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Peter Tosh Biography

Home > Music > T > Tosh, Peter > Biography

Birth Name: Winston Hubert McIntosh
Born: 1944/10
Birth Place: Westmoreland, Jamaica
Died: 1987/09
Genres: Reggae, Ska, Rocksteady, R&B

Peter Tosh (born Winston Hubert McIntosh October 19, 1944 –September 11, 1987) was a Jamaican reggae musician who was a core member of the band The Wailers from 1963 to 1974, and who went on to have a successful solo career.

During the early 1960s Tosh met Bob Marley, and 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.

In 1964, Higgs helped organize the band The Wailing Wailers, with Junior Braithwaite, a falsetto singer, and backup singers Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith. 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. Changing their name to The Wailers, Tosh, Marley and Bunny soon became very involved with the Rastafari faith.

Rejecting the up-tempo dance of ska, the band slowed their music to a rocksteady pace, and infused their lyrics with political and social messages inspired by their new found faith. The Wailers composed several songs for the American-born singer Johnny Nash before teaming with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry to record some of the earliest well-known reggae songs, including “Soul Rebel,” “Duppy Conqueror” and “Small Axe.” The collaboration had given birth to reggae music and later, bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett and his brother, drummer Carlton Barrett would join the group in 1970.

The band signed a recording contract with Chris Blackwell and Island Records company and released their debut, “Catch a Fire,” in 1973, following it with “Burnin'” the same year. In 1973, Tosh was driving home with his girlfriend Evonne when his car was hit by another car driving on the wrong side of the road. The accident killed Evonne and severely fractured Tosh's skull. He survived, but became more difficult to deal with. After Island Records president Chris Blackwell refused to issue his solo album in 1974, Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers, citing the unfair treatment they received from Blackwell, to whom Tosh often referred with a derogatory play on Blackwell's surname, “Whiteworst.” Tosh had written many of the Wailers' hit songs such as “Get Up, Stand Up,” “400 Years” and “No Sympathy.”

Tosh began recording and released his solo debut, “Legalize It,” in 1976 through CBS Records. The title track soon became popular among endorsers of marijuana legalization, reggae music lovers and Rastafarians all over the world, and was a favorite at Tosh's concerts. As Marley preached his “One Love” message, Tosh criticized the hypocritical “shitstem.” He released the album “Equal Rights” in 1977.

In 1978 Rolling Stones Records contracted with Tosh, and the album “Bush Doctor” was released, introducing Tosh to a larger audience. The single from the album, a cover version of The Temptations song “Don't Look Back,” performed as a duet with Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, made Tosh one of the world’s best-known reggae artists.

During Bob Marley's free One Love Peace Concert of 1978, Tosh lit a marijuana spliff and lectured about legalizing cannabis, lambasting attending dignitaries Michael Manley and Edward Seaga for their failure to enact such legislation. Several months later he was apprehended by police as he left Skateland dance hall in Kingston and was beaten severely while in police custody.

1979’s “Mystic Man” and 1981’s “Wanted Dread and Alivefollowed, released on the Rolling Stones' own record label. Tosh tried to gain some mainstream success while keeping his militant views, but was largely unsuccessful, especially compared to Marley's achievements. In 1984, after the release of 1983's album “Mama Africa,” Tosh went into self-imposed exile, seeking the spiritual advice of traditional medicine men in Africa.

In 1987, Tosh seemed to be having a career revival. He was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Performance in 1987 for “No Nuclear War,” his last record. On September 11, 1987, just after Tosh had returned to his home in Jamaica, a three-man gang came to his house demanding money. Tosh replied that he did not have any with him but the gang did not believe him. They stayed at his residence for several hours in an attempt to extort money from Tosh and tortured him. During this time, many of Tosh's friends came to his house to greet him because of his return to Jamaica. As people arrived, the gunmen became more and more frustrated, especially the chief thug, Dennis “Leppo” Lobban, a man whom Tosh had previously befriended and tried to help find work after a long jail sentence. Tosh said he did not have any money in the house, after which Lobban put a gun to Tosh's head and shot once, killing him. The other gunmen began shooting, wounding several other people and also killing disc jockeys Doc Brown and Jeff "Free I" Dixon. Leppo surrendered to the authorities. He was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted in 1995 and he remains in jail. The other two gunmen were never identified by name.