The Toughest: The Legacy of Peter Tosh

Once they were a trinity. Robert Nesta became Bob, and he was king and was consumed. Neville Livingston became Bunny, Bob's friend who keeps the spirit alive. And there was Peter, who called himself "the toughest," and he was murdered.Ten years ago the true "soul rebel" of the Wailers, the quintessential reggae band, died tragically in his home as three intruders emptied their guns into him and his friends. Although one gunman was convicted in one of the shortest trials in Jamaica's history, a man Peter Tosh had known and aided, the other two disappeared without trace. Many believe Tosh was assassinated by pawns of those in power because of his unrelenting criticism of the "shitstem" and his extremely visible and audible campaign to legalize marijuana. After all, the police had nearly ended his life before, beating him mercilessly to within an inch of his life years earlier.The life and music of Peter Tosh is celebrated in a striking new CD boxed-set from the Legacy wing of Columbia Records. Honorary Citizen has three discs representing three dimensions of Tosh's musical legacy. Disk 1 collects rare Jamaican singles, mostly from the late Sixties and early Seventies, and among them are the classic Wailers cuts "Pound Get A Blow" and "Fire Fire" that reflect the group's increasing social activism. On the solo excursions where Tosh's rich baritone shines outside of Bob Marley's shadow, his militancy is clearly expressed. The Lee Perry-produced duet with U. Roy staked out Peter's Rastafarian convictions as it put U. Roy, the deejay originator, on vinyl for the first time. "Here Comes The Judge" casts Tosh as the judge deciding the fate of a group of colonial defendants including Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama, and with severity he sentences them to hang by their tongues for, among other things, killing 50 million black people. The collection of early Tosh singles is Honorary Citizen's first strength.The second CD collects Peter Tosh "live" from recordings made during his 1982 tour through North America. Tosh was at the peak of his abilities in 1982, and his performances resonated with awesome power and conviction. Tosh often embellished his music with "sermons" or "livatribes" that challenged the audience spiritually or politically, and a couple of them are preserved here. In southern California he introduced "Glass House" by saying, "When you and you and you see I and I, here, don't think I come here for an entertainment. I and I come to flash lightnin', earthquake and thunder in these places of destruction and unrighteousness." If you don't know Peter Tosh "live," you don't know his music, and legendary great performances are the boxed-set's second strength.The final disc is a greatest-hits compilation from Tosh's solo albums, and the music is very familiar. Having "Downpressor Man," "Stepping Razor," "Equal Rights," "Bush Doctor" and "No Nuclear War" on one CD is a good alternative to searching for them on assorted records, but it is disappointing that alternate or extended versions of the great songs were not included. Surely they must exist. The "Hits" disc also ends with a lame tribute song written and sung by Pauline Morris, Tosh's cousin and the producer of Honorary Citizen.The third strength of Honorary Citizen is the sixty-page booklets that it includes. Detailed notes give the context for every song, including recording details, while the whole booklet is full of striking photographs. One of the pre-eminent experts on Bob Marley and the Wailers, reggae archivist Roger Steffens, also provides a short biography and a list of Peter's many recordings. Honorary Citizen is as much a monument as it is a collection of music, and that is exactly how it should be. The essence of Peter Tosh was his revolutionary message. Music was his weapon, and this tribute displays much of his ammunition, but he also delivered his message through his language, his image and his living. This collection preserves Tosh's essence remarkably well.I recommend the disturbing documentary Red X, Stepping Razor, by Wayne Jobson and Nicholas Campbell, to those interested in learning more about Peter Tosh. Anyone interested in his earliest recordings should seek Peter Tosh: The Toughest, a 1996 release on the Heartbeat label.Robert Ambrose produces an audio version of "The Rhythm Connection" for public radio in Talkeetna and writes about African music for The Beat magazine. He can be reached by e-mail at rambrose@alaska.net.

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