Aside from the original Wailers and Lee “Scratch” Perry, few artists have made as many distinguished contributions to reggae music (and Jamaican music in general) than mercurial group Toots & The Maytals. Led by frontman Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, the group has participated in many important footnotes of reggae and ska culture including releasing the single “Do The Reggay,” from which many claim the genre’s name was coined, and an appearance in the breakthrough reggae film The Harder They Come in 1970 alongside fellow Jamaican ambassador Jimmy Cliff.

But the real meat of Toots & The Maytals’ legacy lies in the number of definitive songs they’ve written, recorded, and seen interpreted by a stellar cast of followers. The skankin’ standard “Pressure Drop” (redone many times over by The Specials, The Clash, and others), “5446 (Was My Number)” (inspired by Hibbert’s actual inmate number during a rushed and misguided arrest), and “Monkey Man” (also a standard for ska/dub heavyweights The Specials) are just a few of the heavies that lead the mix.

Hibbert and his group reformed, with new members stepping in for original Maytals Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Matthias, in the mid-1990s. Since then the band has maintained an active schedule, including an appearance at the 2005 Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tenn. During the last decade, Hibbert has also seen younger acts like Sublime and Rancid embrace his music and add new components like hardcore speed and punk/ska attitude to the formula, reigniting interest in the still-relevant originals.

Recently, Hibbert’s son, Hopeton Hibbert, released a compilation (Reggae, Reggae) on his own Roaddog Productions label that features Dad along with other purveyors of the modern reggae sound like Freddie McGreggor, Easy Wayne, and A.J. Brown.

That doesn’t mean Hibbert’s sitting back with feet propped and spliff dangling. In 2004, he was at the helm of True Love, a duets album that paired his gravelly, spirited voice with a dean’s list of friends and admirers including Willie Nelson, Ben Harper, Eric Clapton, and Bonnie Raitt. The album went on to win an ’04 Grammy for Best Reggae Album. Last year Hibbert also appeared on Nelson’s long-delayed reggae detour Countryman, adding vocals to the Johnny Cash-penned “I’m a Worried Man.” Most recently, Hibbert paired up with Jamaican vocalist Diana King for the single “Can’t Let Go” and opened a few shows for old pals and Jah enthusiasts The Rolling Stones. Light Your Light followed in 2007.

Whether working in the role of a collaborator or instigator, Hibbert, is most certainly an innovator. The melodic, far-reaching style of reggae he perfected in the main room of Kingston’s legendary Studio One helped him become one of the genre’s most enduring elder statesmen. Talk about freestyle? Well, looks like you found it, brah. —Michael Andrews