When you hear the name The Wailers, you’ll probably immediately think about Bob Marley. For many he’s the original Wailer and The Wailers are often recognized as his backing band.
But that’s wrong, of course. The original Wailers were a quartet and later a trio consisting of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. They split up in the early 70s and went their separate ways. Bob Marley became a superstar and a spokesman for all things reggae. Bunny Wailer kept a rather low profile and let his music do all the talking.
Peter Tosh was far from quiet, something that’s evident after you’ve read John Masouri’s Steppin’ Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh. This biography covers the life of a sometimes overlooked superstar.
Through his music and in interviews he gave the poor a voice. He often spoke passionately about equality and justice. He stirred up controversy with his outspoken lyrics and tunes like Oh Bumbo Klaat, Legalize It and the funky Buk-In-Hamm Palace.
But being the voice of the poor and criticizing the system and politicians can be dangerous, as Peter Tosh experienced firsthand. He was physically assaulted by the police in Jamaica and he was verbally abused by the media, particularly by rock critics in the UK.
But Peter Tosh was a rebel. He had his principles and would never go against them. He had his own game and his own set of rules. He played by them. Like it or not.
Peter Tosh also had a big ego, and over the years he lost faith in the music business and his Rolling Stones-owned label. He became disappointed in the lack of success and disillusioned by bureaucracy and the media that never fully understood him nor his music or mission.
Down the road things started to go wrong. Terribly wrong. His friends didn’t recognize him and his erratic behavior got increasingly worse. Whether this is due to an extreme amount of high grade ganja consumption, or Marlene Brown, a girlfriend described as something of a Yoko Ono for Peter Tosh, is unclear.
But according to several sources in the well-researched book she’s to blame for much that went wrong in the later parts of Peter Tosh’s life. She’s described as the reason for his demise and eventually his untimely death at the age of 42.
Peter Tosh was murdered in his home in Jamaica. Not by Marlene Brown. The motive behind the murder is blurry, but there are several theories of which one is about money.
He was an angry man and a highly complex individual with both a militant and a spiritual side. To this day and while he was still alive, he was in the constant shadow of Bob Marley; partly because his music was not as uplifting and direct as Bob Marley’s, but his lyrics were also darker and more controversial.
Peter Tosh struggled all his life, something that becomes apparent when reading the book. He was a charismatic protest singer of a kind that is rarely seen or heard today, and during his too short life he was on a mission. He was a musical outlaw that fought for freedom and promoted the herb. Not loved by all, and hated by some. Particularly the system, or shit-stem as Peter Tosh used to say.
But that was him. A man with a misson. A man on a mission. And a man that stood up for what he believed in, regardless who he would provoke.