Founding member of The Wailers and international reggae superstar Peter Tosh would have turned seventy years old yesterday, had he not been brutally murdered in his home in Jamaica on September 11, 1987. Aside from penning some of The Wailers’ most enduring anthems, such as “Get Up, Stand Up” and “400 Years,” Peter Tosh had a successful solo career which took him to every corner of the globe, including his prophesied “Zion land” of Mother Africa. Along the way, he earned the respect of popular music’s greatest artists, including the Rolling Stones, who signed him to their own label from 1978 to 1981. So as we look back upon Peter’s tremendous career, here are a few of the lesser known facts about the “Steppin’ Razor.”
Number One: Peter Tosh was born Winston Hubert McIntosh on October 19, 1944. He was named after British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As a child he was given the nickname of Peter and other children referred to him as “McIntouch” for his proclivity to touch and handle things. Tosh dropped the “McIn-” from his surname and recorded early in his career as Peter Touch.
Number Two: Tosh was an accomplished guitarist despite having learned to play on a “sardine pan guitar.” Tosh was also a gifted multi-instrumentalist who played melodica, recorder, piano and organ on many recordings (many uncredited) early on in his career.
Number Three: Legalize It was a smash hit despite the fact that the first single from the album (also titled “Legalize It”) was banned from radio broadcast in Jamaica. The landmark album was released in 1976, the same year that Bunny Wailer’s Blackheart Man and Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration were released. These three albums, each one released by a founding member of The Wailers, are considered to be among the very best reggae albums ever recorded.
Number Four: Tosh’s legendary debut album Legalize It was produced in part by photographer, and former touring member of Bob Marley and the Wailers Lee Jaffe. According to Tosh’s bass player Robbie Shakespeare (who I interviewed in 2013) Jaffe was also partially responsible for assembling Tosh’s all-star backing band Word, Sound and Power. Jaffe also shot the iconic cover photo for the Legalize It album in a ganja field in Westmoreland, Jamaica.
Number Five: Both Tosh and Jaffe were part of the Wailers contingent that opened for Bruce Springsteen at Max’s Kansas City from July 18-23, 1973. The Wailers played a total of 14 shows at the club during the six-night run. Writing in Billboard Magazine, Sam Sutherland called the young Wailers “the only unknown band capable of neatly eclipsing Springsteen’s formidable, growing charisma.”
Number Six: Tosh was closely associated with the Rolling Stones throughout his career, because he was the only reggae artist signed to the group’s label (from 1978-1981). He also opened for the Stones throughout their 1978 US tour. Tosh is featured in the opening scene of the group’s video for “Waiting On A Friend.”
Number Seven: As Keith Richards explains in his 2010 autobiography Life, he allowed Tosh to take up residence at his home in Jamaica. Tosh, always a bit cagey and unpredictable, refused to leave the property upon Richards return to the island in 1981. Tosh ended up vacating the house when Richards pulled a gun and threatened to kill him.
Number Eight: Tosh was genius at deconstructing the English language. He infamously referred to New York City as “New York Shitty;” he often railed against the “Jamaican Crime Minister who shit in the House of Represent-a-t’ief;” he referred to the Babylon system (the white-colonialist establishment) as the “Babylon shit-stem.” The Queen of England was known to him as “Queen ‘Ere-lies-a-b***h.”
Number Nine: Peter Tosh’s final public performance in his native Jamaica was on January 28, 1984 at the Rockers Magazine Music Awards Show at National Heroes Arena in Kingston (four years prior to his murder on September 11, 1987). He also received the award for Reggae Personality of the Year.
Number Ten: Tosh friend and reggae historian Roger Steffens describes another interesting fact in the Foreword to John Masouri’s 2013 biography of Tosh titled Steppin’ Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh. Despite being an outspoken critic of the so-called “Babylon Shit-stem,” ironically, it is this very same establishment that awarded Tosh its third highest honor in 2012 when Jamaica awarded the rebel Wailer with the Order of Merit.