This will probably be the most personal and honest post I’ve ever written, so it won’t be easy. I’ve gotten tons of requests to do a Peter Tosh write-up. For many, there are those few artists that evoke so much emotion that they find it hard to listen to their music, even though they love the artist and the songs. For me there is only one – Peter Tosh. I don’t know what it is about his songwriting, his vocal delivery, or the music by the legendary Word, Sound, and Power, but I just find it very difficult to listen to. Not because I dislike Peter, or his songwriting, or his vocal delivery, but because I get very emotional when I listen to him. Is it the brutal way in which he died? Maybe. Is it that he sings about this world as if it were a living hell? Maybe. Is it because his voice is so hauntingly beautiful? Could be.
See, when you love this music like I love this music, there are times when it just reaches deep down, grabs your soul, and won’t let go. I don’t have this same reaction to Marley, save for two songs in particular – “Redemption Song” and “I Know.” These two songs are just too painful for me to listen to – and they were written as optimistic songs!
For me, Tosh’s life was one of torture, both physically and mentally. As many Rastas do, Peter really believed that he was living in a hell on earth. However, unlike Marley, he had a way of writing and singing about it that just hits you in the gut every time. There are very few Tosh songs that I can listen to without getting all emotional like a straight punk. There are several songs in particular that I can never listen to. “Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised)” is such a song of beauty and gravity that it becomes too much to deal with for me. How can a mere mortal write a song that makes you feel like you are sitting before God? I don’t know, but I truly believe that Peter’s music, much like Bob’s music, was divinely inspired.
“Feel No Way” from the Mama Africa album is that one rare song that just breaks me down every time. In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful reggae song I’ve ever heard. The vocal, the melody, the music – it’s all perfect in every way. I challenge you to find a more perfect tune. Now, everybody has their favorites, or those rare songs that just bring you to your knees every time. For me, “Feel No Way” is that song.
I wish I could enjoy Peter’s music more than I do. However, there are some emotions that are so strong, and held so deep, that you just don’t feel like dealing with them. I therefore usually avoid throwing Mama Africa or Equal Rights into the media player. It’s getting better though. I was able to finish this post. That’s a start.
Here is a rare interview of Tosh by Barbara Charone, published in the March 1979 issue of Creem. Peter is relishing the success of his solo efforts Legalize It, Equal Rights, and Bush Doctor, and is preparing to release Mystic Man. He has just wrapped a single with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones called “Walk And Don’t Look Back.” He speaks freely about the “shitstem” and the struggles with police he has endured throughout the past several years. A brilliant songwriter and gifted vocalist, Tosh is often known as the most militant Wailer, a moniker which would find him at the receiving end of a police baton all too often. At the time of this interview, Tosh is preparing his band Word, Sound, and Power for a European tour.
Click here to view the interview in Issuu.
Peter Tosh: He’s The Toughest
Barbara Charone, Creem, March 1979
If anybody can bring reggae music to the rest of the world, especially America, then Peter’s the one to do it along with Bob Marley. After all, we were second to the Beatles. You need a door opener and then you need the serious stuff. I’m not saying Marley isn’t serious. It’s just that Peter has chosen his scene, his band and his music very carefully. And he’s done an amazing job putting it all together.
– Keith Richards
“IT’S THE RIGHT time now,” Peter Tosh said, stretching his long legs across a Kingston, Jamaica hotel coffee table to expose a pair of green sneakers with yellow stripes. “Jah works mysterious, wondrous things. The mysterious thing is that I was singing with a group – Bob Marley and the Wailers. And now I am by myself. It is a wondrous thing.”
Peter Tosh has a lanky build, a friendly smile, lots of nervous energy and enough confidence to make him a star. Consequently, he doesn’t feel the need to exploit his past affiliation with Bob Marley or his present relationship with the Rolling Stones. Peter Tosh is his own man.
While his band has described Peter as a recluse, Tosh himself admits that he is “a strange man”. Rather than flaunt a Godlike, spiritual superiority, he unravels a unique individualism that is most attractive. As his superb new single wisely advocates, ‘(You Gotta Walk And) Don’t Look Back’. And Peter Tosh has done his fair share of walking.
