Peter Tosh: Reclaiming A Wailer The late reggae artist was a founding member of the Wailers, though he never achieved the recognition his bandmate Bob Marley did. New reissues of Tosh's first two albums highlight him as more than just Marley's foil.
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Peter Tosh: Reclaiming A Wailer

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Peter Tosh: Reclaiming A Wailer

Peter Tosh: Reclaiming A Wailer

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SCOTT SIMON, host: Bob Marley and the Wailers: the two names are practically inseparable. But in the years since they became the most prominent reggae band of all time, another name may have been lost: Peter Tosh. A founding member of the Wailers, Peter Tosh is usually overshadowed by Bob Marley. Now, reissues of his first two solo albums aim to turn the spotlight back. Baz Dreisinger has more.


BAZ DREISINGER: He spoke out against police brutality, advocated for drug law reform and demanded equal rights and justice.

PETER TOSH: (Singing) Everyone is crying out for peace, yes. None is crying out for justice.

ROGER STEFFENS: Today, in places like Africa, Peter is an even more respected star than Bob.

DREISINGER: Reggae archivist Roger Steffens wrote liner notes for one of the new releases.

STEFFENS: Because of his militancy and because of the fact that he was almost beaten to death on several occasions by Jamaican police, basically for his antiestablishment views. So he didn't just talk the talk, he walked the walk too and people respect that all over the world to this day.

DREISINGER: Born Winston Hubert McIntosh in rural Jamaica, Tosh moved as a kid to Kingston's rough Trenchtown neighborhood. At a local gambling joint, he met Bunny Livingston, later known as Bunny Wailer, who along with Marley had started a band. Wailer says they asked Tosh to join because he was a self-taught, accomplished keyboardist and guitarist.

BUNNY WAILER: So the Wailers now recruited someone who was already acquainted musically, and that gave us that kind of a reason to want to play instruments, because there was Peter and he played and we learned from him playing.

DREISINGER: Tosh wrote songs for The Wailers.


THE WAILERS: (Singing) 400 years. 400 years. 400 years. Wo-o-o-o. And it's the same. The same, wo-o-o-o, philosophy.

DREISINGER: In the 1960s, Tosh was influenced by such civil rights leaders as the Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X, whose writings were banned in Jamaica. He was arrested for demonstrating against racial murders in southern Africa. Colin Grant, author of a new book about the Wailers, says the dark-skinned Tosh developed Afro-centric pride early on.

COLIN GRANT: Even though Jamaica is predominantly a black country, there is a brown and white elite, and I think people took sides and aligned themselves fundamentally with one camp or another. And Peter Tosh fundamentally aligned himself in the black camp.


TOSH: (Singing) Don't care where you come from, as long as you're a black man, you're an African. No mind your nationality. You have got the identity of an African.

DREISINGER: Tosh left the Wailers in 1973, just as the group was gaining international fame. He was reportedly angry about the starring role given to the lighter-skinned Bob Marley by the group's manager, Island Records chief Chris Blackwell. When Tosh recorded his first solo album in 1976, Roger Steffens says the musician sought funding in the U.S.

STEFFENS: He approached a pot dealer in Miami to invest in the album, and the dealer agreed. And he said, so what are you going to call it? And Peter said, I'm gonna call it "Legalize It." And the dealer got really upset, he says, no, man, no way, you're going to put me out of business.


STEFFENS: But eventually he changed his mind and gave Peter the money.


DREISINGER: "Legalize It" was banned on Jamaican radio, so Tosh printed the lyrics in an ad he took out in a Jamaican newspaper.

TOSH: (Singing) Legalize it. Don't criticize it. Legalize it, yeah, yeah, and I will advertise it.

DREISINGER: A year later, Tosh released "Equal Rights." Herbie Miller, Tosh's former manager and the director of the Jamaica Music Museum, says Tosh was moved by political unrest in Jamaica and beyond.

HERBIE MILLER: Across the world, in Africa, in South and Central America, in the Caribbean, and in black communities in America and Britain, minorities were struggling for some sort of humanity, some sort of equity, some sort of respect and dignity. A lot of "Equal Rights" addressed that sort of situation. It was not a record made solely for local consumption in terms of the issues that it addressed. But it was quite global at the time.


TOSH: (Singing) We got to fight, fight, fight, fight against apartheid. We got to fight, fight, fight, fight against apartheid.

DREISINGER: The most famous song on that album is "Get Up, Stand Up," which Tosh first recorded with the Wailers.


TOSH: (Singing) Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights.

DREISINGER: Miller explains that Tosh had to alter lyrics so the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission wouldn't ban it. But the new release includes the unedited version.


TOSH: (Singing) Come on brother. Get up, stand up. Be brave now, don't give up the fight. Don't be no nigger, no. Get up, stand up.

MILLER: It says get up, stand up. Don't be no nigger no. Meaning don't live the word. Don't let the name that has been placed on you. You should get up and stand up and be a black man, be a man. That was the point Peter was trying to make.

DREISINGER: Tosh appears on the cover of "Equal Rights" in a Che Guevara-style beret and sunglasses - an image that leave Roger Steffens to describe Marley as reggae's Martin Luther King Jr. and Tosh as its Malcolm X. But Steffens also says it's just that, an image.

STEFFENS: He kept those darkers, those sunglasses on all the time, and I think it was a protection, because if he didn't have them on you could see this mischievous twinkle in his eye when he was talking in these deep, censorious tones about things, and you were almost afraid sometimes that he was going to perhaps get violent in his expressions. But a lot of that was a ruse.

DREISINGER: Bunny Wailer says his old friend was very gentle and had a wicked sense of humor.

WAILER: He would just laugh. And, you know, Peter would just laugh anywhere Peter is there's a lot of jokes, there's a lot of laughs, and there's all kinds of adventurous stories being told.

DREISINGER: And the jokes, says Roger Steffens, usually involved ingenious wordplay.

STEFFENS: The French deconstructionists would have adored Peter Tosh because he made the language reveal itself. For example, he was killed by a friend, an alleged friend. And he said very often that you have to look at that word: Fry, the first half of the word means to bring heat upon, and end is elimination. So ask yourself, who are your friends?

DREISINGER: Peter Tosh always alleged there was a plot to assassinate him, and in 1987, he proved prophetic, he was murdered by gunmen in his own home. For NPR News, I'm Baz Dreisinger.


TOSH: (Singing) Downpresser man, where you gonna run to? Downpresser man, where you gonna run to?

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

TOSH: Where you gonna run to, all along that day? You gonna run to the sea, but the sea will be boiling. Can you run to the sea? But the sea will be boiling.

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