Fine kicked off by discussing Hibbert’s new album Got to Be Tough, which he released this past August. “It always reminds me of the last years of Johnny Cash’s life, when he did the American Recordings,” Fine said. “This music that was both looking back, but also defiant, trying new things. Toots had that bravery and that courage, and I really wanted to document that. It was important to me.”
“Growing up I was a big fan of Toots’ music,” he added. “In my mind, he was as big of a reggae star as any of the others. I’d never really read anything great about Toots or deep about Toots, and in the process of putting the story together I learned why: He’s really hard to track down. He’s very evasive and as wonderful and huge of a spirit as he was, he really was trying to avoid interviews.”
Fine experienced a breakthrough with Hibbert two years into his quest for an interview when they met through a friend at a hat store. “He showed up two hours late,” Fine recalled. “And he walked in and the first thing he said [was], ‘Who is Jason Fine, and what am I doing here?’” From there, the two built a rapport and Fine began visiting Hibbert in Jamaica.
Elsewhere in the tribute, Fine reflected on Hibbert’s death: “I thought he was going to make it,” he said. “And one of the reasons I thought that is because if you watch him sing — even six months ago — his voice was so powerful. Even at his age, even with all the herb he’s smoked, he rarely lifts the microphone above waist level. He’s got so much power in those lungs.”
“He would be in the studio eight, nine, 10 hours a day,” he continued. “Every single day. In his studio is just hard drives, stacked all over, with hundreds and hundreds of songs that he’d written. And he was always searching for that next song. And I think part of it might have been, he did feel like there weren’t that many of the originals left. And he knew he was one of those guys. And I think it felt to him like his duty.”
“He’s bigger than reggae,” Fine said. “He’s one of the great voices of soul music. And it was heartbreaking to learn that after all he’d been through, for him to get sick at that moment, is really tragic. But I’m glad [that] during the last part of his career, he was making new music, and he felt a lot of love.”
Fine looked back on Hibbert’s life and career in the latest episode of Rolling Stone Music Now.