Kingston is almost what one would expect, a combination of elevating music and depressing poverty. At the, airport, while you wait for your luggage, the tourist board offers a complimentary rum cocktail made from 150 proof liquor. The drive from the airport to the hotel offers a somewhat bizarre cross section of the beautiful and the damned. The blue lake and green mountains mesh somewhat too comfortably with graffitied walls proclaiming things like “the poor can take no more”.
Jamaica has one television station which runs nightly from six to midnight before shutting down. A news program informed everyone that “the coconut is one of the greatest gifts God gave us”, but most Jamaicans will tell you different. They’d say it was reggae, the rhythm of life.
Of all the stories written from Jamaica about music, Peter Tosh sadly contended that the music is always secondary. “A lot of people just come here for the joyride,” he said. “They take in the good breeze and just get a lot of bullshit told to them. So few people know the truth because the world has been exposed to so many lies.” And while Jamaica is an intriguing place you won’t read anymore about it here. This story isn’t about Jamaica. It’s about Peter Tosh.
For such a private person, Tosh enjoys himself immensely onstage, as seen when he toured America with the Rolling Stones last summer. Those large American stadiums did put the fear in his soul ever so slightly. “Those places are great for keeping your knees firm,” he laughed.
Bassist Robbie Shakespeare, who looks like a cherubic wise man with his mandatory cap, short beard and permanent grin, plays an integral part in the Tosh band – Word, Sound and Power. He co-produced the new album Bush Doctor with Peter. Some suggest he is the key to the vast improvement in sound. Just as importantly, Robbie gives Peter confidence onstage, too. “I just tell him to move more, to act,” Shakespeare said.
Supporting everyone from Foreigner to Kansas, Tosh firmly believes it is possible to get the reggae music he so expertly delivers across to the American rock ‘n’ roll public. His first two albums released on CBS, Legalize It and Equal Rights, did not sell well despite critical acclaim. Yet his latest effort on Rolling Stones Records has the proper ingredients to convert even skeptics, smoothly crossing the commercial barrier without losing any musical credibility.
“There is nothing hard for people to understand in reggae. Reggae is music. Music has words. Words are either a message or something to get down. And I don’t deal with get down. My music is to make you get up,” he stressed.
“If I make some music to get up and it’s not intellectually exquisite enough, then people don’t put their mind to what I’m saying. They reluctantly listen because they have ears. But some people want more; they want to learn. My music has something to teach people. And,” he said, “it all fits into the scheme of things.”
Consequently, his latest single features a vocal duet with Mick Jagger which will instantly acquaint both sides of the listening spectrum with each other.
“All the people who know Mick Jagger don’t know me,” Peter said. “See? And the people who know me don’t know Mick Jagger. It’s a new era for reggae which breaks down certain barriers. It’s a way of getting music over to people who would otherwise bias their minds.”
Although Jagger claims Tosh was covering soul standards by bands like the Temptations at approximately the same time the Stones were doing justice to ‘Can I Get A Witness?’, Tosh denied it.
“I never sing no one’s song,” he said adamantly. “I always sing my own songs. Always. The only song I didn’t write is ‘Don’t Look Back’. I recorded that song because it is very symbolistic to the progressive move. It’s got the power and a very militant, up feel. I only deal with progress. It is commercial but people will realize they are listening to reggae. The public will easily latch onto it. It’s not worthwhile making music just for you and your friends to dance to.”
Indeed, the record succeeds admirably where countless others have failed. Jagger described it as a combination “reggae-ska-not- your-average-single” type record.
“The beat is different, it penetrates reggae. ‘Don’t Look Back’ is different because of its bounce,” drummer Sly Dunbar said, almost jumping out of his chair. “The rhythm is different from everyday songs. People say reggae is all the same but it’s not. The tempo is always different.”
Tosh’s musical interest came early in life. Music was always synonymous with God to Peter, who was raised in an atmosphere dependent on both. “My first experience as a boy coming up onstage was singing at church, Sunday school, in a choir, playing piano. If they needed someone to hold a high note and no one could find it, I could. It was always just me and the performance, recital, action.
“It was my mother’s idea for me to play piano ’cause she could see I was gifted with music so she tried to motivate me by sending me to school. In six months the book I was learning in I could play back to front. In church they’d let the audience get up and sing.
“So that’s the way I was brought up my dear,” he said, smiling. “Very godly.”
