Peter Tosh ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Born on this day: Winston Hubert McIntosh, better known to Reggae fans as Peter Tosh, one of the original Wailers. 

At the age of 15 Tosh moved to Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica, after the death of his aunt in Westmoreland, Jamaica, where he was born. According to the legend, recounted by the WikiWackyWoo:

He first picked up a guitar by watching a man in the country play a song that captivated him. He watched the man play the same song for half a day, memorizing everything his fingers were doing. He then picked up the guitar and played the song back to the man. The man then asked McIntosh who had taught him to play; McIntosh told him that he had.[2] During the early 1960s Tosh met Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley) and Neville O’Reilly Livingston (Bunny Wailer) and went to vocal teacher Joe Higgs, who gave out free vocal lessons to young people, in hopes to form a new band. He then changed his name to become Peter Tosh and the trio started singing together in 1962. Higgs taught the trio to harmonize and while developing their music, they would often play on the street corners of Trenchtown.[3]

[…] In 1964 Tosh helped organize the band The Wailing Wailers, with Junior Braithwaite, a falsetto singer, and backup singers Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith. Initially, Tosh was the only one in the group who could play musical instruments. According to Bunny Wailer,
Tosh was critical to the band because he was a self-taught guitarist
and keyboardist, and thus became an inspiration for the other band
members to learn to play. The Wailing Wailers had a major 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 Delaware in the United States of America with his mother, Cedella (Malcolm) Marley-Booker and for a brief 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. Tosh and Bunny were already
Rastafarians when Marley returned from the U.S., and the three became
very involved with the Rastafari faith. Soon afterwards, they renamed
the musical group The Wailers. Tosh would explain later that they chose
the name Wailers because to “wail” means to mourn or to, as he put it,
“…express one’s feelings vocally”. He also claims that he was the
beginning of the group, and that it was he who first taught Bob Marley
the guitar. The latter claim may very well be true, for according to Bunny Wailer, the early wailers learned to play instruments from Tosh.[4]

The Wailing Wailers eschewed the rapid, feel-good Ska beat for a slower, slinkier beat, which became known as Rocksteady, One Drop, and eventually Reggae. They dropped the “Wailing” from their name and became The Wailers. Some of Marley’s biggest hits were originally recorded during this time and written, or co-written, by Peter Tosh. It wasn’t until Chris Blackwell signed them to Island Records did they become Bob Marley and the Wailers.

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I once worked for Island Records Canada.]

Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left Island Records when Blackwell, who had groomed Marley to become a star, refused to release their solo records. Soon after, Tosh released the Legalize It LP. The titular song is still an anthem for the Marijuana Movement worldwide.

A few years later Tosh appeared at the One Love Peace Concert and lit a spliff onstage, lecturing the assembled politicians on the unfair marijuana laws. According to the Wiki: Several months later he was apprehended by police as he left Skateland
dance hall in Kingston and was beaten severely while in police custody.

Peter Tosh was posthumously awarded the Order of Merit by the Jamaican government and while he never achieved the fame of Bob Marley, he never lost his street cred and is considered the most controversial member of The Wailers.

To celebrate his birthday, there will be 2 symposiums, today and tomorrow, in Jamaica. According to the Jamaican Observer:

The first is staged by the Kingston and St Andrew Ganja Growers and
Producers Association and the National Alliance for the Legalisation of
Ganja in partnership with the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation at
Curphey Place in St Andrew.

It reflects on the life and legacy of Tosh, an unrepentant advocate for
the legalisation of ganja. Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown-Burke will
address the forum, which has a panel moderated by her husband Paul
Burke, Tosh’s former manager Herbie Miller, social activist Louis
Moyston, and UWI lecturer, Dr Michael Barnett.

Guest speakers include Tosh’s friend, former Jamaica footballer Allan
‘Skill’ Cole; president of the National Ganja Growers Association,
Orville Silvera, and Minister of Transport Dr Omar Davies.

Tomorrow’s event is the annual Peter Tosh Symposium at the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus.

Arguably reggae’s most militant figure, Tosh (born Winston Hubert
McIntosh) was killed by gunmen at his home on September 11 1987. He was

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.