I am not a politician, I only suffer the consequences.
Peter Tosh was born Winston Hubert McIntosh on October 19, 1944 in Grange Hill, Jamaica.
In 1944, he moved to the notorious slum of Trench Town (so named because it was built on the “trenches” that drained the sewage of nearby Kingston) at age 16. His mother strongly influenced him, and her sensibility would become apparent in both his lyrics and views; she was particularly concerned that he have a Christian upbringing. He attended the local church daily, and his experience there – singing in the choir and learning to play the organ – formed a sort of musical apprenticeship that prepared him for his subsequent career.
Peter sought refuge from the rigors of poverty in pop music, notably the R&B and doo-wop beamed to the Caribbean by stations in Florida and Louisiana. Having cultivated his guitar skills and his expressive baritone vocals, he began playing with fellow Trenchtown roughnecks Bob Marley and Neville “Bunny” Livingstone in the early 1960s; because he never knew his father, he came to see the group as his first real family, and his bandmates as his brothers. This nexus was the very earliest seed of the Wailers, who scored a #1 hit in 1964 with the ska jam “Simmer Down.” The band’s affinity for American soul and gospel was further ignited by a burgeoning interest in global rhythms and the teachings of the Rastafarian religion.
As the ’60s wound down – and world political consciousness heated up – the Wailers pioneered a new musical direction: slower than ska and rock steady, this new sound combined thick grooves with more socially relevant lyrics (strongly informed by the tenets of Rastafari). What we now recognize as modern reggae was born.
His tireless guitar, keyboards, percussion and other instruments, meanwhile, formed the foundation of the Wailers’ sound and essentially set the course of reggae music. He was also a prolific and powerful songwriter, his militant perspective offering a bracing contrast to Marley’s more reassuring tone; in a sense he played Lennon to his bandmate’s McCartney.
This was borne out in his solo work, especially in such stirring songs as the purposeful plaint “Equal Rights,” the unstoppable unity anthem “African,” the ganja manifesto “Legalize It” and his mesmerizing, indelible take on Joe Higgs’ “Stepping Razor.” The latter title was also one of Tosh’s nicknames (alongside Bush Doctor, The Toughest and other monikers) – a highly fitting one, given the slashing wit of his wordplay, the keenness of his intellect, and the cool slice of his guitar. “I’m dangerous,” Tosh sang on the latter song, and as everyone from local toughs to government enforcers would come to understand, he wasn’t kidding.
Tosh organized a backing band, Word, Sound and Power, who were to accompany him on tour for the next few years, and many of whom performed on his albums of this period. In 1978 the Rolling Stones record label Rolling Stones Records contracted with Tosh, on which the album Bush Doctor was released, introducing Tosh to a larger audience. The album featured Rolling Stones frontmen Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and the lead single – a cover version of The Temptations song “Don’t Look Back” – was performed as a duet with Jagger. It made Tosh one of the best-known reggae artists.
Mystic Man (1979), and Wanted Dread and Alive (1981) followed, both released on Rolling Stones Records. Tosh tried to gain some mainstream success while keeping his militant views, but was largely unsuccessful, especially compared to Marley’s achievements. That same year, Tosh appeared in the Rolling Stones’ video Waiting on a Friend.
In 1984, after the release of 1983’s album Mama Africa, Tosh went into self-imposed exile, seeking the spiritual advice of traditional medicine men in Africa, and trying to free himself from recording agreements that distributed his records in South Africa.
Tosh also participated in the international opposition to South African apartheid by appearing at Anti-Apartheid concerts and by conveying his opinion in various songs like “Apartheid” (1977, re-recorded 1987), “Equal Rights” (1977), “Fight On” (1979), and “Not Gonna Give It Up” (1983). In 1991 Stepping Razor – Red X was released, a documentary film by Nicholas Campbell, produced by Wayne Jobson and based upon a series of spoken-word recordings of Tosh himself, which chronicled the story of the artist’s life, music and untimely death. In 1987, Peter Tosh seemed to be having a career revival. He was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Performance in 1987 for No Nuclear War, his last record.
His work trumpeted freedom and the struggle against injustice, and he emphasized the connection between music and revolution by toting a guitar in the shape of an M16 rifle. Hounded, beaten and jailed by Jamaican authorities, Tosh never backed down or soft-pedaled his views. But he often expressed those views with humor, and was capable of lighthearted surprise as much as full-voiced outrage: an accomplished unicyclist, he often pedaled onstage, to the delight of his audiences. His playful side and irrepressible charisma proved especially charming to women; Tosh’s reputation as a ladies’ man is well deserved.
