So in the summer of 1994 after I quit my broker job at what is now TD Ameritrade, as Joe Ferry’s production assistant, I was hired as the project coordinator for the Skatalites big 30th Anniversary record – celebrating their 30 years as the fathers of ska and Jamaican music.
They booked tons of guest artists from the jazz, ska and reggae world. One of my jobs was to coordinate the arrival and departures of the band, guests and production staff. Basically I was a chauffeur and taxi dispatch. Now, at the same time of this recording was the Stanley Cup playoff where my beloved NY Rangers were finally there making headway towards their first cup since 1940.
I got a call from Randall Grass, the GM of Shanachie Records and my future boss, that Toots Hibbert was arriving at JFK airport and someone needed to pick him and his companion up. He was arriving around 7PM on June 14th – that’s right, during Game 7. No way, I was picking him up, so I call my crew of drivers that Joe hired and one guy, Dave said he could do it. Give Dave the details and make my plans to go to Joe’s house to watch Game 7 and enjoy some Snapple and pizza bagels(Joe doesn’t drink and we had too much fun watching Rangers games, The Simpsons and of course Ed Wood movies, who needed beer).
So, I get a call that afternoon from Dave saying he can’t do it, some lame excuse, so now I had to do it. I didn’t even know who this Toots guy was. I was on the phone with one of the members of The Juicemen, a band I booked, telling him how ticked I was that I had to pick up some guy names Toots Hibbert and he starts freaking out telling me what a legend Toots was, second only to Marley and Jimmy Cliff when it comes to reggae and how lucky I was – I of course tell him he can do it and I will pay, but his wife wouldn’t let him go.
So off I go in my tan Mazda Protege (ne 323) to pick up reggae royalty while listening to the game in AM radio.
I drive up to the international terminal at JFK and pull up to the Arrivals curb (this is pre-9/11, so you could stand) with a bunch of limos and Lincoln Towncars. I am holding up a sign that says “Toots” and everyone starts to ask me with a thick Jamaican accent if I was picking up The Toots and when I say yes you can see a look of excitement and confusion when they see my tan Japanese compact. “Hey Mon, I an I be pickin up Toots in dat?” I am not really paying attention, the 1st period is beginning and I am intently listening to my low-fi AM feed.
After about 30 minutes people start leaving customs from the flight from Jamaica and out runs Toots, full speed sprint, sees me and jumps into the back seat of my Protege – like it is a limo and I am his driver. He has no bags, just him. Everyone is screaming like it is the Beatles, I guess Toots is famous, what did I know, I am a 24 year old indie rock and metal guy.
So, I hop into the drivers seat, but Toots tells me to wait his girlfriend is still in customs. About 15 minutes later, out comes this little girl dragging two big suitcases behind her and a carry on around her neck. Now that is what I call chivalry!
I, unlike Toots, jump out and help the young lady put the bags into the roomy Protege trunk, but she won’t give up the carry on and throws it to Toots. Ah, I get it now – why she has the luggage and the distance between him and her in the customs check out.
She jumps in the back seat with Toots and off we go heading towards Manhattan, Gramercy Park Hotel, got my Rangers – Canucks game on, Toots and friend in the back seat and they whip out the bag full of pot and start smoking in my car. I roll down the windows and generally don’t mind, as long as I can hear my Rangers game.
About 20 minutes into he ride, we hit traffic right before I get to the Queens-Midtown tunnel when it happens – a hand comes out of the back seat and hits my radio and changes it to 95.5 WPLJ – home of the crappy pop hits.
OK, I play the game politely and ask Toots if it was OK that I listen to the game – playoffs, championship game, winner takes all, haven’t done it for 50 years, etc. He doesn’t care, his mind is flying and he needs music. He changes the channel back. Out comes the dulcet tones of Lisa Lisa and The Cult Jam or Jody Whatley or whatever marginally talented pop R&B singer of the day dominated the airwaves.
I summon the patience to remember that this is my job now, this is what I wanted and was one of the steps I had to take to get where I wanted to go. Then it happened, I channeled my Dad who on many occasions had to calm my sister and I in the back seat of the car on some ride to some family outing. One time, maybe when I was 6 he said this and out it came….
“Toots, if you let me listen to the game, I will let you honk the horn in the tunnel.”
Toots became a 6 year old boy, so excited, so enthralled by the notion “Yeah mon, I and I gonna honk de horn in de tunnel.” Granted, it is illegal and subject to a $250 fine, I clearly saw that sign on the entrance to the Queens Midtown Tunnel, but it was game 7 and worth every penny.
Half way in, Toots leaned in and with more enthusiasm than I saw come from him in the studio that week, he pressed the protege’s wimpy hi pitched horn.
Toots couldn’t stop talking about it all week and I got to listen to the second period of the game in peace.