Unfortunately, Tosh has been exposed to less-than-godly treatment in more recent years. Appropriately, he calls the system “the shitstem.” And since he’s tasted police brutality more than once, he is qualified to speak out. Just a few months ago, prior to the release of Bush Doctor, Tosh was standing on a Kingston corner smoking a spliff. Actually what was left of a spliff. A plainclothes policeman came up to him and pulled it away. Peter took it back. Several more policemen arrived. A one-sided fight ensued. Tosh was then taken to the local station and badly beaten. The results were more than several stitches on his head, an arm in plaster, and a ring ground into a finger that will forever remain a scar. But as Tosh rightfully sings on the new album “I’m the toughest”.
“Right now you see someone sitting before you who was badly brutalized by police,” Tosh said, still recovering from the severe wounds. “And we ask what the police did this for? Arid we say for a roach.
“Of course, I get depressed. I am a singer. I never think of stealing. I never think of doing nothing subversive. I never think of doing anything illegal or unlawful. And to be brutalized by police must make you have a different thought. This isn’t the first time I’ve been hostilized by police. Why?”
When asked if he believed he was a threat, the reply was obvious. “Yes mon,” he said without hesitation. “Otherwise why would the police come and brutalize me in that way for no reason? No law in the world give police the right to come beat somebody up for a roach,” he said, showing its approximate size. “They worry about me ’cause I tell the truth. A song I wrote called ‘Vampires’ tells all about it.”
And why does Tosh remain In Jamaica? Because he is the toughest. “I stay ’cause what they do to me they couldn’t do to any other man today. Few people could go through what I go through. Few. You can count them on one hand… About twelve guys with battlesticks beat me in the head,” he said, pointing to the spot from where stitches were recently removed.
Despite this altercation with police, he sees an end in sight. “Bush Doctor is the right name for this album. One verse mention – ‘No more police brutality/No more disrespect for humanity.’ The rasta is going to rule the earth. It was prophesized 2000 years ago. It must happen.
“My music and my songs keep the oppression that I live. That’s what I sing. I can’t get up as an international singer when police brutalize me and sing about love. No mon,” Peter said honestly. “That is madness. People do that. It worries me. Do I look like a madman? No mon. I never do that.”
When asked about the commercial potential of Bush Doctor Peter reverted to his concrete philosophy. “You can never please all of the people,” he said. “There is nothing you can do. So I leave that aside. Who wants to be pleased is pleased. I do my best.”
And best he did on the new album. Unanimously, all of Word, Sound and Power agreed that the record is an enormous step forward. Hoping for success, Sly Dunbar said that if the single was a hit, “it would make me feel good. It would be a chance to be in the limelight.”
All of the band deserve to be there with the spotlight on full beam. In addition to Tosh, Dunbar and Shakespeare, honorable mentions go out to Keith Sterling and Robbie Lynn on keyboards, as well as Mike Chung, Donald Kinsey and Al Anderson on guitar. What’s more, Tosh has surpassed previous vocal heights.
Although he believes his voice has never been better he added, “When I was a kid I used to have a finer voice. I could hit any key. The highest key you could think of. I can’t do that now but I will again. I’m gonna get myself fit, fit, fit,” he said, determined to do just that. “More bush medicine.”
And that is what you’ll get plenty of on the album. “This album is to-tal-ly different than the other two. Many jumps ahead which comes from improvement, perfection and maturity. Every day you get new experiences. As a musician the only thing I do with my experiences is to decorate them with music.
Peter wears a necklace that keeps getting bigger. Hung on a simple chain are two gold adornments: an herbal leaf symbolizing his first album, Legalize It, and a symbol for Equal Rights. Presently, he is rehearsing for a European tour, his first visit since a tour with Marley in 1971. But things are very different now. He’s also spending time vainly trying to devise a third symbol for Bush Doctor. The newest addition to his necklace, whatever the design, will be gold.
But his album sounds like it will turn gold with or without the necklace. Despite the brutality and ways of the world, this bush doctor is doing just fine.
© Barbara Charone, 1979
Dubwise Garage recently posted Roger Steffens’ profile of Peter Tosh which includes rare music and interviews. You can access it here. He also posted an interview and studio performance from Tosh at WHFS radio in Bethesda, Maryland.
“Feel No Way”
“Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praise)”