Among the causes about which he spoke most eloquently and campaigned most tirelessly: the peril of nuclear weapons, the injustice of Apartheid (he was the first major songwriter to discuss the issue openly) and the benefits of legalizing herb. He felt music was a vital tool in all these struggles, and to that end performed countless benefit concerts (including the Youth Consciousness performances in Jamaica, designed to galvanize young Jamaicans against violence and toward political enfranchisement) and established a “Rasta Reggae Radio” station in Jamaica to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He also joined such megastars as Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers and Bonnie Raitt for the celebrated “No Nukes” concerts mounted by MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) in 1979, which ultimately became a successful album and film. Rolling Stone declared the performances “a stunning testimony to the depth of the shared beliefs of the generation which came of age in the sixties.” Unlike his U.S. peers, however,
Tosh frequently put himself in danger as a result of his activism – especially his constant needling of Jamaica’s rulers.
But Tosh’s vision wasn’t limited to changing laws and reducing weapons. In “African,” he offers a moving testimony to shared roots, declaring, “Don’t care where you come from/As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African.” The song’s passionate demand that black people ignore the shades of their “plection” and celebrate their common origins continues to resonate powerfully. “Get Up, Stand Up,” which he co-wrote, became the anthem of Amnesty International.
Tosh hit the global charts with the classic-soul cover “Walk, Don’t Look Back,” his smash duet with Mick Jagger (and became the first artist to sign with Rolling Stone Records), and was awarded a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Reggae Performance in 1987 for “No Nuclear War” – just months after he was murdered in a controversial home-invasion robbery. But though his life was snuffed out by violence, his star has shone ever brighter in the ensuing years.
“Truth has been branded outlaw and illegal,” Tosh’s voice declared on an audiotape found after his demise. “It is dangerous to have the truth in your possession. You can be found guilty and sentenced to death.”
Peter Tosh’s example, as both artist and activist, continues to inspire creators and idealists around the world. He was and is a true leader whose music and message inspires people on every continent throughout the world.
Jamaican report on Tosh’s murder – Jamaicaobserver.com, Sybil E Hibbert
Dennis Lobban, familiarly called “Leppo”, appeared before the court charged with the multiple murder of: Wilton Brown; Peter Tosh and Jeff Dixon, o/c Free I, a well-known Rastafarian broadcaster and disc jockey on the now defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) radio.
Mr Kent Pantry, retired Director of Public Prosecutions, the then Counsel for the prosecution, marshalled the evidence.
The murders were alleged to have taken place at the Barbican Road residence of Tosh, while he and Marlene Brown, whom he named his “Empress” had been entertaining a group of friends.
Ever heard the Jamaican proverb “Sorry fi mawgah dawg, mawgah dawg tun ‘roun bite yuh?” Well, that proverb, I would say, sums up adequately what allegedly happened in this case.
In effect, the witnesses related how Tosh had fed, nurtured and even provided a new bed for Lobban, who had recently been released from prison. Lobban had been allowed to visit the Barbican Road residence from time to time and had even become familiar with the trained dogs therein.
On the night of September 11, 1987, he and two other gunmen entered the home, robbed all the persons there, then shot and killed Tosh, Free I and Wilton Brown. Marlene Brown, who was also shot, played dead and survived.
Indeed, all the persons present, were shot, after being ordered to lie face down on the floor.
Night of horror
It was Marlene Brown’s testimony that about 7:30 pm on September 11, 1987, Tosh and herself were at home with friends, enjoying a private, peaceful evening watching a programme by satellite, in their living room.
Amidst drinks and subdued laughter, the night’s quietude was shattered by the unexpected entry of “Leppo” Lobban, accompanied by two gunmen, hitherto unknown to her. Lobban was toting a gun. They were ordered to “belly it”. She understood that to mean, they should lie face down. Lobban demanded “US currency”.
Brown explained that Tosh had recently returned from a business trip to the United States where he was expecting to be paid in US dollars. Lobban seemed to have overheard bits of telephone conversation prior to Tosh’s visit to the US and had, it seemed, planned the robbery. Tosh responded to Lobban that he had no money. Lobban then complained that Tosh was giving his woman “authority over we” and that she, Marlene, was responsible for the inability of Tosh “to maintain we”. Brown heard Lobban instruct the two men who accompanied him to disarm Tosh, as “he was a Black Belt”, whereupon Tosh was frisked and gunbutted; he seemed unconscious. When she objected to the remarks made by Lobban, witness testified that Lobban threatened to kick Tosh, who was lying there helpless on the floor.
Just about then, witness recalled, there was a knock at the door. One of the gunmen opened the door. Free I and his wife were ushered in. They too, were ordered to lie face down on the floor. Free I objected and a gun was jammed into his side. He obeyed. They were all stripped of their jewellery and other personal effects.
What followed after was a barrage of shots. Tosh, Free I and Wilton Brown was killed instantly. Marlene Brown was shot in the head but lived.
When the men were about to leave, one of them observed: “She no dead!” He was about to turn back, but Lobban commanded: “Come! She dead a’ready.” Michael Robinson, another survivor, gave evidence pretty much similar to that of Marlene Brown. The widow of Jeff Dixon, o/c Free I, knew none of the gunmen, including Lobban. She never attended an identification parade.
