Thursday, 30 May 2019

Peter Tosh

"I travel the garden of music, thru inspiration. It's a large, very large garden, seen?" - Peter Tosh
Legalize It (1976)

Legalize It/Burial/Wat'cha Gonna Do?/No Sympathy/Why Must I Cry/Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised)/Ketchy Shuby/Till Your Well Runs Dry/Brand New Second Hand   

This was Peter Tosh's debut album after leaving Bob Marley & The Wailers. Most of it was recorded in 1975 and released the following year. It is not as "full on" in its issue-driven messages as subsequent albums, containing a few more "fun" numbers. However, Tosh's obsession with marijuana and his feelings of persecution by the police over his liberal use of it are strongly represented on the album. He was arrested several times, so he definitely had an axe to grind. The follow-up album, Equal Rights is far more militant, however. There is also a Rasta devotional number, reflecting the powerful "roots" movement that was prominent in many reggae recordings in this period. This is a roots album, a Rasta "conscious" album, a ganja album, but it also is a very catchy, melodic one too, for Tosh had a real ear for a killer tune. It is certainly not all deep, dense, dubby stuff as Tosh knew how to harness those delicious horns and skanking riddims. There are several "relationship" numbers on here as well.

The songs

Legalize It is a slow burning groove in praise of marijuana calling, obviously, for its legalisation. As well as that, asthma, tuberculosis and glaucoma are some of the ailments Tosh claims the herb is good for. 

Burial is a big, bassy Wailers-esque number featuring some excellent guitar and organ backing. The lighter side of Peter Tosh first arrives in the tuneful, infectious fluff of Wat'cha Gonna Do. For all his pontificating, he definitely had a more carefree side, both lyrically and musically. The Wailers missed him when he left.

No Sympathy again echoes some of the material on The WailersCatch A Fire and Burnin' albums. It is a heavy rhythm, but a lilting one at the same time. Why Must I Cry is a gentle, romantic skank. 

The mysterious Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised) is the first true Rasta proclamation.  It is packed full of dubby resonance and lyrics warning of earthquakes, lightning, fire and brimstone. Ketchy Shuby is a singalong piece of enjoyable nonsense with a nice easy skank to it. Nice bass line on it too.

Till Your Well Runs Dry is a typical Peter Tosh song that mixes fast and slow rhythms on another one with a romantic feel to it. It features some great electric guitar near the end. 

Brand New Second Hand once again summons up the 1973 Wailers spirit. Overall, this is an enjoyable, surprisingly light-hearted album in places. All Tosh's albums are pretty accessible, it has to be said. As I pointed out earlier, he could write a good tune.

The "legacy edition" features the "original Jamaican mix" of the album (similar to Catch A Fire). These mixes are slightly heavier, rootsier and are full of atmosphere.

Equal Rights (1977)

Get Up Stand Up/Downpressor Man/I Am That I Am/Stepping Razor/Equal Rights/African/Jah Guide/Apartheid/400 Years/Hammer            

Peter Tosh’s 1977 Equal Rights was something of a breakthrough album, commercially. It was his second album and he was attempting to match old mate Bob Marley’s incredible global success (1977 was the year of Marley’s massively successful Exodus album). Equal Rights did pretty well, and Tosh became more well-known as a result, but despite his best efforts, he never quite made it.

Tosh was an “issues” kind of guy. The album was very political. For more so than religiously devotional. Political matters were far more to the fore than the common Rasta “give thanks and praise” roots fare. He didn’t have the ability that Marley did to mix political awareness with an instinct for a commercial tune, neither did he feel the need to occasionally leave the politics and go down the Three Little Birds or Is This Love route. There lies the explanation for his never being as big as Marley. Peter was too political, Bunny Wailer maybe too Rasta, Marley was both, and much more. Marley could always ensure his political utterances never overwhelmed his material by releasing a Kaya after every Rastaman Vibration, or releasing Jamming as a single, or One Love.
The songs

Anyway, I'm not here to talk about Marley. The albums starts, ironically, though, with a cover of Get Up, Stand Up, one of Tosh’s contributions to Marley’s Burnin’ album. While having an excellent, upbeat rootsy backing, Tosh’s vocal delivery is strangely staccato and sort of stuttering. Hard to describe, but it just sounds right, somehow. 

