Branding the Firebrand: How Peter Tosh's Estate Is Revitalizing An Iconic Reggae Artist's LegacyBy Patricia Meschino, Kingston
December 07, 2012
Peter Tosh's groundbreaking achievements in taking reggae to the mainstream are remarkable: A founding member of legendary Jamaican super group The Wailers (alongside Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer in 1962), Tosh co-wrote the group's timeless global anthem "Get Up Stand Up;" opened up for the Rolling Stones' on their "Some Girls" tour; was the first reggae artist to play "Saturday Night Live;" had one of MTV's earliest reggae videos; and won a Best Reggae Album Grammy. And yet, to most people, Tosh's career accomplishments are nearly forgotten by all but roots reggae's most ardent followers.
Through the diligence of his children and former manager Herbie Miller, however, Tosh's contributions are beginning to be recognized. For example, he recently received one of Jamaica's highest distinctions: The Order of Merit which was bestowed upon the deceased singer at an official government ceremony on Oct. 15 (Heroes Day, a national holiday) 25 years after he was murdered at his Kingston home on September 11, 1987, at age 42.
"I noticed that honors were given to artists far less deserving than Peter, explained Miller who managed Tosh from 1976-1981, "so six years ago I began writing articles about him in the Jamaican newspapers so he would be remembered." Miller spearheaded the award campaign sending his writings to Omar Davies, a former Minister of Culture who began the lobbying process inside Jamaica's parliament, which led to the 2012 designation.
Tosh was always a provocative singer/songwriter and in his lyrics was an unrelenting crusader for the legalization of marijuana, the dissolution of South Africa's Apartheid regime and for injustice everywhere. "Peter was vilified by politicians and endured brutal beatings by police because he spoke such truth," says Miller, now the director of the Jamaica Music Museum in Kingston, "so we congratulate those who saw the necessity of honoring him now."
One of Tosh's 10 children, daughter Niambe McIntosh, Administrator of the Peter Tosh estate, accepted the award on behalf of the entire family. "This award could not have happened earlier," offered McIntosh, a Boston-based teacher. "We gained control of the estate three years ago; people we had trusted in the music business pulled the family in different directions but now we are unified and educated about what we should be doing."
The Peter Tosh estate partnered with businessman Kingsley Cooper, Chairman of the Entertainment and Advisory board in Jamaica's Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, for a commemorative concert on Oct. 18th in Kingston. More than 1,000 patrons crammed into Cooper's Studio 38, an outdoor venue with a capacity of 600, for the Tosh tribute, which included performances by Tosh's sons Andrew Tosh and Tosh1 and harmony trio The Tamlins, who toured and recorded with Tosh.
The estate also collaborated with the University of the West Indies for a Peter Tosh symposium osan Oct. 19, which would have been Tosh's 68th birthday.
On Feb. 27 in association with Jamaica's IRIE (107.5) FM, they will present the third annual Peter Tosh memorial concert in Westmoreland, the birthplace of Winston Hubert McIntosh (a.k.a. Peter Tosh).
The estate recently launched a Tosh merchandise line and entered into a licensing deal with California based Reef Sandals for a new sandal, The Stash, while pursuing other initiatives to cultivate awareness without compromising Tosh's firebrand identity.
"Many times an icon like Peter, who is a brand, will be aligned with another brand that doesn't remain true to the original brand; retaining Peter's credibility is everything and I won't f*** it up with an energy drink deal," declared Cory Lashever co-manager of Tosh's estate with his business partner Jeffrey Jampol. The duo has also managed the estates of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Rick James. "We have ideas for compilations, tribute re-recordings and a possible tour," Lashever added. A Peter Tosh bio film is currently under consideration although no official announcement has been made,
Tosh commenced his solo recording career in 1976 with "Legalize It" (CBS Records) its title track calling for the decriminalization of the "healing herb" was banned in Jamaica.
At Kingston's historic One Love Peace Concert in 1978 where Bob Marley dramatically joined together the hands of the Island's warring political leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, Tosh brazenly lit a marijuana spliff onstage then chastised both men for the government's continual persecution of healing herb users.
Four months later, several policemen apprehended and nearly beat Tosh to death, an action thought to be retribution for his statements against what he termed "the Babylon shitstem".
Tosh signed to Rolling Stones Records in 1978, releasing three albums for the label. "Bush Doctor" featuring a reggae-fied cover of the Temptations' "Don't Look Back" sung with Mick Jagger that reached no. 81 on the Hot 100, while their performance of the song on "Saturday Night Live" took Tosh's talents into living rooms across America.
Dissatisfied with the Stones' marketing of his music, Tosh signed to EMI; his 1983 debut for the label "Mama Africa" reached no. 59 on the Top 200 propelled by a roots-rock rendition of Chuck Berry's rock 'n roll staple "Johnny B. Goode". Recasting Johnny as a reggae guitar hero, Tosh's version peaked at no. 84 on the Hot 100, its video added into rotation on MTV.
Tosh fought EMI over a perceived lack of promotion and contractual obligations that included distribution in (then Apartheid ruled) South Africa. Following his December 1983 appearance at Kingston's Reggae Superjam concert, Tosh disbanded his backing group Word Sound and Power and ceased performing.
By 1987 Tosh was ready to resume touring to support what became his final studio album, the Grammy Award winning "No Nuclear War" (EMI) released shortly before he was slain execution style, the motive for which has never been established.
Reggae SuperJam promoter Kingsley Cooper plans to release the footage of Tosh's final concert and is collaborating with the Tosh estate on the annual Peter Tosh Music Festival scheduled for Kingston beginning in October 2013, which Cooper believes will resonate with an international audience.
"There is so much history with the Tosh brand, in what Peter stood for and his music," Cooper notes, "we will use what we have as products to rebuild the brand and market an even better brand as we go along."