Roots | Peter Tosh, OM

Irie Magazine | Roots | Peter Tosh, OM

Photography By: UrbanImage.TV

Peter Tosh, OM

September 17, 1987

Peter Tosh was more than a luminary in the development of reggae music. He was the ultimate firebrand, speaking out against oppression around the world in both his songs and his public statements. He was a man who demonstrated the power of personal and artistic integrity, and pride and defiance in the face of authoritarian power. His music’s insurrectionary fervor has inspired artists of all stripes, from reggae disciples to punk-rock acolytes like The Clash.

Born Winston Hubert McIntosh in the rural parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica, in 1944, he moved to the notorious slum of Trenchtown at age 16. His mother strongly influenced him, and her sensibility would become apparent in both his lyrics and views; she was particularly concerned that he have a Christian upbringing. He attended the local church daily, and his experience there – singing in the choir and learning to play the organ – formed a sort of musical apprenticeship that prepared him for his subsequent career.

It was in the early 60’s when Peter met Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley) and Neville O’Riley Livingston (Bunny Wailer). The three would go on to form the band, ‘The Wailers’, in 1962. The Wailers band had tremendous success as a trio but Peter Tosh would go on to find himself as an extraordinary solo artist and an activist who openly called for the legalization of Marijuana.

Peter Tosh released his solo debut album, ‘Legalize it’, in 1976 through CBS Record company. The next year, he released ‘Equal Rights’. The two albums have become a testament to Tosh’s ability as a songwriter and a musician. Peter was a master at wordplay. He often referred to himself as his musical alter ego, the ‘Stepping Razor’, taken from his lyrics: “Don’t you watch my size, I’m dangerous.”

September 11, 1987

On September 11, 1987, just after Tosh had returned to his home in Jamaica, a three-man gang came to his house on motorcycles and demanded money. Tosh replied that he did not have any with him but the gang did not believe him. They stayed at his residence for several hours and tortured him in an attempt to extort money from Tosh. Over the hours, as various Tosh’s associates arrived to visit him, they were also taken hostage by the gunmen. The gunmen became more and more frustrated, especially the chief thug, Dennis ‘Leppo’ Lobban, a man whom Tosh had previously befriended and tried to help find work after a long jail sentence. Tosh said he did not have any money in the house, after which Lobban and the fellow gunmen began opening fire in a reckless manner. Tosh was shot twice in the head and killed. Herbalist Wilton ‘Doc’ Brown and disc jockey Jeff ‘Free I’ Dixon also died as a result of wounds sustained during the robbery. Several others in the house were wounded, including Tosh’s common-law wife, Andrea Marlene Brown, Free I’s wife, Yvonne (‘Joy’), Tosh’s drummer Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis and musician Michael Robinson.

According to Police Commissioner Herman Ricketts, Dennis “Leppo” Lobban surrendered and two other men were interrogated but not publicly named. Lobban went on to plead innocent during his trial, telling the court he had been drinking with friends. The trial was held in a closed court due to the involvement of illegal firearms. Lobban was ultimately found guilty by a jury of eight women and four men and sentenced to death by hanging. His sentence was commuted in 1995 and Lobban remains in jail. Another suspect was acquitted due to insufficient evidence. The other two gunmen were never identified by name. It is said that they were killed in a daylight gun battle in the street.

Though his life was snuffed out by violence, his star continued to shine ever brighter in the ensuing years. As an artist and an activist, Peter Tosh continues to inspire creators and idealists around the world. He was and is a true leader whose music and message inspires people on every continent throughout the world.