Downpressor Man is a funky-ish, powerful roots number. Tosh had a very melodious, emotive voice, however, which lifts even the heaviest politically motivated roots number to something appealing and lighter. This may be a heavy album, ideologically, but it has many light musical touches. 

I Am That I Am is a vibrant, slightly clunky number, while Stepping Razor has some excellent light guitar licks over a heavy, bassy backing and Tosh’s voice once again has that yearning quality. It has a real soul to it. The remastered sound on the album is excellent throughout, emphasising all parts of the music equally - bass and treble are perfectly aligned. Stepping Razor also has some searing rock guitar in it. Tosh was never afraid to use rock guitar to enhance a track.

Equal Rights has a captivating, affecting melodious intro and Tosh’s voice just sounds marvellously sad and pleading on here. This quality is something almost unique to Tosh, although South Africa’s Lucky Dube got very close to it, on the same type of material. The song is, obviously, a plea for equal rights, yet is delivered almost beautifully and in such a laid-back manner so as to diffuse all militant anger. Tosh is an angry singer, but his voice just never sounds angry, just intuitive, instinctive and soulful. 

African is another aware song. I love it. Very catchy and some great lyrics about all black people being African, inside. Tosh has managed here to merge both political consciousness and his impeccable ear for a melody.

Jah Guide is the album’s one concession to Jah and religious matter. It has a funky, clavinet backing and some authentic roots rhythm, with some laid-back horns adding to the general relaxed feel of the song. Not really a song of fervour. Tosh sounds lazily accepting. 

Apartheid is an excellent, rousing number with obviously admirable sentiments that were completely relevant at the time. It was a fine way to end an earnest album. Personally, I do not find the political message as overwhelming as some reviewers I have read have done. Musically, it is very appealing and, for me, the message in the songs is fine, and necessary.

Bush Doctor (1978)

(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back/Pick Myself Up/I'm The Toughest/Soon Come/Moses The Prophet/Bush Doctor/Stand Firm/Dem Ha Fe Get A Beatin'/Creation       

This was Peter Tosh's first release on The Rolling Stones label and, while it was a bit of an obvious attempt to cash in on the reggae/rock crossover that punk had inspired and also to bring Tosh's music to a mainstream radio audience, like his old mate Bob Marley (who was off conquering the world), it was also an album that stuck to its essential roots feel. It is still quite a rootsy album, in places, but the overall feel is one of carefree, lively, toe-tapping, skanking enjoyment. It is by far Tosh's most accessible album.
The songs

The opener was a cover of The Temptations(You Gotta Walk) Don't look Back and featured a somewhat self-conscious vocal duet between Tosh and Mick Jagger, but, despite that, it is still a radio-friendly catchy number, and indeed was a minor hit. It succeeded in bringing Tosh's name further into the limelight for a while, and the album was quite a good seller, probably Tosh's most successful. 

Both the uplifting Pick Myself Up and I'm The Toughest are lively, quite poppy offerings, with a commercial skanking beat, saxophone on the latter and singalong refrains. These are very much attempts to plough the same furrow as Bob Marley in their obviously accessible melodies. Reggae for the masses. Not that they aren't both immensely appealing songs.

Soon Come is another upbeat number, full of punchy horns and a catchy chorus. It is probably time for a bit of Rasta consciousness and it arrives in Moses The Prophet with its Biblical warnings, but it is still delivered over an infectious, energetic beat, as indeed is Bush Doctor, which has Tosh telling us the cigarettes are bad for us, so we should legalise marijuana. Both these songs are once again pretty irresistible. 

