He likened himself to a " Stepping Razor” and at times with a ganja spliff dangling from his lips, his M-16 shaped guitar slung across his shoulders, he bared his chest, and claimed himself as “The Toughest.” Love him or hate him, Winston Hubert McIntosh, better known as Peter Tosh, was one of the most significant talents to come out of Jamaica. He was a singer, musician, composer, and rebel extraordinaire. Tosh had a larger-than-life impact on the Jamaican musical scene, both as a founding member of the Wailers and even more so as a solo artist. He was born on October 19, 1944, in Grange Hill in Westmoreland Jamaica, and like so many young island teens searching for a better life, he left home at 15 and headed for the capital city, Kingston. Once there, he connected with Joseph Higgs of Higgs and Wilson fame, joining up with other aspiring youths eager for the vocal coaching lessons the singing star provided to local teens. Among this group of aspiring youngsters were Bunny Livingstone, Robert Nesta Marley, Junior Braithwaite, Cherry Green, and Beverley Kelso. They would later be brought together to form “The Teenagers”, before finally settling on the name “The Wailing Wailers.”
Peter Tosh The Wailer
Once the group started recording they were met with immediate success with their debut single, "Simmer Down," which was an instant hit. Tosh showed promise as an excellent guitarist, a talent he showcased in 1963 on the Wailers single "I'm Going Home,” but he was also a gifted songwriter, a talent which helped the band survive during a period where Marley took a hiatus from the group while he went to work in the U.S. in 1966. During this period, the Wailers, reduced to a trio with the departure of Braithwaite, Green, and Kelso, continued on without Marley by substituting with Constance "Dream" Walker, releasing singles now credited to either the Wailers or Bunny Livingstone alone. Thus, over the next year, a number of sides were released under the Studio One umbrella including Tosh’s dance-friendly "Hoot Nanny Hoot," "The Jerk," a cover of Sir Lancelot's calypso hit "Shame and Scandal in the Family," the R&B-fired "Making Love," and a duet with Rita Marley titled "It's Only Love”, "Rasta Shook Them Up" which celebrated Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica at the time as well as the rude boy inspired " I’m The Toughest."
The Wailers departed Studio One after Marley returned from the USA and launched their own short-lived Wail'n'Soul label. Unfortunately, the label had little success leading the group back to the studio circuit which bore little fruits. Between 1969 and 1970, the group cut a string of instrumentals for the producer and released them under the alias “Peter Touch”. Tosh at the time had been trying his hand at playing, and the singles chart provided a record of his progress on the instrument. "Crimson Pirate," "Sun Valley," the almost psychedelic "Pepper Seed," "The Return of Al Capone," "Selassie Serenade" and more, were the end results.
Tosh goes Solo
In 1971, Tosh made the decision to pursue a true solo career in conjunction with his work with the Wailers. He cut his debut single with producer Joe Gibbs entitled, "Maga Dog," a song that had originally been recorded by the Wailers under Coxsone Dodd. Gibbs recreated the song, slowing the tempo down and creating a rhythm perfect for the latest dance rage, the John Crow skank. The single was a major hit and became a favorite of the DJs, influencing a number of versions from other artistes. Tosh followed this up with the pulsating "Dem Ha Fe Get a Beating" announcing his arrival as a hit-maker. During his period with Gibbs, Tosh recorded a clutch of seminal works, including "Arise Blackman," "Black Dignity," and "Here Comes the Judge," a song built off the Abyssinians “Sattamassagana” rhythm and a kind of take from Prince Buster’s earlier hit “Judge Dread,” in which Tosh expressed his contempt for the system as a magistrate when he tries and convicts Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, and Vasco da Gama for a myriad of crimes committed against Black people. Tosh followed that up with a militant cover of "Nobody's Business ", and being the quintessential rude boy, returned to the studios and released a trio of hits in the rude boy genre, a remake of Desmond Dekker’s "Rude Boy Train" and "007 Shanty Town," and his own composition, "I'm the Toughest." Despite the recording successes with Joe Gibbs though, Tosh’s relationship with the label came to an end as a result of a dispute with Joe Gibbs over a dispute with lack of payments from the single "Maga Dog." In response he penned and self-produced the single "Once Bitten" which was allegedly aimed directly at the producer. That single utilized the "Maga Dog" rhythm, as did its follow-up, "Dog Teeth." Initially, these records were released along with his latest self-produced solo singles on the Wailers' own Tuff Gong label, but soon the artist set up his own label, Intel Diplo HIM (Intelligent Diplomat for His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie). The label was inaugurated with the single "Dog Teeth," and was followed up towards the end of 1971 with "Ketchy Shoobie.".
In 1972, the Wailers finally realized the international breakthrough that they had long sought. Naturally, this partially put the brakes on Peter Tosh’s solo recording career but he did release a few singles, including "No Mercy" and "You Can't Blame the Youth." In 1973 he released "Mark of the Beast," "Foundation," "What You Gonna Do," and a re-recording of "Pound Get a Blow," originally a single released by the Wailers in 1968. At the end of their 1973 U.K. tour, Bunny Livingstone announced that he would no longer tour outside of Jamaica with the band. The Wailers would initially carry on without him, completing a tour of the United States, then the second tour of Britain. Mounting tensions between Tosh and Marley finally exploded on November 30, in Northampton. The resulting altercation ended with Peter Tosh quitting the band. Although they reunited six months later for a benefit show, and again in late 1975 for another benefit concert, the group itself was now defunct, and each of the three Wailers went their separate ways.
