Photo: Peter Tosh © GAB Archive/Redferns.
Nearly thirty years after his tragic death, reggae legend Peter Tosh is being honored with a museum in his native Jamaica. The Peter Tosh Museum opened in Kingston on October 19, on what would have been his 72nd birthday, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of his solo album Legalize It.
The museum features a collection of artifacts and memorabilia from Tosh, including his legendary custom-built guitar, which was shaped like an M16 assault rifle, and his beloved unicycle, which was his preferred means for transportation.
Born Winston Hubert McIntosh in the rural parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica, in 1944, Peter Tosh moved to the notorious slum Trench Town at the age of 16. He first picked up a guitar after watching a man play, memorizing everything his fingers were doing and playing it back to the man.
In the early 1960s, he met Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, and helped to organize the Wailer Wailers, as they were first known, in 1964. As a self-taught guitar player and keyboardist, Tosh was the only member of the group who could play an instrument and served as an inspiration to all.
In 1967, the group renamed itself the Wailers and slowed their music to a rocksteady pace, adding political and social messages to their lyrics that reflected their Rastafarian faith. They teamed up with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry to produce their earliest hits including “Soul Rebel,” “Duppy Conqueror,” and “Small Axe.” In 1973, they signed with Island Records and released their debut album, Catch a Fire.
That same year, Tosh was in a car accident that killed his girlfriend Evonne and left him with a severely fractured skull. He left the group the following year when Island Records president Chris Blackwell refused to issue his solo album.
In 1976, Tosh went solo with Legalize It on CBS Records and followed it up a year later with Equal Rights. In 1978, he signed with Rolling Stones Records and performed “Walk and Don’t Look Back,” a duet with Mick Jagger, catapulting him to global fame.
Tosh was one of the most militant artists of his times, observing, “If I wasn’t a singer, I’d be a bloodclaat revolutionary.” Throughout his career, he used music as a platform to fight for freedom, penning “Get Up, Stand up,” 400 Years,” and “No Sympathy” for the Wailers and “Apartheid,” “Equal Rights,” and “Legalize It,” for himself.
In 1987, he was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Performance for No Nuclear War, his last album. That same year, on September 11, Tosh was killed during a home invasion. Dennis “Leppo” Lobbman, who Tosh had previously befriended, headed up the three-man gang. After saying he did not have any money in the house, Tosh was killed along with Wilton “Doc” Brown and Jeff “Free” Dixon. Lobbman was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted in 1995 and he remains in jail.
In 2012, Tosh was posthumously awarded the Order of Merit, and a square on Trafalgar Road in Kingston was renamed Peter Tosh Square, which is now the site of the Museum. April 20 (4/20) is the official International Peter Tosh Day, honoring his life as an artist and activist.
Tosh understood the power of music to reach people in ways nothing else ever could, observing, “Music is a science, it heals depression, it awakens, most people don’t know, they just take music for an entertainment, something to dance to, and enjoy yourself and you go to bed and forget it tomorrow, music must never be forgotten, it’s like a fountain that keeps on flowing.”
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.