Personalities | Peter Tosh | A Wailing Wailer | Guitar Heroes

Peter Tosh (1944–87), born Winston Hubert McIntosh, was the guitarist in the original Wailing Wailers. His mercurial temperament, provocative advocacy of the Rastafari movement and untimely death drew attention from his role in the most important band in the history of reggae.

Tosh grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. His height (6ft 5in/2m) and temperament earned him the nickname Stepping Razor. Tosh began to sing and play guitar at a young age, inspired by the music his radio could get from distant American stations.

In the early Sixties Tosh met Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer, and the trio began harmonizing and playing guitars together. In 1962 they formed the Wailing Wailers. The band recorded several successful ska singles before splitting in late 1965. After immersion in the Rastafari movement, the original trio reunited and renamed the group the Wailers.

The band left ska behind, and added socially conscious lyrics to their down-tempo grooves. The Wailers teamed with production wizard Lee Perry to record the early reggae hits ‘Soul Rebel’, ‘Duppy Conqueror’ and ‘Small Axe’. Adding bassist Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett and his brother, drummer Carlton, in 1970, the Wailers became Caribbean superstars and signed a recording contract with Island Records. Their debut, Catch A Fire (1973), was followed by Burnin’ the same year.

In 1973, Tosh’s skull was fractured in a car accident that killed his girlfriend. Tosh clashed with Island Records president Chris Blackwell, and when the label refused to issue his solo album in 1974, Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the band.

Tosh’s post-Wailers career was characterized by the rebellious title track from his solo debut, Legalize It (1976). As Marley became an icon with the positive message of ‘One Love’, Tosh railed against the establishment. He released Equal Rights (1977), Bush Doctor (1978), Mystic Man (1979) and Wanted Dread And Alive (1981). After the release of 1983’s Mama Africa, Tosh withdrew, only to return and win a Grammy for Best Reggae Performance in 1987 for No Nuclear War. However, in September 1987 a three-man gang came to Tosh’s house demanding money, and when Tosh could not produce any, he was shot dead.

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