Tosh posted his first post-Wailer single, "Brand New Second-hand," a new version of a song initially recorded by the Wailers for Scratch Perry. Tosh followed this up with the ganja anthem "Legalize It," a monster hit that even though it was slapped with a radio ban, was on the lips of every single Reggae music fan. In 1975, Peter Tosh signed to the Columbia label in the U.S., and began work on his first solo album titled “Legalize It” The album included "Burial" and "Ketchy-Shubby" and hit the record shops in 1976, drawing significant support at home and abroad. Drawing on the success of the album, Tosh and his band consisting of the likes of the rhythm specialists Sly & Robbie, keyboard player Earl “Wire” Lindo, guitarists Al Anderson and Donald Kinsey, among others set off on tour. Tosh’s music style evolved in a style that was similar to Marleys, a kind of experimentation as a hybrid Reggae style that paid homage to American Rock music but laced with Jamaican roots. Tosh produced "Why Must I Cry" and the country & western-tinged "Til Your Well Runs Dry." Tosh's follow-up album, Equal Rights (his last album with Colombia Records) was more focused than Legalize It. The album addressed the burning issues impacting Black people across the globe, in particular, the issues of Apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia on cuts such as Downpresser Man, A new version of "Downpressor Man," the original song which was done with Scratch Perry earlier in the decade, was turned into a dread classic. However, the most seminal tracks were the new songs -- the anthemic "Get Up, Stand Up," the menacing rocker "Stepping Razor," and the artist's personal manifesto, "Equal Rights." In Jamaica, politically inspired violence ran rampant. including events such as the Green Bay Massacre, providing the headlines in a struggle of political ideologies. In the midst of this, the gangs for a brief time put aside their differences and called a truce. The One Love Peace Concert was organized to help cement this cessation of violence with a billing headed by Robert Nesta Marley, who returned to the island for the show.
The concert was held on April 22, 1978, and Peter Tosh dropped a set comprised of his most militant numbers -- "400 Years," "Stepping Razor," "Burial," "Equal Rights," "Legalize It," and "Get Up, Stand Up," interspersed by Tosh’s unabashed commentary against the social and political infrastructure. Tosh's performance impressed visiting British rock star Mick Jagger, who'd been backstage that night, and Tosh was now signed to the Rolling Stone’s own label and that summer toured the States opening for the band. The two singers joined forces on a cover of the Temptations "(You Gotta Walk And) Don't Look Back," a song that Tosh had previously recorded with the Wailers.
Later that year Tosh was arrested in Kingston for possession of ganja and taken to the Half Way Tree lockup where he was beaten so badly he required 30 stitches to close the gaping wounds in his cracked skull. Even with these severe injuries, the artist began work on his next album, Bush Doctor, co-produced by Robbie Shakespeare and featured the Tamlins on backing vocals, and some of the island's top session men, led of course by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare as well as the great Keith Richards’ seminal guitar on two tracks. The album featured new versions of "I'm the Toughest" and "Dem Ha Fe Get a Beaten" In 1979 he released the album “Mystic Man” which featured songs like "Rumours of War" and "Jah Seh No" were. The year also saw the release of the single "Buckingham Palace" and a re-recorded "Stepping Razor" for the soundtrack for the legendary film Rockers. The year 1980 was highlighted by a spectacular appearance at Reggae Sunsplash, and the year also brought the excellent "Bombo Klaat" single, a Jamaican-only single released on Tosh's revived Intel Diplo HIM label. A duet with Gwen Guthrie, "Nothing but Love," was offered up to the rest of the world.
Music Return and Unfortunate End
Tosh returned with a vengeance in 1981, releasing the “Wanted Dread & Alive” album, which shot into the lower reaches of the United States chart and was followed with a tour of both the U.S. and Europe. He would take the next year off, returning in 1983, with a phenomenal cover of "Johnny B. Goode" which made the US Top 50 and essayed in his new album, “Mama Africa” later that same year. Another tour followed, including a concert in Swaziland and headlining appearances at the Reggae Superjam festival in Kingston. The album, "Captured Live," was released the following year, recorded during these tours. Tosh then disappeared off the musical map for the next three years, and it wasn't until 1987 that a new single, "In My Song," arrived. In September, it was joined by the album No Nuclear War.
On September 11, 1987, Tosh was shot dead along with two of his colleagues, radio DJ Jeff "Free-I-Tafari" Dixon, and Wilton "Doc" Brown, at his home in Kingston, Jamaica.
On August 6, 2012, he was accorded the Order of Merit (OM), Jamaica's third highest national honour and joining fellow Wailer, and reggae icon Bob Marley as a recipient. Thanks for taking the time to read our blog, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we appreciate your feedback. We also invite you to check Sunday Scoops our Jamaican music streaming and commentary program every Sunday from 2-4pm on yaawdmedia.com feel free to share with your friends. Check out our Reggaewear merchandise at: Reggae Clothing | Yardabraawd Gallery and Collectibles