Stand Firm is the most rootsy cut so far, heavier and bassier. It is enhanced as is all the album by some great guitar. The guitar on here, and on the previous track, is played by none other than Keith Richards, always The Stones' biggest reggae fan. The guitar is not the usual Richards riffing, though, it is a wah-wah skank.

Dem Ha Fe Get A Beatin' is an old Wailers song and it contains an evocative vocal from Tosh. Again, it is a really exhilarating number. The one song that breaks the album's mould is the unusual Creation, a six minute mix of Handel's Messiah, gospelly female backing vocals, The Bible's creation story, thunderbolt sound effects, wave sounds and a spoken vocal which has Tosh proclaiming his spiritual devotion. There is no reggae in the track at all, just a gentle acoustic guitar. It is a very odd, incongruous track but, that aside, this album is a true pleasure from beginning to end. Keith Richards said that Tosh was a bit difficult to work with in his rather inconsistent, unreliable way, but Keith (a bit that way himself) just muddled along, (man), and the results are a delightful album that just has a real unbridled joie de vivre about it.

Mystic Man (1979)

Mystic Man/Recruiting Soldiers/Can't You See/Jah Say No/Fight On/Buk-In-Hamm Palace/The Day The Dollar Die/Crystal Ball/Rumours Of War           
This is one of my favourite Peter Tosh albums. It perfectly encapsulates his unique brand of melodic militancy. However righteous he gets over a number of subjects he does so against an addictive, tuneful rhythmic skank of a backing that just puts a smile on your face. Some have said that Tosh's militancy was why he didn't make it like his old mate Bob Marley did, overlooking the fact that Marley's 1978 album, Survival, was, if anything, more full of political conviction and message than this one. Quite why Tosh didn't become more than a cult-ish acquired taste was a bit of a mystery.

It is nice to see him smiling as he unicycles on the back cover, as his expression was normally serious.
The songs

Mystic Man has Peter telling us how he is indeed a mystic man and he doesn't eat frankfurters ("garbage"), or hamburgers, or drink green soda pop. Most righteous, but I enjoy a frankfurter! Sorry Peter. 

Recruiting Soldiers is a wonderfully melodic skank, yes it is pious but it is so catchy too, with some saxophone in it too. The lilting of it shows just how much South African reggae star Lucky Dube was influenced by Tosh. I love this. Love it. Tosh's voice is just so evocative and the whole thing is just great. Similarly impressive is the guitar-driven groove of Can't You See, enriched by some excellent percussion and backing vocals.

Jah Say No continues the trend of presenting Rasta conscious, devotional songs in a most endearing, catchy reggae style. Fight On confronts the evils of South African apartheid face to face - freedom, no compromise. 

Buk-In-Hamm Palace is an amusing piece of disco/reggae concerning Tosh imagining himself smoking ganga in The Queen's residence. Musically, it is an interesting merger of the two styles and one that was rarely attempted. At times it has some very Euro-disco keyboards. Check out those disco horns too. This should have been a dancefloor hit.

The Day The Dollar Die is a superb track, full of relevance and cutting comment over a rootsy rhythm. Crystal Ball is a return to the upbeat groove of the sort that inspired Lucky Dube - all skanking guitars and female backing vocals. 

Rumours Of War is another rootsy number lightened by its innate melody and backing vocals.

This album is a pleasure from beginning to end. If you want to dip into the music of this underrated and sadly missed reggae artist, you can't go far wrong here.

Wanted Dread And Alive (1981)

Coming In Hot/Nothing But Love/Reggaemylitis/Rok with Me/Oh Bumbo Klaat/Wanted Dread And Alive/Rastafari Is/Guide Me From My Friends/Fools Die (For Want Of Wisdom) 

After a most agreeable, poppy but righteous album in 1979's Mystic ManPeter Tosh entered the new decade with another offering that mixed a militant anger with an innate, instinctive ear for a hook and a melody. This was the final of the three albums Tosh recorded for The Rolling Stones' record label.

