Toots Hibbert of Toots & The Maytals Files Multi-Million Dollar Suit Against Alleged Bottle-Thrower

By Patricia Meschino

Reggae legend Frederick “Toots” Hibber returned to Richmond, VA earlier this week for the first time since an injurious bottle throwing incident there at the Dominion Riverrock Outdoor Sports and Music Festival, on Saturday, May 18, which resulted in the veteran singer receiving seven stitches to his head. This morning (June 7th) Hibbert attended the arraignment of William Connor Lewis, 19, the defendant charged with felony assault and public drunkenness after hurling a vodka bottle at the legendary vocalist while he performed with his band The Maytals.

In the Complaint filed earlier this week in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond by Hibbert’s team of Virginia based lawyers, the Grammy Award winning vocalist is seeking a trial by jury, $1,000,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000,000 in punitive damages in addition to court costs and suit moneys against Lewis.

“Toots attended Friday’s hearing to ensure maximum effort is made to protect other artists from possible injury,” stated Andrea Davis, Hibbert’s Business Manager, based in Kingston, Jamaica.

The Complaint alleges that Lewis “had in his possession a glass bottle of Grey Goose Vodka” and was “seen consuming alcohol near the stage where Hibbert was performing. At approximately 10:15 p.m. Lewis intentionally threw with such great force and violence the bottle of Grey Goose Vodka which he had in his possession, the blow suffered by Hibbert caused a serious, significant tear to his forehead and face, forcing him to suffer permanent scarring and caused him to become disoriented and grievously injured in body and mind.”

The incident took place as Toots and the Maytals performed their signature reggae version of John Denver’s classic “Country Roads” and brought the concert to an abrupt end.

Jack Berry, Executive Director of Venture Richmond, producers of the three-day Riverrock music and sports event alongside Richmond Sports Backers, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the vodka bottle was “likely stolen from the mixed-beverage sales area,” noting that “all drinks are served in plastic cups and all bags are searched prior to entry, with patrons prohibited from bringing bottles into the venue.”

Following the incident, Hibbert, who is 70-years-old, was admitted to Richmond’s VCU Medical Center; he received seven stitches then returned to his Richmond hotel about 1:00 a.m. on Sunday May 19. Later that day, Hibbert traveled to New York where he performed at Long Island’s Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, the kick-off of his acoustic tour supporting his 2013 Grammy nominated album “Reggae Got Soul Unplugged on Strawberry Hill”(Metropolis). The tour was scheduled to conclude on June 1 in Norfolk, CT, but following a series of medical evaluations Hibbert was advised to cancel and return home to Kingston.

The complaint states that the tour’s cessation “caused Hibbert to lose significant income, profits and benefits and has exposed him to potential liability due to his inability to perform on the previously contracted tour dates. As a further and direct proximate result of Lewis’ conduct, Hibbert has been unable to work at his profession by impairing his ability to compose songs, making it impossible for him to record masters in a timely fashion and accordingly has and will lose wages in an amount to be determined at trial. The Plaintiff will become liable for large sums of money for medical care and services endeavoring to become healed of said injuries and will continue to lose wages and earnings, profits and benefits from his musical career.”

The Complaint against Lewis arrives nearly two weeks after Hibbert filed a suit in Manhattan Federal Court against his former manager Marc-Antoine Chetata. Chetata managed Hibbert between 1994-1996. In the suit Hibbert alleges he was conned into signing a contract that ostensibly gave Chetata the right to collect “tour advances” from concert promoters but actually “conveyed 50 percent of ownership rights” of Hibbert’s musical compositions to Chetata’s company Keep On Kicking Music.
Hibbert is asking for $1.25 million in damages along with a court order that voids the contract and returns to Hibbert all rights to his music.  Andrea Davis would not comment on which songs were in contention but offered, “it’s a publishing issue and a portion of his catalogue is involved."

The value of Toots’ catalogue is one of the most beloved in all of reggae music. “Reggae Got Soul Unplugged on Strawberry Hill” presents acoustic versions of some of Toots’ most cherished songs including “I’ll Never Grow Old”, his 1965 hit.

Born in rural Clarendon, Hibbert met Nathaniel “Jerry” Matthias and Henry “Raleigh” Gordon in Kingston where they formed the Maytals in 1962 at the dawn of Jamaica’s ska era; Matthias and Gordon’s intricately laced harmonies supporting Hibbert’s soulful, gospel infused lead took them to the top of the Jamaican charts throughout the 1960s as they worked with a variety of producers including Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, Prince Buster and Byron Lee, the latter producing the immortal “Bam Bam”, The Maytals’ first of several winning entry’s in Jamaica’s annual Festival Song competition. The trio’s collaborations with producer Leslie Kong yielded a stream of popular hits throughout the late 60s and early ‘70s including “Do The Reggay”, widely credited as the first song to mention by name Jamaica’s signature reggae rhythm, which evolved from rock steady, ska’s successor, in 1968.

Two Maytals tracks featured on “The Harder They Come” soundtrack (Island Records) “Pressure Drop” and “Sweet and Dandy” took the group’s music to an audience far beyond Jamaica’s shores.

“Toots was easily the biggest act in Jamaica until Bob Marley started to catch the attention; its not that Toots dropped out then, it is just that Bob came and widened it (reggae’s acceptance), but there’s nobody bigger than Toots today,” said Island Records founder Chris Blackwell in the Reggae Got Soul DVD documentary that accompanies the Unplugged on Strawberry Hill CD.

Some of the music industry’s biggest names are enthusiastic Toots fans including Keith Richard, Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson, all of whom are featured in duets with the singer on the 2005 Best Reggae Album Grammy Award winner “True Love” (V2 Records).

As of this writing Toots and The Maytals are still scheduled to headline the 3rd Annual Groovin’ in the Park concert at Roy Wilkins Park, Jamaica, Queens, NY on June 30th alongside Patty Labelle and reggae greats Barrington Levy, Sanchez and Cocoa Tea, prior to traveling to Europe on July 3 for a six-week tour. “Toots’ performances have dazzled fans around the world and we are grateful to have this reggae icon in our 2013 lineup,” says Chris Roberts, founder/CEO of Groovin' Inc, promoters of Groovin’ in the Park.

Toots has visited two neurologists since arriving in the US this week and pending results from their tests will determine the resumption date of his touring schedule.