WRITTEN BY: LIVITY
Numerous reggae musicians both from the past and present are self-proclaimed revolutionaries. Modern society seems to accept their claims, whether or not they have done any revolutionary acts. Though Bob Marley is the commercially accepted king of reggae, his bandmate Peter Tosh holds a grander title: the title of revolutionary.
When referring to revolutionary, I am not speaking of his musical ability or trends he set.
Peter Tosh is a living revolutionary who used stadiums and stages as his podium to uplift the consciousness of the masses, through spiritually and socially conscious music that still influences a new generation of reggae artists like Iba Mahr, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, Chornixx, Jah9, and Jesse Royal. He was misunderstood by the public due to mainstream media propaganda.
Peter Tosh challenged the norms of his time on issues of religion, racism, economic injustice, social injustice, and the decriminalization of marijuana. For these acts he should be acknowledged, not only as one of Jamaica’s greatest musicians, but also one of its greatest freedom fighters.
There are 12 interesting facts about Winston Hubert McIntosh, better known to us as Peter Tosh:
- Well Read
Despite pop culture’s portrayal of Peter Tosh as a hot-headed militant, he was an intellectual who was able to converse about diverse topics. Peter Tosh was also well read — from Shakespeare to Fantz Fanon.
- Political Demonstrations
The two documented acts of political demonstration by the “Stepping Razor” were protests against atrocities in Rhodesia and participation in the Walter Rodney Riots in Kingston. After conversion to Rastafarianism and exposure to Guyanese Pan Africanist Walter Rodney,who resided in Jamaica during the late 1960’s, Peter Tosh’s consciousness was lifted to immense heights. The first occurrence was innocent, the second was legendary.
Peter Tosh was featured in the Jamaica Gleaner on March 12, 1968 as a protester for the judicial killings of Black citizens in Rhodesia during that time. The Gleaner was unaware that he was a locally popular musician at the time.
The Walter Rodney riots, which caused death and destruction of public and private property, began when the Jamaican government banned Rodney from re-entering the country in 1968. He caught the hearts of many Jamaicans, from the “sufferahs” in the gullies to the middle class university students, as he explained harsh conditions and the means for reform. During the riots, Peter Tosh stole a 42-passenger bus, drove it into a store, watched looters, and then drove looters with their goods back to Kingston ghetto of Trench Town.
- Band of Brothers
The original Wailers connection was deeper than music. Bunny “Livingston” Wailer’s father, had a child with Bob Marley’s mother Cedella Booker, during their brief and tumultuous relationship. Peter Tosh fathered a child with Bunny Wailer’s sister.
- Saturday Night Live and The Late Show
On December 16 1978, Peter Tosh performed on SNL next to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, singing their hit cover of the Temptations’ “Don’t Look Back.” For his second song he sang the pro-marijuana song “Bush Doctor” on national television, with its famous lyrics “Legalize marijuana down here in Jamaica.” According to John Masouri in his book , The Life of Peter Tosh, he says, “It’s probably the only pro-marijuana song to ever receive coast-to-coast television coverage in the US”.
Tosh was also a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman twice. First in 1979, where he performed passionate versions of “Stepping Razor” and “Equal Rights.” In 1983 he sang “Where you Gonna Run”. Many are puzzled why he did not pick a more militant song to perform during this opportunity. Despite the song selection, Peter Tosh performing on the Late Show was considered quite impressive.
Peter Tosh taught a whole generation about African history, self-love, and standing up against oppressors. He also was Bob Marley’s first guitar teacher. According to Bunny Wailer, both he and Bob could not play any musical instruments. Peter Tosh had his own guitar and the in-depth skill to play it due to skills he learned as a youth growing up in the rural area of Jamaica. He was a multi-talented musician with the ability to play the guitar, piano, harmonica, violin, and percussions.
- One Love Peace Concert 1978
During the social turmoil and tribal war that rocked Jamaica during 1978, political henchmen from rival groups united and promoted a peace concert to publicize their truce. Bob Marley, who was in exile in London for two years following an assassination attempt in 1976, had been romanticized as the star of the show. The picture of Bob Marley holding hands with political figures Edward Seaga and Michael Manley has been wrongfully dramatized, as Marley was coerced into doing the show. In addition, this truce lasted briefly as Peter Tosh spoke of in his song “Peace Treaty.” Peter Tosh was the real star of the show, mesmerizing the crowd with hits and a speech that some believe caused his brutal beating just weeks later. Reggae archivist Roger Steffens says, “It could have been as seminal a moment as Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech at Lincoln Memorial.”
Peter Tosh did not allow foreign “pirates” to record his performance, preventing exploitation of the culture and the artist with sales of his performance without compensation. The unforgettable speech was full of critiques of the social ills burdening the poor and downtrodden of Jamaica and also defended the use of the herbs, professing the spiritual, medicinal, and economical benefits of marijuana. This performance is what influenced Mick Jagger to sign Peter Tosh as the first artist of their Rolling Stone label.