The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Senior Superintendent Isadore “Dick” Hibbert, (now retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, i/c Crime Portfolio) testified, that Lobban was later taken into custody as a result of a confession of a co-accused (who waited nearby the crime scene, in a get-away car on the night of the murders, heard the barrage of shots, then transported the men in the car, away from the scene).
The journal of Asst Commissioner of Police (ret’d) Isadore ‘Dick’ Hibbert
Steve Russell, a taxi driver of a St Andrew address was taken into custody for questioning in connection with this investigation. He revealed that prior to the murders, he had been engaged by “Leppo” Lobban to transport him and two men in his taxi to the Barbican Road residence of Tosh. He was not advised as to the purpose of the visit. On the night of the murders, Lobban and two men boarded his taxi in the vicinity of the Carib Theatre at Cross Roads, St Andrew, as arranged. He was told by Lobban to wait at a particular point, while they went to the house.
Sometime after the three left, he heard several gunshots and he saw “Leppo” and the other two men running towards his taxi; all three men running, each with “gun in hand”. According to Russell’s story, Lobban shouted to him: “Drive! Drive!” All three men jumped into the taxi. He drove as directed. Not a word was spoken.
He had been driving along the Half-Way-Tree Road when he noticed a police radio car, following closely behind him. Russell, in the statement, told how, on reaching in the vicinity of the Carib Theatre, “Leppo” Lobban and the other two men jumped from the taxi and escaped.
The following morning, Russell heard on the news about the murders of Peter Tosh and two others, as well as the shooting of other persons, at the Barbican Road residence to which he had transported Lobban and the other two men.
As a result, the witness stated, he went to see Police Constable Leonard Austin at Austin’s home in Cooreville Gardens, off the Washington Boulevard. He had gone there to seek Austin’s advice as to what he should do; Austin told him “to keep quiet.”That was the reason why, according to Russell, he had not gone to the police station to report the matter.
I went to see Constable Austin. I was accompanied by a team of detectives from the Criminal Investigation Department. I told him what Russell had said and enquired of him whether it was true. Austin said it was not. I pointed out to him that a man’s life depended heavily on his — the constable’s — story. Austin replied: “I never spoke to him.”
Consequently, Russell was arrested and charged in connection with the murders of Peter Tosh, Free I and Wilton Brown.
Lobban was brought into the CID Headquarters by a Roman Catholic priest sometime afterwards. He was interviewed briefly by me in connection with the names of the two men who accompanied him to Tosh’s Barbican Road residence on the night of the murders. He refused to give their names or to give any information. He was arrested and charged jointly with Russell for the murders of Peter Tosh, Free I and Wilton Brown.
Following a preliminary inquiry in the Half-Way-Tree Resident Magistrate’s Court, both men subsequently appeared for trial in the Home Circuit Court.
The learned trial judge, in the course of the trial, overruled an objection taken by Counsel for the defence, Mr Williams, to have the portion of the confession, which implicated his client (Lobban) expunged from the record prior to it being admitted in evidence; basis being that the prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value.
At the end of the prosecution’s case, Russell was acquitted, following a no-case submission put forward by his counsel. The judge directed the jury to return a formal verdict of ‘not guilty’. Russell was discharged.”
Lobban’s defence was an alibi. He took an unusual step — he gave evidence on Oath from the witness box. It was his story that both Marlene Brown and Michael Robinson, whom he knew before, were “carrying feelings” for him and therefore, were motivated by malice, in the evidence each gave against him.
In relation to Marlene Brown, he claimed that at one time, in the presence of Tosh, she had called him “a f…ing liar” and a “news carrier to Tosh”. In spite of all that, he told the court, he nonetheless ate the food she cooked and offered to him.
But, as regards Robinson, witness was of the view that Robinson was jealous of him. He recalled an occasion when Robinson had asked Tosh for money; Tosh gave Robinson J$500, remarking that he had no money. Robinson was not happy. At the same time, Tosh had remarked that he, Lobban, was his brethren. The next time he saw Robinson at Barbican Road and he spoke to Robinson, Tosh claimed he was given the “cold shoulder”.
Convicted on all counts, Lobban appealed to the Court of Appeal. On June 11, 1990 the court ruled inter alia:
“…that a powerful case was made out against the applicant which fully supports his conviction on each of the three counts of murder. In the result, we came to the conclusion that there is no merit in the grounds argued before us.”
The appeal was dismissed.
Dennis “Leppo” Lobban is now serving a term of life imprisonment behind the walls of the General Penitentiary, now the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre) on Tower Street in Kingston.
Lobban’s company is being kept by former Police Constable Leonard Austin who was subsequently convicted for the murder of 54-year-old Ludlow Campbell, security supervisor employed at Kingston Wharves Ltd and resident of Washington Gardens, and is also serving a life sentence at the Tower Street facility.