yes. Just help people. There's a lot of things that are simple and could have been shared, but they were not. People should find ways to grow together instead of against each other. That's how you learn a lot…by helping others to move forward. People are not working together. When people work together, they attract the vibration of success. When they work against each other, it can't work.
KR: Do you ever find yourself doing that?
JT: Of course. I'm constantly explaining stuff to other artists, to help other artists. When I'm on stage, I'm teaching. Everyone who's watching is learning.
KR: The range of your singing shows a lot of variety – one of the styles is as a singjay – how did you arrive at that, and who were your influences?
JT: The older, original Reggae crowd…they like singers. The younger people like dancehall. Sometimes, there's a mix, people who like both. I can do both and mix up the styles…Ska and Roots. Some I sing all the way across, others I mix the arrangement. I want to make sure it's pleasing to the listeners. I sing in key as a DJ and keep timing.
KR: Are you producing your new album top to bottom?
JT: I work with different producers, now with my brother first time (Hopeton Hibbert); Freddy Flint; and more. I wanted to get a different flavor with the same kind of vibe…positive attitude.
KR: How will new album be different from current one?
JT: It's gonna be still Junior Toots, but it will show the fans that there is a lot more that we have to sing, differently from the Little Bit of Love album. It's still in the mix stage, I still have to drop some of the vocals.
KR: I see – you feel good about both – do you ever run out of ideas?
JT: I have so many good songs that there's no question that this next one's going to be even better than this one.
KR: In traveling, you work with different bands, do you worry about the quality of your delivery, show to show?
JT: Well in California, I work mostly with one set of musicians, but I find that if the musicians know what they're doing – I know what I'm doing – and that makes it an easy transition form band to band.
KR: You mentioned much earlier that you were dread – and I see the great photo of you shaking your locks on the cover of Reggae's Got Soul – why is it that you've cut your dreads, and would you ever consider growing them back?
JT: Everything that Rastafari showed me is Love. Whether you have long locks, short locks, or no locks, you have to be good and do right. No partiality in this judgement!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
The KRucial Interviews, denoted by the KR above, are conducted by Kyle Russell, of KRucial Reggae. He’s been in the industry since the 1990’s, and an avid Reggae listener for 10 years preceding his involvement with the business. Self-taught as a bassist, founding the award winning Dub Station band, Russell went on to do management & PR for his and others’ projects…booking tours across the U.S. (with forays out to Hawaii, the entire West Coast, Midwest, and north to Canada, as well as south from his Boston base, to NYC, NC, and Jamaica). Russell has hosted touring (and regional) acts by the dozen through several weekly series at high profile venues. Now spending more time online, doing internet promotions, Russell has activated his long-standing ReggaePR ‘arm’ (or brand), and delivers a variety of Fan/Industry & category-specific Newsletters as part of his quest to bring audiences and Artists together. He can be reached at ReggaePR@AOL.com. The KRucial Interviews are Russell’s way of immortalizing conversations with new and traditional, established Artists.