Audio of full performance at One Love Peace Concert 1978
Audio excerpt of speech from One Love Peace Concert
- He was a comedian
Despite popular belief that Peter Tosh was this mean, angry person, he was actually quite the comedian. Like most political figures whose public image is militant, their softer side is reserved to those closest to them. Peter Tosh had a humorous, nice side. Herbie Miller, one of Peter’s earlier managers, said in an interview that Peter liked purchasing toys, skateboards, roller skates, slingshots, electronic cars and trinkets while on tour. His house was also filled with fish, rabbits, guinea pigs and his much cherished birds. The man who wrote “Rastafari Is” and “Jah Guide” also watched cartoons and rode a unicycle in his spare time. David Hinds of Steel Pulse also refers to Peter Tosh as a comedian in numerous interviews.
- He was a Vampire who suffered from sleep paralysis
One can blame the stresses of being underprivileged in a colonial country where social upward mobility is almost impossible or his smoking of copious amounts of marijuana, but Peter Tosh had vicious bouts of sleep paralysis and paranoia. He believed his sleep paralysis was due to visits from Satan or vampires coming to take his life. Dr. M. G. Smith thinks stress and opportunities to increase social status cause sleep paralysis. His theory makes sense because Peter’s worst encounters occurred when the Wailers were trying to get a deal with the famous Coxsone Dodd of Studio One.
- Love Lost
Famous for his reckless driving, Peter Tosh was in a horrible car accident that killed his companion whom he was deeply in love with. Some say he never recovered from losing Yvonne Whittingham. Yvonne’s uniqueness was not just her royal beauty but her intellect and ferocious interest in African history and social issues. The accident left Tosh with broken ribs, broken jaw, facial scars, and a broken heart. The love of his life, best friend, and advisor was gone. The “Stepping Razor” would forever hold guilt for the death of Yvonne Whittingham.
- Herb Defender and Early advocate for the legalization of marijuana
While most entertainers relegated their marijuana consumption to hotel rooms, tour buses, or dressing rooms, Peter Tosh smoked everywhere all the time, usually getting in trouble for his disregard for “Babylon’s” laws. There is a famous story that he lit his pipe on an American Airlines flight to JFK. It led him to appear before the judge whom Peter cursed and scolded as the minister of marijuana.
Peter Tosh was a trail blazer in advocating for the decimalization of marijuana. He paved the way for modern reggae singers to perform marijuana songs without incurring the brutalization that Peter received for standing up for his beliefs. Whenever given the opportunity, in interviews or live performances, Peter Tosh was promoting the beneficial spiritual and medicinal components of marijuana. Peter Tosh also smoked his marijuana “ital”, meaning without mixing the herb with any tobacco products.
- Mark of the Beast
Most revolutionaries’ encounters with the local military force referred to as police were usually brutal and unjust. Peter Tosh’s first beating by the Jamaican Constabulary force came in 1972 for, yes, marijuana resulting in fractured ribs and seven stitches in the forehead. Though there were numerous altercations over the next decade, it was the last beating that had the greatest effect.
On October 3 1978, an undercover cop accused Peter Tosh of smoking marijuana outside a famous Jamaican recording studio. Peter Tosh resisted and was bombarded by numerous plain clothes police, then rushed to the station where he endured over an hour of “good ol’ ass whooping” leaving him with a gash in his head that needed twenty stitches, a broken arm and psychological damage that caused him migraines and psychosis for the remainder of his life. Peter had to play dead for the officers to stop the brutalization, which resulted in no disciplinary actions against the officers.
- Death riled with conspiracy
Like most revolutionaries- Che Guevara, Thomas Sankara, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Walter Rodney, Martin Luther King, Patrice Lumumba, and Amilcar Cabral- Peter Tosh also died a violent death.
The main story is that a hanger-on called Leppo took a gun charge on behalf of Peter Tosh with the promise of being financially compensated upon his release. When Peter was let go, the money was not issued and Leppo killed Peter Tosh in revenge. All the men accused of killing Peter were murdered within weeks after his death, except Leppo. Others claim it was a hit for debts he owed to dangerous people for borrowed money or ganja hustling. Peter was under immense financial strain during the time of his death.
The other story is that Peter Tosh along with Free-I were preparing to launch a reggae- only station, which played only cultural music and provided educational information in history and health. It is alleged that the powers that be did not want the Jamaican public exposed to such consciousness during the time when brain-draining dancehall was paramount in Jamaica.
Peter Tosh was a visionary, with an unmatched courage to speak out against injustices that most saw but ignored. Tosh, the genius musician, did not utilize his talents to make commercial music but to make revolutionary music. Peter Tosh was more than a reggae artist. He was an activist using songs such as ” Apartheid’ , ‘ Equal Rights’, ‘ Day the Dollar Die’, ‘ Downpressor Man’ ,and ‘ Can’t Fool Me Again’ to edify the masses who were oppressed physically, economically, spiritually, and psychologically.
The Stepping Razor’ must always be remembered as man who spoke for the voiceless and provided hope for the hopeless. He was the inspiration for millions to ‘Get Up and Stand Up’ for one’s rights and fight against the ‘shitstedm.’
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