Peter Tosh PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 24 October 2008 10:06

Peter Tosh (left) on the Bush Doctor tour, 1978

Winston Hubert McIntosh

Born: October 19 1944

Died: September 11, 1987

Age: 42

Cause of death: Gunshot to head.

Notable because: Tough Jamaican who played with Bob Marley and died violently.


Peter Tosh was a a reggae musician who was a core member of The Wailers who then went on to have a successful solo career as well as being a trailblazer for the Rastafari movement.

Tosh grew up in the Kingston, Jamaica slum of Trenchtown. He stood out because of his height at 6 feet, 5 1/2 inches. His short-fuse temper and unveiled sarcasm usually kept him in trouble, earning him the nickname Steppin' Razor after a song written by Joe Higgs, an early mentor. He began to sing and learn guitar at a young age, inspired by the American stations he could pick up on his radio. After an illustrious career with the Wailers and as a solo musician, he was murdered at his home. Robbery was officially said to be the motivation behind Tosh's death.

In the early 1960s Tosh met Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer through his vocal teacher, Joe Higgs. While perfecting their sound, the trio would often play together on street corners in a Jamaican slum called Trenchtown. Joe Higgs was the man who taught the trio to harmonize as well as teaching Marley to play the guitar. In 1962, he was the driving force behind the formation of The Wailing Wailers with Junior Braithwaite and backup singers Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith. The Wailing Wailers had a huge ska hit with their first single, "Simmer Down," and recorded several more successful singles before Braithwaite, Kelso and Smith left the band in late 1965. Marley spent much of 1966 in America with his mother, Cedella (Malcolm) Marley-Booker and for a short time was working at a nearby Chrysler factory. He then returned to Jamaica in early 1967 with a renewed interest in music and a new spirituality. McIntosh and Bunny were already Rastafarians when Marley returned from the U.S., and the three became heavily involved in the Rastafari movement. Soon afterwards, they renamed the group The Wailers. Tosh would later explain that they chose the name Wailers because to "wail" means to mourn or to, as he put it, " ones feelings vocally".

Veering away from the up-tempo dance of ska, the band slowed down to a rocksteady pace, and infused their lyrics with political and social messages. The Wailers penned several songs for the American born singer Johnny Nash before teaming up with production wizard Lee Perry to record some of reggae's earliest hits including "Soul Rebel," "Duppy Conqueror" and "Small Axe." With the addition of bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett and his brother, drummer Carlton in 1970, The Wailers became Caribbean superstars. The band signed a recording contract with Chris Blackwell and Island Records and released their debut, Catch a Fire, in 1973, following it up with Burnin' the same year.

In 1973, Tosh was driving home with his then-girlfriend Evonne when his car was hit by another car driving on the wrong side of the road. The accident killed Evonne and severely fractured Tosh's skull. He survived, but became even harder to deal with. After Island Records president Chris Blackwell refused to issue his solo album in 1974, the volatile Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers, citing the unfair treatment they received from Blackwell, whom Tosh often referred to as 'Whiteworst'.

Tosh began recording under the name Peter Tosh, and released his solo debut, Legalize It, in 1976 on CBS Records. The title track soon became an anthem for supporters of marijuana legalization, Reggae lovers and Rastafarians all over the world, and was a favourite at Tosh's concerts. As Marley preached his "One Love" message, Tosh railed against the hypocritical "shitstem," and became a favourite target of the Jamaican police. He proudly wore the scars that he had received from the beatings he endured.[citation needed] Always taking the militant approach, he released Equal Rights in 1977. Tosh put together a backing band, Word, Sound and Power who were to accompany him on tour for the next few years, and many of whom appeared on his albums of this period. In 1978 Rolling Stones Records signed Tosh, and the album Bush Doctor was released, introducing Tosh to a larger audience. The single from the album, a cover of The Temptations song Don't Look Back, performed as a duet with Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, turned Tosh into one of the best known Reggae artists.This was a far cry from his start, playing with Bunny and Bob on the streetcorners of Trenchtown, JA. Tosh, as the original guitarist for The Wailers', is considered as one of the originators of the choppy and syncopated Reggae guitar style.

Peter Tosh with Robbie Shakespeare, 1978
Peter Tosh with Robbie Shakespeare, 1978

In the free One Love Peace Concert in 1978, first Tosh lambasted the audience, including attending dignitaries, with political demands that included legalizing cannabis. He did this while smoking a spliff, a criminal act in Jamaica. Bob Marley asked both then-Prime Minister Michael Manley, and opposition leader Edward Seaga onto the stage; and a famous picture was taken with all three of them holding their hands together above their heads in a symbolic gesture of peace during what had been a very violent election campaign.

Mystic Man (1979), and Wanted Dread and Alive (1981) followed. Released on the Rolling Stones' own record label, Tosh tried to gain some mainstream success while keeping his militant views, but was largely unsuccessful, especially compared to Marley's achievements. That same year, Tosh appeared in the Stones' video, Waiting on a Friend.

After the release of 1983's Mama Africa, Tosh went into self-imposed exile, seeking the spiritual advice of traditional medicine men in Africa, and trying to free himself from recording agreements that distributed his records in South Africa.

Tosh also participated in the international opposition to South African apartheid by appearing at Anti-Apartheid concerts and by reflecting his stance in various songs like "Apartheid" (1977, re-recorded 1987), "Equal Rights" (1977), "Fight On" (1979), and "Not Gonna Give It Up" (1983). In 1991 Stepping Razor - Red X was released, a film - documentary by Nicholas Campbell and produced by Wayne Jobson and based upon a series of spoken-word tapes recorded by Tosh himself, which chronicled the story of Tosh's life, music and untimely death.


In 1987, Tosh appeared to be on the way to a career revival. He was awarded a Grammy for Best Reggae Performance in 1987 for No Nuclear War. However on September 11, 1987, just after Tosh had returned to his home in Jamaica, a three-man gang came to his house demanding money. Tosh replied that he did not have any with him but the gang did not believe him. They stayed at his residence for several hours in an attempt to extort money from Peter. During this time many of Tosh's friends came to his house to greet him following his return to Jamaica. As people began to arrive, the gunmen became more and more frustrated. Especially the leader of the gang, Dennis 'Leppo' Lobban, a man whom Peter had befriended and tried to help find work after a long jail sentence. Peter must have been disgusted by this turn of events and made it very clear that he would never give them what they came for. Upon realizing that they would not get anything from the robbery, the gangs leader put a gun to Peter's head and fired twice killing him instantly.

The other gunmen began shooting, wounding several others and killing disc jockey Jeff "Free I" Dixon. Leppo turned himself over to the authorities, and was tried and convicted in the shortest jury deliberation in Jamaican history: eleven minutes. He was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted in 1995 and he remains in prison.

Neither of his two alleged accomplices were found, though rumours persist that both were gunned down in the streets.


Last Updated on Thursday, 05 July 2012 09:13

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