Peter Tosh's Early Life:
Peter Tosh was born Winston Hubert McIntosh on October 9, 1944 in Grange Hill, Jamaica. Raised by his aunt, he left home in his early teens and headed for the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, known as Trenchtown. Like many of his fellow young aspiring musicians, he found his way to Joe Higgs, a local musician who offered free music lessons to youth. It was through Joe Higgs that Peter Tosh met his future fellow bandmates, Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer.
Early Success With The Wailers:
Under the mentorship of Joe Higgs, the Wailing Wailers, as the three boys were known, began performing publicly and eventually headed into the studio. Their first track, "Simmer Down" (listen/download) became an island-wide ska hit.
Rasta and Rocksteady:
After creating several more ska hits, the Wailing Wailers reassembled as simply "The Wailers," and began recording music with a slower rocksteady beat and lyrics which were inspired by their newfound Rastafarian faith. Soon thereafter, the trio began working with producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, and that collaboration saw the birth of reggae music.
Peter Tosh's Major Contributions to the Wailers:
Though Bob Marley's name later became synonymous with the Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were definitely equals with Marley in the band. As a songwriter, Tosh contributed many of the band's hits, including "400 Years," "Get Up, Stand Up," "No Sympathy," and "Stop That Train." His skillful guitar playing and vocal skills were also central to the band's sound.
Peter Tosh's Personality:
Peter Tosh was known as a sarcastic and slightly angry man. In contrast to Bob Marley's idealistic look at the world, and his goal to spread the message of love, Peter Tosh saw himself as a revolutionary, and was vehement in his efforts to tear down "Babylon." He coined his own words for many of the things which he hated, including "politricks" for politics, "s**tstem" for system, and "Crime Ministers" for Prime Ministers. It was this attitude that earned him the nickname "Steppin' Razor."
Pursuing a Solo Career:
Peter Tosh began recording solo records while still performing with the Wailers until 1974, when the Wailers' new record label, Island Records, refused to release his solo album. He left the band to pursue his own career on a full-time basis, and finally released his first solo record, Legalize It in 1976. He went on to release multiple hit records, though his militant attitude never found the same level of acceptance as Bob Marley's more unifying message did.
The One Love Peace Concert:
In 1977, after tensions between various Jamaican gangs and rogue members of the Jamaican military had reached severe levels, Bob Marley decided to organize a concert called the One Love Peace Concert, and invited many of Jamaica's most famous stars to join in. Tosh used his stage time to sing his most militant songs, and speak angrily against the government. Hugely popular with the crowd, this performance was less of a hit with the government officials who were present. Though Tosh was already a favorite target for the police, from that point on, he became a regular victim of brutality.
Peter Tosh's Final Years:
Peter Tosh continued to record international hit records for the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s, and never relaxed his intense message of revolution. After a live concert release in 1984, Peter Tosh took a few years off, and his 1987 comeback record No Nuclear War was nominated for a Grammy Award.
An Untimely Death:
On September 11, 1987, an acquaintance of Peter Tosh's, Dennis Lobban, entered Tosh's home with a small gang of friends and attempted to rob him. Claiming that he had no money on him at the time, Tosh stalled the gang, who stayed at his house for several hours as various friends dropped in. Eventually, they lost patience and shot Tosh and his houseguests in the head. Tosh died instantly, as did two of his friends, though three others somehow survived. Lobban was sentenced to death for his crime, though his sentence was later commuted and he remains in prison in Jamaica to this day.