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Reggae Legends

Peter Tosh

Peter Tosh

By Judson Kilpatrick
Published September 1, 2005

Peter Tosh was a musical revolutionary—he used words as bullets in his unending struggle. His murder robbed reggae of one of its most prized figures.

“I’m like a stepping razor, don’t you watch my size, I’m dangerous!”

 

It’s ironic that the towering, six-foot-plus Peter Tosh had one of his biggest solo successes singing Joe Higgs’ anthem for vertically challenged rude boys, but the confrontational nature of “Stepping Razor” perfectly fit the man born Winston Hubert McIntosh in Jamaica in October 1944. In fact, one of this Wailing Wailers founder’s first solo recordings was “I’m The Toughest,” and years before dancehall’s gun talk, Tosh had a custom guitar that resembled an M-16 rifle. Over the years, his unflinchingly honest lyrics and fiery stage sermons earned him severe beatings at the hands of the police, but he never backed down.

After the original Wailers went their separate ways in the early 1970s, Tosh signed on with Columbia Records and released what is arguably the best album of career, Legalize It. Though the pro-ganja title track was banned in Jamaica, the song was ubiquitous elsewhere and brought wide attention to Tosh. Tosh recorded just one more album for Columbia, the powerful Equal Rights, before signing on with the Rolling Stones’ custom label in the States. Bush Doctor, issued in 1978, featured Tosh’s duet with Mick Jagger on the Temptations’ old Motown song “(You Got To Walk And) Don’t Look Back.”

Following one more for Rolling Stones Records, Mystic Man, Tosh signed to EMI America, issuing Wanted Dread & Alive in 1981 and Mama Africa, his highest charting album in the U.S. (it included his hit cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”), two years later. Captured Live (1984) was his last album to display any real commercial potential in the States.

Peter Tosh was a musical revolutionary—he used words (“politricks,” “bureaucraps,” “shitstem”) as bullets in his unending struggle. His militant stance, thought-provoking lyrics, energetic stage presence and soulful baritone were immensely influential. At Jamaica’s 1978 One Love Peace Concert, Tosh gave an incendiary performance accompanied by defiant diatribes aimed at the politicians and policemen at the venue.

Tosh gave up recording for a few years to protest his record company’s distribution agreement with South Africa. Unfortunately, real bullets caught up with him at the age of 42. On September 11th, 1987, just after the release of No Nuclear War, three gunmen (one of whom he knew) came into his house demanding money. They left without taking anything, except the lives of a reggae giant and two of his friends.



Recommended Recordings

Legalize It (Columbia)
Mama Africa (Capitol)
Honorary Citizen (Columbia/Legacy