Toots, 5446 and the St Mary link
MANY stories have been told about the 77 years that Toots, properly named Frederick Hibbert, spent on Earth.
His songs in the early years were like expensive meals in my St Mary household, with 5446 That’s My Number being the standout, but Sweet and Dandy, the Festival Song of 1968, was my mother’s all-time favourite.
The 5446 That’s My Number song had a deep St Mary connection, specifically the community of Belfield in the southeast section of the parish. The story of how Toots and the Maytals did that hit song still lingers.
There was a Mr Fogarty in Belfield, a tall, husky, fairskinned man with an intimidating presence. He was a close friend of my father. As little boys, most time when you see Mr Fogarty coming you run. If you were brave enough to chance a talk with any of his beautiful daughters, you did so at an exceedingly high risk.
Mr Fogarty was a senior warder, now called correctional officer, perhaps the most senior at Richmond Farm Prison, about five miles away. That was where Toots, in 1967, spent around nine months for possession of ganja, a punishment that many felt did not warrant the crime, but in those days being caught by the police with even a ganja spliff was like being held with an M16 assault rifle today.
At the time of Toots’ conviction, many of us youngsters were still at basic school or just preparing to enter primary school. But as my father told me, it was Mr Fogarty who approached Toots in prison one day and asked, “Boy, what’s your number?”. Toots didn’t answer, maybe because he felt disrespected in being referred to as ‘boy’. Mr Fogarty asked a second time, “I said boy, what’s your number?”. There was still no answer. Mr Fogarty then dropped the ‘boy’ part, but still shouted out, “I said what’s your number, to which Toots looked at his shirt and responded, “5446, that’s my number.”
It was a huge surprise soon after his release that Toots recorded the song for which he is best known. And the legend still stands that he owed a massive debt to Mr Fogarty.
Outside of that, Toots was a nice man with a pure heart. In recent time, we met at Hotel Four Seasons in St Andrew over drinks in 2018 and shared, what to me were special minutes. He insisted that he must pay the bill and being one who is usually financially wounded, there was no need to object. Another meeting, more of a run-in, occurred at Suzie’s, South Avenue, months later at which time he asked me to guess his age. When he told me, after giving up, I almost fell off the chair. I never saw him after that, but Toots will forever stand out in my mind as someone who I was not only happy to have met, but who thrilled me to the bone with his music.