The songs

Coming In Hot is a deeper, rootsier groove than anything on the previous album. Nothing But Love finds Tosh duetting with disco soulstress Gwen Guthrie on a soul-influenced smooth number, full of sweet horns and a laid-back lush slow disco beat. It is far more disco/soul than it is reggae. 

Reggaemylitis is a rootsy slow skank, with some deep bass and appealing saxophone enhancements. Tosh is often quite humorous in his songs and here he is claiming to have "reggaemylitis" affecting all his internal organs. 

Rok With Me is a typical-sounding Tosh number, full of intoxicating rhythm and a great vocal. It is an excellent, summer-sounding song. A bit Aswad-like.

Oh Bumbo Klaat utilises the common patois form of abuse to point the finger at someone who is to blame. Once again, though, the anger is diluted by the delicious melody and vibe of the song and Tosh's moving, evocative voice. 

Wanted Dread Or Alive has some delicious keyboard riffery lurking under its one-drop backbeat and lyrically it revisits the old I Shot The Sheriff theme. They're all out to get Peter, those "evil forces". Rastafari Is is the first blatantly Rastafarian devotional piece of praise, unsurprisingly, it features traditional Rastafarian drumming.

Guide Me From My Friends is a keyboard and bass-driven slow burner. Fools Die (For Want Of Wisdom) is a complete departure from the reggae of the rest of the album. It is Tosh singing gently over a keyboard and flute backing about those whom he perceives to have a lack of wisdom. Every now and again Tosh would do a non-reggae song. This one lasts seven minutes plus, which was actually quite unusual.

The original Jamaican and US releases contained the typical Tosh fare of The Poor Man Feel It, the dubby mysterious skank of Cold Blood and That's What They Will Do instead of Rok With MeOh Bumbo Klaat and Guide Me From My Friends. Assessing both permutations, I feel the Jamaican version is the slightly more rootsy of the two. The best thing to do is get hold of the modern edition which contains all of them, of course.

Mama Africa (1983)

Mama Africa/Glass House/Not Gonna Give Up/Stop That Train/Johnny B. Goode/Where You Gonna Run/Peace Treaty/Feel No Way/Maga Dog        

This was the last in a classic run of Peter Tosh albums, dating back to 1976. He would produce one more before his sad passing, but this run of six albums was what his career will always be assessed on. As with the others, it was an album of melodic militancy and was eminently listenable. It was actually the only one of his albums to break into the UK top 50. Personally, there are others I prefer slightly more, but only slightly, it has to be said.

The songs

Mama Africa sounds like it comes straight from South Africa's Lucky Dube, who was very influenced by Tosh. The female backing vocals are instantly recognisable as those of the South Africa townships. It is a seven minute plus extended groove that just gets into its rhythm and keeps going, without actually getting anywhere, not that it real matters. 

Glass House is more of an archetypal Tosh skank, with a message, but always melodic and catchy at the same time. Hot Gonna Give Up is a bassy, slow burning number fighting for South African freedom.

Stop The Train is, of course, the old Wailers song. Here is is given an updated brassy backing and features some captivating backing vocals. 

Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode was a strange choice for a cover, delivered as it is in a laid-back reggae groove. It actually sounds really good, as long as you don't think of it as being the song it is. Just think of it as a new song.

Where You Gonna Run is a saxophone-powered mid-pace skank. Peace Treaty is an odd song. Tosh, as an apparent man of peace, appears to be happy, in an "I told you so" way that a non-violent peace treaty between criminals hasn't worked. Tosh's motives were usually correct, but sometimes they went askew a little. 

Feel No Way gets back on track, while Maga Dog sees Tosh righteous again, but, as with so many of his songs, its message is diluted considerably by its addictive, tuneful groove.

Despite Tosh's occasional lyrical indiscretions and sometimes muddled messages, his reggae was superb, and his heart was essentially in the right place. I miss his music, he was a true reggae great.

Related posts :-
Lucky Dube
Dennis Brown
Burning Spear

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