Friday, January 9, 1998

Thought-provoking collection of Peter Tosh's early tunes


Toronto Sun

A photograph of Peter Tosh in the book accompanying Honorary Citizen, a 3-CD box set honoring his legacy, captures the reggae star's essence.

Clad in black, one of the most explicitly political musicians to emerge from Jamaica is cradling a Stratocaster shaped like an M-16 rifle.

Winston Hubert McIntosh, popularly known as Peter Tosh, never stopped thinking about music and politics.

"This guitar is firing shots at all them devil disciples," Tosh is quoted as saying in the 58-page book. "Music is my weapon to fight against apartheid, nuclear war, and those gang-Jah criminals."

"His comment that his songs are not smiling songs is one of his most profound quotes," Roger Steffens says from his home in L.A. Steffens co-produced the box and authored the liner notes.

"He wasn't here to make people smile or be happy."

And songs like No Mercy, addressing police brutality; Black Dignity, with its lyrics, "Live black, love black, think black," and his attack on Christianity in the song You Can't Fool Me Again, prove this.

"He was in the frontlines of the Black Power movement in the Caribbean in the '60s, and his heroes were (Black Panther Party members) Angela Davis and H. Rap Brown," adds Steffens, who was a close friend of Tosh's.

When you couple Tosh's frequent diatribes against "the white supremacy shitstem" with his public anti-establishment and pro-marijuana missives, it becomes clear why he wasn't championed like fellow Wailer Bob Marley.

Of course, Tosh didn't help the situation any by making remarks that seemed to be dismissive of Marley.

"He claimed he was responsible for Marley's success," Steffens says. "I interviewed him after Marley died and asked him if there was anything he wanted people to know.

"He said, 'People are asking me if I'm the new king of reggae and I say, no, there's nothing new about me,' " Steffens recalls laughing."He took it for granted he was the king. That kind of arrogance made a lot of people angry."

Steffens agrees Tosh's tough stance cut into his popularity but says Tosh stormed on because "he felt he had to make a stronger public stand to wake people up from their slumbering mentality."

While Tosh is mainly remembered as a musical revolutionary, his close friends will tell you he was also armed with a keen sense of humor.

"When we heard he was coming to town (in '79, a year after Tosh and Steffens met) we wanted to welcome him, " Steffens recalls. "A friend of mine (who grew marijuana) in northern California had a successful season that year, and he gave me the top of a 16-foot plant which must've been at least 18 inches long.

"My wife and I wrapped it up and told Peter it was a gift from his herb-smoking fans in southern California.

"He ripped the paper off, looked at it, broke off a little piece, smelled it and said disparagingly, 'It'll take a whole lot more than this to get my propellers spinning!' "

E NOTE: Honorary Citizen comprises Tosh's rare, early Jamaican singles, live performances and hits.

Also worth adding to your collection is Peter Tosh: The Toughest, with material he cut for Jamaica's famous Studio One label, and everything he recorded with ace producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry.