In Honor of the Life of Peter Tosh


In August of 1983 I received a call from the great music publicist Charlie Comer (The Beatles, Chieftains, Bob Marley etc.) asking me if I'd like to interview Peter Tosh. Peter was staying at the Golden Gateway Inn on Van Ness Avenue near Nob Hill in San Francisco, just a couple blocks from my basement apartment. I'd even seen Peter riding his unicycle out in front of that same hotel a few years earlier with Mick Jagger & Keith Richards standing agape nearby. I was thrilled at the chance to finally go one-on-one in private with the most outspoken & fearless man in reggae.

I talked to Peter, Bush Doctor & Mystic Man, around midday August 17th, 1983. He was alone in his room, strumming his guitar when we were introduced. There was a big stack of $100 bills on his nightstand, the rewards from his concert the night before. After our first interchange he grabbed his brand new mini-cassette recorder & started to record our interview. He said he wanted to play it for the head of EMI that week since he was embroiled in a long struggle with the label. He wanted to present my direct evidence of the chronic promotional neglect he had suffered for years from the major labels that released his records. He was so glad to hear the truth that he returned my frankness in kind as he passionately spoke on the state of the world & reggae business.

I began by telling Peter that most of the reggae radio shows heard weekly in Northern California, mine included, weren't playing his killer new lp at the time, MAMA AFRICA (which had been out for 3 months) because "none were serviced with the record". Like most major US labels EMI was ignorant of (& thus didn't take advantage of) the more than 30 weekly reggae programs airing then in the Bay Area. EMI sent all their promos to stations that weren't interested. Instead the 'not for resale' albums ended up in used record stores where various radio station program directors had sold it the week it came out. This had been going on since I had started exposing reggae music on commercial radio in the Bay Area in 1974. Peter was enraged. I knew his demeanor was often serious but I'd never seen him so intense.

It was the greatest reggae interview I'd done. I was ecstatic to be able to share his insights. I took my cassette home and immediately started previewing it for use on my radio show that week. Within minutes I was horrified. There was next to nothing on my tape! You could hear his voice for a bit & then it got lower and lower & faded out completely. Now I was really mortified. I scanned through the tape. Nothing. Then I remembered. At one point during the interview I had noticed a chair leg accidentally sitting on the mic cord. I had immediately moved it out of the way. I tried the tape on other players. But it was still, for the most part, blank. I was so disgusted I wrote a cryptic symbol on the casing which only I would recognize & threw it in a box with a bunch of junk tapes & hid it away in my attic.

Fast forward to Friday night September 11th, 1987 (9/11 is a notoriously dreadful date.) An insistent phone ring turns out to be Roger Steffens calling from L.A. with the awful news that Peter has just been shot in Kingston along with the amazing Jamaican radio DJ Free-I & others. Chills went through my body as I pondered yet another major loss to reggae & the implication that even reggae radio DJs were now in the crossfire.

By now I was on KFOG, the major classic rock station in San Francisco, doing an hour of Midnight Dread reggae shows in prime time Tuesday nights. I had a few days to get together a proper memorial program dedicated to Peter's life & music. But what would I do? I knew that in the period immediately following an important musicians' death commercial radio wouldn't dare criticize whatever I aired. I had a brief window of opportunity to lay it all out there, more so than if Peter was still alive. Though my interview was basically non-existent, I might be able to use a line or two before the cassette went kaput. So I climbed the ladder & tried to find the tape which by now was buried under 4 more years of attic-stuffing. I spent several agonizing minutes searching for it. Finally, I located the mysterious encryption. I took the cassette to my studio and put it in the deck. Suddenly, it was all there. The magnetic particles had somehow, someway undergone spontaneous regeneration in the wake of Peter's passing. Some force beyond comprehension had decided that now was the time when Tosh's word sound power from August 17th, 1983 could be dispersed most freely and effectively. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. " -Doug 'Midnight Dread' Wendt (10/18/02)

(Copyright 2002 Doug Wendt/
No reproduction, distribution or excerpts without written permission)

For a $15 postpaid cd copy of Midnight Dread's KFOG Tribute To Peter Tosh (featuring highlights from this interview) originally aired September 15th, 1987 see our online store. Apparently Peter's mini-cassette copy of our reasoning ended up as the source for its inclusion in Wayne Jobson's excellent film, out on various DVDs, RED X - Stepping Razor, in which you can hear my voice. The recorder I saw Peter using at the SF Golden Gateway Inn was the same that he used for his late night autobiographical musings featured throughout the film.
This response from Scotti B after ordering & hearing the Tosh Tribute Midnight Dread aircheck: "Got the Cds a few days ago. So far I've only gotten to hear the Tosh CD. What a great disc! Just wanted to let you know how impressed I am so far, I look forward to the other discs. I also got Red X on DVD recently, your CD makes a great companion!" -Scotti B (RAW 596)

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8/17/83 Nob Hill, San Francisco

(Copyright 1983 Doug Wendt/2002 & 2012
No reproduction, distribution or excerpts without written permission)

(guitar playing sounds)

DW- I've been doing Midnight Dread on commercial radio for several years.

PT- That is very good, because it is very difficult to find people who really contribute so much energy towards helping to make reggae acceptable in this stiffneck society & I really appreciate what you've been doing very much.

DW- To have a format that includes reggae is not gonna put you in the biggest shape commercially.

PT- Serious thing.

DW- You've been involved with several labels in America; Columbia, Rolling Stone, EMI & I must tell you in ten years of playing strictly reggae music on commercial radio I have never received one promotional copy of any of your records. That means they're not taking care of business, they're not dealing with even commercial radio.

PT- & when you tell me that it is very good to hear that from you cause I have to keep these things under file because when I am going to report to the president of the company & let them know that if my album don't sell millions because I know it has the potential to sell millions & there is too much hypocrisy going on in this society & too much white promotion of white music & demotion of black music & then too much ripping off of black music by white musician to make their career elevate to levels & then at the same time belittling the integrity of black music; I can't take them shit there no more, & I will not have the integrity of my music being belittled willfully by beauracrats who sit down & plan & arrange these things to see to it that people like all me don't hold a million dollar but at the same time they will give you a couple play that when the people out there hear about you they think of you as a millionaire not knowing that you don't have nowhere near a millionaire, seen, but they want to promote you as a millionaire out there & they know that they are demoting you behind there, seens & set you up that you will never be a millionaire. Is not to say that I want to be a millionaire because I was born a millionaire, my potential make me more than zillions of years, seen, so I don't count millions of papers because paper will come & paper will go but my ability & my integrity is here forever, seen. So I am more than a zillionaire. But at the same time what is due to Caesar give it unto Caesar. Is long Bumba Clot time they've been robbin Peter to pay Paul & I've been seeing too much of that & at the same time want me to keep on working, working, working, bumba-blood clot working for all the days of my fuckin' life & when you done working you end up paying your fuckin' old age pension to the doctor. I am not into that bumba clot cause I am not here to subordinate, neither am I here to live up to no man's expectation, I know the potential of my music & my music must be played & respected the way any other white bullshit is respected where I don't hear it is culturally or morally uplifting to the people. And if the society is not dealing with moral upliftment just let me know & just let me back out because I will go to Africa, & to the Far Easts and to Japan & China where people are more culturally & morally awakened, seen, & people who are much more uplifted to life & the dignity & integrity of what life is. I can't take this deplorability that people adore & enjoy themselves in. People bathing in shit here & take it for enjoyment. I can't take that. You see lie is the moat & hypocrisy the order of the day. When I play for the people, everytime I play for my audience they are hypnotized, seen. These guys know the potential of the music. They don't want to break reggae music because reggae music is the King's music & reggae music is Rasta music & Rastaman opposes the whole shitstem within the society. So they don't want to know that they can break the rastaman, they will break rasta lookin people, seen?

DW- Eddy Grant.

PT- All those kind of looking people. They put on lickle dreadlocks & them break them because them know that they have had them in their hands seen, & they can spin them around & tell them what to do. Them can't tell me what to do because I don't get my inspiration from the drug store, seen. I get my inspiration from Jah & it must be materialized, seen. & they are not going to keep me here & use & abuse & try to defile my qualities. & then they try to eliminate & then they make movie of me, & bloodclot write books of me. No, that won't work. I will be here to benefit all that is mine & all Paul who has been getting Peter's pay better prepare to pay back bloodclot Peter because my judgement won't be like any little joke business my brother. When me pray it is a dangerous thing. (strums guitar). You see because I believe in prayer. And if a guy out there think him wicked & him gun is in God, seen, & other weapons of destruction is in God, it won't help him because what is due unto Ceaser I giveth unto Ceaser. (strums guitar)

DW- You may not be aware of, but here in Northern California there are 30 strictly reggae shows weekly. I've been listening to most of those shows because I deal in promotion for several reggae shows so I'm monitoring them to see what they're playing. & they are not playing MAMA AFRICA (Tosh's new lp at the time that had been out for 3 months) because they don't have the record.

PT- (long pregnant pause) Can you imagine a bumba clot thing like that?

DW- They don't deal on this 'low level' way of promotion. They deal in the block buster, take out ads in Playboy, spend 20,000 dollars there, $50,000 -that's what they did with Bob Marley, who was never really promoted in this country except once with RASTAMAN VIBRATION. (which went Top Ten in Billboard)

PT- Yeah, I know the shitstem, I am tired of that. And as I have already said this is the last year of me being treated that way, seen. & is only a pity that the few fans that I have out there won't be seeing me here in the Western Hemisphere no bumba clot more because I am tired of being abused, seen.

DW- Well you should consider working for one of the independent labels because they are plugged in. They know all the personalities in this country that love reggae & they want to work with them.

PT- Well that is what I have to find myself in that right connection because I see where these companies, these big white companies, they are too hooked on rock and roll & get down shake your bullshit where three years ago I see where Columbia & all the record companies was talking about what they lost, their income loss in the record business. Millions of bloodclot dollar & that wasn't on reggae.

DW- No man they stagnated the whole music scene here for ten years.

PT- Yes I know.

DW- They don't let reggae come through.

PT- Going around in one fuckin' circle & coming back around in the same fuckin' circle everytime.

DW- Yeah mon, hot music used to change all the time, every 3-4 years people would try to ace somebody else out to get the new sound first. Those days are over. It's like regurgitate the same old dying music.

PT- The same old DEAD music, not dying. (kisses back of teeth loudly) Man I'm tired of that shit. Is only that I can tell them. & one thing I can tell EMI & any company who gonna deal my music, respect my music & respect reggae music because, remember, don't care how much they try to abuse reggae musics is the only music that will live & leave all of these dead music because they are trying to put life into the dead. That can't work because everytime they try to generate life & drugs into the dead, it die again, more rapidly, seen. & that's what's taking place because the songs that they promote, if them don't spend millions of dollar to keep them on the air, they'd die at birth.

DW- Well a lot of the record business is hooked up into the cocaine scene.

PT- I know.

DW- A lot of their money goes for that.

PT- I know that & my potential & my integrity don't go for that because I don't even know cocaine & them not going to like me because me don't take drugs & I don't want to know drugs, what drugs do, because I see what it does. I see how much great potential artists it turn into zombies & how much it kill seen, & in two years you lose your progressiveness & your creativity, seen, & you have to live on what people write. Me no into that. Me live in the garden of inspiration & I have to utilize that. (guitar strumming)

DW- I use a phrase on my show, I got from Mikey Dread, 'reggae the sound of the century' & I think that it's not only the sound of the century but it's sort of what pop music was born to grow towards, that kind of positiveness.

PT- Yes, serious thing, but then don't care how much them try to exploit the music & victimize the music, reggae music is going to reach where it's supposed to reach. Them can't stop reggae music. Them been trying to stop it for a long time. Not only trying to stop it but trying to erase it from the minds of the people. But it is impossible to erase, it is a germ. & it is contagious & anytime you catch that germ, it cannot get out of you, I don't care how much you try. (strums guitar)

DW- I understand that you were planning to tour Israel at the end of October ('83) What happened with that tour?

PT- Not me was planning to tour, they were trying to get me to go to Israel to tour or to do a couple shows there but then again my integrity will not take me there, cause what I stand for is equal rights & justice in the highest degree. There are many places I have been that I should not have been but then again that's how the shitstem go. Jah say you have to get your bread out of desolate places so Israel has close ties with South Africa & Israel in this dispensation of time, is the continuation of apartheid & the racial injustice seen. They are the administrators, maybe the key administrators of racial injustice in South Africa to my people & I could not support that. There are many countries that really do support that still. But then again you still hear there & many places that really support it.

DW- Isn't that ironic that the people that would suffer so much racial genocide 30 years ago would now be involved in the same kind?

PT- Yeah, but you see there is nothing happening on earth today that is a coincidence, everything was designed thousands of years ago, is only a pity that it is so ugly. & it's only a pity that your eyes have to see it & your ears have to hear about it. But then again it was something that was designed, seen. Everyman is getting paid according to his work, seen. What's going on in South Africa is very ugly, very, very, very ugly. Everyday you hear them talk about the Jewish holocaust & how much million blood clot Jews Hitler killed but you never hear them talk about how much bumba clot million people the South African regime kill daily, seen. & not only them, them don't talk about the bloodclot invasion of the Italian into Ethiopia in the 1930s during the government of Emperor Haile Selassie I & how much bloodclot million people them kill. Them don't talk about that no time. Them tell you about the Jewish bloodclot holocaust. Every bumbaclot you hear about the Jewish fuckin' holocaust so what ago happen to we? Seen? & the shitstem I can't take it no more. That's why there will be so much disaster & destruction. Because when man think he has accomplished his judgement, him just don't reach nowhere yet. Because there is so much judgement for him to achieve, seen. You have things like earthquakes seen. You have disasters like floods, tidal waves, seen. You have disasters like herpes, aids, these kind of dangerous, destructive diseases comin' up plague & many more, seen. Pollution, heat wave, rising up to approximately 140 degrees if you don't mind, seen. & when winter come it very cold, it kill you same way. It get so very cold that it is unbearable, it is inhuman, seen. And these destruction & disaster is terrible & they are inevitable, they happen daily & all because man fail to realize the truth, accept the truth & give justice to man. (guitar strums)

DW- What do you think happened to Selassie & his family?

PT- Nothin' ado Emperor Haile Selassie I Man, Igziabeher, Amassagana, nothin' can do him. He's the Allmighty. What you hear is what you hear.

DW- But somebody came into his country & took over & cut off the heads of his family members & destroyed his regime.

PT- Well them cut off the heads of some of them & them kills plenty & them kill many people too. But then again that is what the people asked for, seen. The people was tired of the monarchy of his Imperial Majesty & wanted to be or was influenced by Westerns what they call civilization, or western way of life, seen. & many of them wanted that so Jah gave them what they wanted & now that they are suffering the consequences of influences then they are beginning to call back His Imperial Majesty & remembering the good old days when those things never use to happen. Seen, administers of propoganda spread many dangerous public mischief on Emperor Haile Selassie, seen, & we know them all but they cannot hide because they cannot tell themselves no lie, neither can they invent destructive weapons to destroy those who speak the truth because we attack them from the heart. (strums guitar) this time (laughs) seen. So when a guy thinks a well him safe, it's right into your heart (strums).

DW- Why did it take so long for Mother Africa to be released?

PT- Well not a matter of a long time, it's just a matter of, because it took me about 8 weeks to manifest the whole album, seen. But the time between, as I was talkin' about the shitstem, the treatment of the shitstem, & when you know that you are being treated & the music is being treated & being handled this kind of way- the way you are showing me because you are showing me the most positive nature- is the first I ever sit down with a DJ from a radio station who really sit down & tell me the truth of what's taking place. I really know what's taking place because I know it is the general white supremacy shitstem where promote everything that is white & demote everything that is black, seen. & then if the black has anything good in him try your best to extract it & give it to the white & make it look like it's the white who invent it. And I see too much of that shit & that's what they're trying to do with reggae music. Is a good thing reggae is a spiritual music as they would have taken it away long time.

DW- Well something I always say about reggae is there will be no Elvis for reggae.

PT- No. No. No. A rass clat. Na no Rolling Stones, a blood clot.

DW- Too strong for that.

PT- It would have fe kill them. Heh heh. What you talking bout, let me tell you something man. The spirituality of reggae music, the architecture was designed around the heartbeat & I say it will attack the heart. If you try to pretend reggae music it kill you man. (strums guitar) Aheh, you have to live reggae music.

DW- At the Youth Conciousness Festival, you, Bunny & Jimmy Cliff sang Marley songs together. What was that like?

PT- Very good. Very uplifting. & the vibration of the previous way how we used to sing together on stage as The Wailers. & then knowing that he left, gone to another planet, & we are still here doing the work, doing what is to be done. Singing those songs remind of those bad old days. I don't call them good old days because there is nothing good in them. Seen. It's just that really it's a form of education. We learn another way of life. Seen, but there was nothing good. All exploitation, victimizations humiliation & aggravation, police brutality, & live like a fugitive all the way of life & you are still top singer on the island. Huh hum. But that was a very great ritual.

DW- You seem to come up with new lyrics for No Woman, No Cry (at the Youth Consciousness concert).

PT- Yeah, mon. Well that's how music goes, because lyrics is unending. When you hear a song it has been edited everytime especially my songs, because all of my songs cannot be put on an album or on one record because my songs are very long - 8, 9 verses, seen. & when you're finished with the song you end up with 3 or 4.

DW- What do you remember of workin' with Lee Perry? Those 2-3 great albums.

PT- Well I remember that we were working magic in those times cause when we did Soul Rebel we took three hours to record Soul Rebel. Three hours, I mean live recording going straight to the book. & in three hours the album was done, ready for the world the next week. & that was magic, no man in the world ever do that yet, seen. No group in the world ever do that, I mean perfect recording one cut (take) everytime, harmony perfect. Yeah mon & it's three hours album done seen. Soul Rebel. It was a very good album then again it was the same exploitive system where it's hand to mouth business & the promoter drive big car & live in the biggest house & the singer don't even have a bicycle. Everytime. & live in a rent house & his rent is so depraved & cheap he live amongst the underprivileged everytime, seen. I have seen a lot of that. It's a great experience. It make me strong.

DW- Why do you think Lee Perry is somewhat gone now?

PT- Well, as we all know it is only good things last forever. Anything bad never last too long. It may look long but then again, they will dissolve from the face of the earth, that even their names will be forgotten. It only comes up coincidentally sometimes, seen because what they were doing was nothing good. If you see many of the songs that The Wailers write, me, Bob & Bunny right. You see it in the name of Lee Perry. Many songs. And not only to him but to many of the pirates, pioneer pirates in the business. You see Jamaica is a land that was discovered by pirates & the laws was layed down by pirates. & for over 300-400 years the laws never change, seen. Is the same discriminatory shitstem. & when you do anything that opposes the law you are outlawed, by an outlaw system, seen. But then again we are scientists, we know how to live in the valley of the shadows of death. & to cope with the devils in hell.

DW- Were you, Bob, & Bunny ever interested in or make practice of what is called original science?

PT- No I don't know of anyman else. I know of myself. I give account for me. That is the only man I can give account for because I know not what takes place behind closed doors. Only Jah know what goes on in these places.

DW- So were you interested or practice what is called original science?

PT- I was born a scientist, seen? I just find myself doing the most scientifical- doing the impossible two things at a time, trying and always like a challenge. Like for example the science of riding a unicycle. Riding one wheel, getting your balance on one wheel, 360 degrees & open. Spin it around. At their control. That is a science. & that is the science I was born with as no man teach me how to do it, put which foot first or how to go up. I didn't know the first procedure. That is science. Is like when a scientist who go academically to school & learn science in school. He was taught science. But you have scientists who as inborn concept have sciencology, yeah mon.

DW- How'd you get your first unicycle?

PT- In Colorado. I was in New York the first time I saw a person riding a unicycle. I see it pon television, I've never been to the circus, just pon television. And the first time I see one for real I see a youth about 15 riding one. & man it was very scientific. Just the way how it looks to we, just the way you spell unicycle. I said now I have to get myself one. This looks very good. & it was very challenging. (strums guitar)

DW- There seem to be only a couple of reggae performers that really speak brutal truth on stage, I would say you & Mutabaruka are about the only two.

PT- Serious business.

DW- I know you've suffered a lot in Jamaica from the various public statements that you've made there. Is that pressure still pretty strong down there?

PT- Well the shitstem continue as I said. The laws was laid down by pirates & Jamaica was designed to be the breaking point, headquarters of breaking point where when the slaves were taken from Africa, what they call the outspoken ones, the bad ones; & when they call you bad it's just because you're defending your rights. They say you are bad so you're branded outlaw, bad, dangerous & so that makes the people in fear of you because you are dangerous. & you're branded dangerous by the society. & that is me & many others. Well Jamaica was the headquarters of the breaking point & they broke most of them there & took them to America & all part of the West Indies. & the shitstem continue to exist there the same way where silence is the game, seen & everlasting peace is their motto. (plays guitar and plays song)

DW- What song that?

PT- Any song.

this interview concludes in Part 2 here

(Copyright 1983 Doug Wendt/2002 & 2012
No reproduction, distribution or excerpts without written permission)

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