As concluded a number of times this year: 1977 was a great year for reggae. Many classic albums were released in that year. Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights was one of them.
Peter Tosh, born as Winston Hubert McIntosh, moved to the slums of Trenchtown in Kingston, Jamaica, when he was 15 years of age. One day he came upon a man playing his guitar. He was intrigued and paid close attention to the man’s movements. He picked up a guitar (for the first time) and played it instantly. A natural.
Early 1960’s he met Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley) en Neville O’Reilly Livingston (Bunny Wailer). All three of them went to singing instructor Joe Higgs and decided to sing together. Higgs taught the boys to harmonize. Because Tosh was able to play an instrument, the other two quickly followed his lead.
As The Wailing Wailers the (initially ska playing) group released the single Simmer Down. Fairly soon after that, Marley moved to the USA for work, but quickly returned in 1967. In the meantime Tosh and Wailer had become Rastafarians. Marley soon followed. The Rastafari faith would play an increasingly important part in the young men’s lives.
The group was renamed to The Wailers; to “wail” means mourning or, in Tosh’s own words, “…express one’s feelings vocally”. The up-tempo ska was slowed down, their lyrics grew to contain more political and social themes. The Wailers started to work with a young and promising producer named Lee Perry. With him they recorded the first well-known Wailers songs, like Soul Rebel, Duppy Conqueror and Small Axe. And thus, reggae was born.
After the band was expanded, a contract was signed with Chris Blackwell (later sneeringly called “Whiteworst” by Tosh) and Island Records. In 1973 the band released the albums Catch A Fire and Burnin’. In 1974 both Tosh and Wailer left The Wailers and started their solo-careers. Consequentially, The Wailers were renamed Bob Marley & The Wailers.
In 1976 Tosh’s debut solo-album was released: Legalize It. The title track became very popular, very quickly, among advocates for the legalization of marijuana, reggae music lovers and Rastafarians and became a staple during Tosh’s live concerts.
Peter Tosh began work on the sequel Equal Rights, which was released in 1977 by CBS. The album contained his version of a song he wrote with Bob Marley: Get Up, Stand Up. Bunny Wailer did backing vocals on the album.
Equal Rights turned Tosh into a top reggae artist. He was considered to be a rival to Bob Marley. The album is one of the best and most influential reggae albums of all time. Within The Wailers, Tosh always was the most militant and he shows that very clearly on the album. Subjects like the unity in the African diaspora (African), circumstances at protests in South-Africa (Apartheid) and claiming and defending your rights in Get Up, Stand Up, make Equal Rights a political album. The way Tosh sings give extra meaning to his subjects: powerful and (almost) angry.
All songs written by Peter Tosh, unless stated otherwise.
- Get Up, Stand Up *
- Downpresser Man
- I Am That I Am
- Stepping Razor **
- Equal Rights
- Jah Guide
|*||Peter Tosh & Bob Marley|
|**||Joe Higgs, accredited to Peter Tosh|
In 1978 Tosh signed a deal with Rolling Stones Records. The first album to be released was Bush Doctor, which turned Tosh in an even greater star. Rolling Stones’ members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards play on the album. The first single to be culled from the album, a cover of Don’t Look Back by The Temptations, was a duet with Jagger. It became a huge international hit.
On Monday June 4th, 1979, Peter Tosh is the closing act on the Dutch Pinkpop festival at the town of Geleen. Suddenly Mick Jagger appears backstage at the festival. He was going to perform the hit Don’t Look Back with Peter Tosh. During the song you can see Tosh waiting for Jagger, but Jagger backs down at the very last minute, due to the presence of tv-camera’s.
In 1979 and 1981 the albums Mystic Man and Wanted Dread And Alive were released. Tosh tried to combine commercial success without giving up on his militant views. He didn’t succeed. In 1981 Tosh made an appearance in the video to The Rolling Stones single Waiting On A Friend. In 1984, after the release of the album Mama Africa (1983), Tosh disappeared into (self chosen) exile.
In 1987 Tosh returned with No Nuclear War, which promptly earned him a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Performance.
On September 11th, 1987, three armed men showed up at Tosh’s home demanding money. Tosh said he had no money at the house, but the men didn’t believe him. They tortured Tosh for hours, expecting Tosh to give up the whereabouts of the money. Several visitors came by and were consequentially held hostage as well. The assailants grew ever more frustrated. The leader in particular, a man with whom Tosh had stricken up a friendship and had helped to find a job. When it became clear that there really wasn’t any money in the house, the men started shooting randomly. Multiple people got badly wounded. The attack resulted in two fatal casualties, one of them Peter Tosh.
Peter Tosh was gone. He was just 42 years old. Of the three original Wailers only Bunny Wailer is still alive. I was lucky enough to see him play live at the Paradiso in Amsterdam on July 21st, 2015 (Dutch-language-only link).
Peter Tosh has made a number of great reggae albums, but was unable to equal Bob Marley’s level. Despite that, Tosh did contribute to the wonderful reggae year that was 1977
What do you think of Peter Tosh, and the album Equal Rights? Let me know!
Peter Tosh image: thedailybeast.com
The Wailers around 1964 & Peter Tosh – Equal Rights images: petertosh.com
The Wailers – Catch A Fire & Burnin’ image: genius.com
Peter Tosh – Don’t look Back (single) & Bush Doctor (album) image: discogs.com
Peter Tosh & ganja image: petertoshtribute.yolasite.com