Bob Marley may be the first name to come to mind when thinking about Jamaica and the music of Jamaica, but there is another voice that is no less powerful. That voice belongs to the legendary Peter Tosh. Peter, a one time band mate of Bob Marley, struck out on his own in the 70s, to create some of the most timeless reggae records ever recorded. Peter was also very politically outspoken and participated in causes for human rights around the world in his all too brief career.
Peter Tosh was born on October 18, 1944, in the town of Grange Hill, Jamaica. From an early age, Peter, who was raised by his aunt, showed an interest in music through singing and playing guitar. At the age of fifteen, due to the passing of his aunt, Peter was forced to move to Trench Town in Kingston Jamaica. There, during the early 60s, he met the musicians who would forever change his life.
While in Kingston, Peter hooked up with Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and a local vocal teacher named, Joe Higgs. Higgs gave out free vocal lessons, which greatly appealed to Peter, who was hoping to start his own band. By 1964, the Wailing Wailers had been formed with the addition of three new members: Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith. At the time, Peter was the only member of the band who could play an instrument, and under his prodding, the rest of the members decided that they too should learn how to play.
Their persistence paid off and the Wailing Wailers were rewarded with their first major ska hit, Simmer Down. More hits were to follow and so were major changes to the band as three members left: Smith, Kelso and Braithwaite. Bob Marley also left the band for a period when he moved to Delaware, USA, with his mother. Upon Bob's return, it is said that Peter taught Bob to play guitar, as well as the rest of the band members. Initially, the Wailers played an up-tempo ska music style, but it was at this point that they changed over to a more melodic rock steady style. The band member's increasing interest in the Rastafarian religion, eventually had an effect on their lyrics.
Two new members were added to the band in 1970, and they made important contributions to it. Joining were brothers, Aston "Family Man" Barrett" on bass, and on drums, Carlton Barrett. Not long after that the Wailers signed a contract with Island Records, and by 1973, released their international debut, Catch a Fire; in the same year he followed up with the album, Burnin'. Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers before 1974, due to poor treatment, and due to the fact that the solo album had not been released.
Undeterred by his split from the Wailers, Peter went on to release two fantastic solo albums back to back. The first was, Legalize It, in 1976. The title track of this album be came a crowd favorite and an anthem for the Rastafarian movement. Next, Peter followed up with an equally powerful and politically charged album, Equal Rights. On Peter's third album, he scored an international hit with Mick Jagger, on the duet, Don't Look Back.
Peter went into self imposed exile after 1984, but he continued to produce popular albums up until that time. His reasoning was a desire to travel to Africa to study traditional medicine and spiritual practices. During this time he also became active in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, by participating in anti-apartheid concerts. 1987 saw the end of Tosh's self imposed exile with the release of his final album, No Nuclear War. Tosh was considered the best reggae performer of the year, and he won the Grammy Award in that capacity.
Sadly, in 1987, during what appeared to be a very good year for Peter Tosh, an unfortunate ending occurred. During a home invasion and bungled extortion attempt, Peter Tosh was shot and killed when he denied keeping any money in his house. Sadly, it was a man Peter had once helped to find work that pulled the trigger and robbed the world of one of its greatest musical talents.
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