A Contribution from MIDNIGHT RAVER’S Roger Steffens

On August 22, 1983 Chili Charles, our producer/director, and I went to the Sunset Marquis hotel, just off the fabled Sunset Strip, to interview Peter Tosh for “L. A. Reggae.” Charlie Comer, Tosh’s irrepressible Liverpool-Irish publicist, one of the people most responsible for the success of both Peter and Bob Marley, had set up the interview. We arrived to find others in the room with him, including a young singer named Gold Rodriguez and a Trinidadian performer wearing a wide straw hat.

During our talk, the phone rang several annoying times, and Tosh’s displeasure grew. I had come to speak with Peter about his alleged “hit” single of “Johnny B. Goode,” suggested to Peter by his lead guitarist, Donald Kinsey. “What’s so wrong with telling people to be good?” Tosh said defensively as he denied that he had any kind of a hit, referring to Musical Youth, and their million-selling cleaned up remake of the Mighty Diamonds’ “Pass the Kutchie.”

I had brought many of his early records for him to sign. As we looked at them he claimed angrily that “we were never Bob Marley and the Wailers until Chris Blackwell called us that.” I was shocked. As any serious fan knows, this is completely backwards. I even have a copy of the group’s first record, “Simmer Down,” attributed to Bob and the Wailers. When they started their own label in 1966, they chose to refer to themselves on most of the labels as “Bob Marley and the Wailing Wailers.” Further, the Lee Perry Sessions were marketed as the same BMW. Oddly, when he released what would become their last two albums, Blackwell called them simply “The Wailers.” I showed some of these proofs to Peter but he decided to ignore them. I have been accused on some forums of being rude to Peter for questioning his statements, as if everything he said should be received unexamined. Believe me, I had no intention of being rude to a man I considered one of the great artists of the 20th century, and a friend. But facts are facts, and I wanted Peter not to make statements that others, less friendly, would use as ammunition in their classification of Peter as a madman. (The L.A. Times’ African-American Dennis Hunt was one who had made such claims.)

Peter called me three or four times a year from far distant places, always requesting a tape of one or another of his past records. “All of mine dem borrow or steal, me have nuttin’ of my own.” In fact, it was about a week before his assassination that we had our final conversation, him seeking a copy of “Here Comes the Judge,” which – now that his four-years-in-the-making album “No Nuclear War” had just been released – he was going to remake, replacing historic baddies with new villains in contemporary history.

The most haunting part of our conversation came toward the end when he spoke of knowing about “the amount of plots on my life daily,” then averred, “But no one can smite I.” Sadly it’s one prophecy that did not come true.

Peter would have been 70 years old today (19 October 2014) as we post this for you to share our happier memories of the Bush Doctor, the Minister of Herb, Jah Holiest Weed’s most powerful advocate, a man for the Ages.

The photo, which has never been published, was taken at the sound check later in the day at the Roxy, during the final time he played in L.A.

Peter Tosh soundcheck, The Roxy, Hollywood, 1983 (Photo:  Roger Steffens)
Peter Tosh soundcheck, The Roxy, Hollywood, 1983 (Photo: Roger Steffens)