Reggae Month Special: Peter Tosh Legacy

Peter Tosh was born Winston Hubert McIntosh on October 19, 1944 in Grange Hill, Jamaica.

Raised by his mother, Mrs. Alvera Coke, and also an aunt, in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica, at a very early age, Winston learned to play organ and to sing in the choir at the local church. He also built his first guitar from a sardine can, and went on to master the melodica and percussion instruments, as well.

October 19, 1959 Trenchtown

Even as a young boy, he had felt alienated by the hypocrisy of the doctrines that were taught in school and in church, and so he left home in his early teens and headed for the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, known as Trenchtown.


Joe Higgs

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. Always mindful of the hidden meanings of words and their sounds, McIntosh also shortened his name to Peter Tosh (as McIntosh sounded as if it contained the word "mocking").


Performing in Trenchtown

Through their common mentor Joe Higgs, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Bunny ‘Wailer’ Livingston and Junior Braithwaite met and began performing together in informal sessions on Third Street in Trenchtown.

December 1, 1963

Simmer Down

The Wailing Wailers released their first single “Simmer Down.” It became a hit in Jamaica.



A group of Jamaican musicians who had played in sessions with Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, and others took a new sound and ran with it. That sound soon became known as “ska.”


The Wailing Wailers

Peter Tosh and his friends, Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston and Junior Braithwaite, founded the group The Wailing Wailers.


"True Musician"

Peter was a true musician and his country vibes, mixed with a “churchical” upbringing, lent a mystical edge, as well as sophistication, to the Wailers’ music


Lead Vocals

With Peter Tosh on lead vocals, The Wailing Wailers recorded two more hit ska songs.

Jumbie Jamboree

In “Jumbie Jamboree”, Peter Tosh changed the lyrics to describe the unruly fans at a Wailers’ performance as a party of zombies.

“why-o, me glad you come over”

Additionally, the chorus was taken from the “why-o, me glad you come over” chorus of the the Jamaican folk song, “River Been Come Down”


Again, by “sampling” from popular Jamaican folk songs, this new group felt familiar to its audience, which contributed to its popularity.

April 21, 1966

Sacred Day

This date has become the single most sacred day in the Rastafarian calendar.

Emperor Haile Selassie

Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia visited Jamaica for the first and only time, to be greeted by over 100 000 Rastafarians, Peter Tosh being one of them. Bob Marley was living in Delaware at the time.


The Wailers

Soon afterwards, the three friends renamed their group The Wailers.

Rock-Steady Pace

Veering away from the up-tempo dance of ska, the band slowed down to a rock-steady pace, and infused their lyrics with political and social messages. Tosh became particularly known for his political commentaries and activism in his songs.

Lee "Scratch" Perry

The Wailers penned several songs for American pop singer Johnny Nash before teaming up with production wizard Lee (“Scratch”) Perry to record some of reggae’s earliest hits including “Soul Rebel,” “Duppy Conqueror” and “Small Axe.”


Randy’s Studio 17

Vincent Chin and his wife Pat open a studio called Randy’s Studio 17, where The Wailers record the first version of their full-length album, Catch A Fire.


Tuff Gong Records

The Wailers create Tuff Gong Records, owned in equal parts by Tosh, Marley and Bunny.


Island Records

The Wailers become Caribbean superstars. The band enters into a record contract with Island Records.


Catch a Fire

The Wailers release their debut on Island Records, a new release of Catch a Fire.


During the next year, The Wailers tour frequently, on several occasions even opening concerts for an up-and-coming American star named Bruce Springsteen.

African Herbsman

The Wailers release African Herbsman on Trojan Records

Car Accident

Another driver (driving on the wrong side of the road) forces Tosh’s car off the road, and the ensuing accident kills Peter’s girlfriend at the time and severely fractures Peter’s own skull. This is neither the first nor the last physical catastrophe that Tosh experiences, and survives, in his life.


The Wailers release their second album on Island Records, Burnin’. It’s a well named album as it is incendiary from start to finish, with Tosh, Wailer and Marley all sounding more revolutionary.


Dissatisfaction has already started to develop between Peter and Bunny, on one hand, and Island Records president Chris Blackwell, on the other hand. Blackwell selects Bob Marley to lead The Wailers, despite that the three founders had always enjoyed equal billing and standing, and also selects Marley to co-produce The Wailers’ albums. More of Marley’s songs end up on the Island Records releases than songs by Tosh or Wailer. Bunny also expresses his displeasure with the touring schedule that Island Records imposes upon the band.


Tosh leaves the Wailers

First Bunny Wailer and then Tosh leave the Wailers, citing (among other things) the unfair treatment and disproportionate payments they received from Blackwell, whom Tosh often refers to publicly as ‘Christopher Whiteworst’.


Pursues Project Alone

Blackwell and Island Records refuse to publish Peter Tosh’s proposed first solo album, and Marley refuses to assist his old friend in financing the album unless Tosh agrees to comply with a number of “conditions.” Tosh, always independent and forthright, refuses, and pursues the project alone.


Legalize It, Platinum Solo Album

Tosh releases his first solo record, Legalize It on CBS Records. It goes on to be his first gold and then his first platinum solo album, and propels Tosh (as a solo performer) into the highest pantheon of reggae performers of all time.

Anthem for the marijuana movement

The title track soon became the primary anthem for the marijuana movement worldwide and was a favorite at Tosh’s concerts.


As Marley preached his “One Love” message, Tosh railed against the hypocritical political, social, educational and economic “shitstem,” and became a favorite target of the Jamaican police. He proudly wore the scars that he had received from the beatings he endured at the hands of multiple police officers, inside of locked cells. But until his final day, Tosh was a true survivor, and also was never a man to be silenced!


Equal Rights