Since his brutal killing during a home-invasion robbery in 1987, what remains of the Peter Tosh legacy? His pro-ganja anthem "Legalize It" is again a potent anthem among young reggae fans. As one third of the original Wailers, alongside Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley, Tosh (born Hubert Winston McIntosh in 1944) was once one of the most recognizable icons of the genre. But at his birthplace in Belmont, Westmoreland, in southwest Jamaica, Peter Tosh Memorial Park is in disrepair: The sign designating the site on the road is missing, and even Tosh's grave marker has been stolen.
Enter former Atlanta concert promoter Michael Malott, who relocated to the Jamaican west coast last fall. An avid Tosh fan, Malott visited the burial site and discovered that despite busloads of European tourists passing through the memorial park, there weren't enough funds to maintain the birthright of the fiery singer/songwriter. Although plans were under way to complete construction of a new museum, a shop, library, bar, and medical clinic, work came to a halt in 1995 when funding ran dry. Malott came up with an idea to pump money into the estate.
"I contacted Peter's son, Andrew Tosh, who I've worked with before," Malott says. "We discussed an idea to create a Peter Tosh tribute album, featuring top rock and reggae artists. I figured that a project like this would generate the revenue needed to restore the mausoleum and to complete the other buildings on the site."
The all-star tribute album will consist of new spins of classic Tosh material, including tracks from reggae stars like Shabba Ranks, Sean Paul, Maxi Priest, and Lucky Dube. Tracks ready to go include Eric Clapton's 1974 version of "What'cha Gonna Do?" with Tosh singing background vocals and an unreleased version of "Stop That Train," recorded in 1991 by the late Jerry Garcia. Ben Harper delivers "I Am That I Am," Martha Davies (formerly of the Motels) supplies a chilling acoustic version of "Pick Myself Up," while Cypress Hill has laid claim to the track that advocates the inalienable right to smoke"the 'dro," namely "Legalize It."
"Right now, I'm in discussions with five major record labels, including Sony and Atlantic records, for distribution of the Peter Tosh tribute album, and they're all very supportive and positive about hosting the project," Malott says. "The album will be produced on Tosh's Intel Diplo HIM label [Intelligent Diplomat for His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie] and should see a December release date."
Some artists couldn't contribute to the album, but they have pledged their support by making donations. Keith Richards, Billy Joel, Chrissie Hynde, Carlos Santana, Seal, Jimmy Buffett, Christina Aguilera, and No Doubt have all donated items for an upcoming celebrity auction. Plans are also under way to hold tribute concerts in various locations, including one slated for South Florida later this year. A three-day music festival is scheduled to take place near Tosh's Belmont burial site, coinciding with the completion of renovations, and a mammoth concert is planned for Montego Bay in 2004.
"The main purpose of the Peter Tosh Foundation is to preserve and recognize the timeless music and legacy of the unexplored Tosh," Malott explains. "The foundation will also work to further Tosh's dream to provide food for the hungry, medical assistance for the poor, and funding and grants to assist in the startup of Rastafarian-owned businesses in Jamaica. With the revenue potential created from the museum and an annual international music festival, it should help to secure the future of Jamaica's tourism."
Because of the boldly political nature of Tosh's material, Malott has been finding it difficult to get corporate sponsorship. Still, the 20-year veteran of rock and reggae concert promotion remains undeterred. He has some "unfinished business" to attend to for Tosh, and his planned lineup for the shows should draw music lovers from all over the world. At least, that's the plan.
"Go into almost any gift shop in Jamaica and you'll find Marley memorabilia everywhere," reasons Malott, a fan of the Rastafarian movement. "Yet Tosh -- who is a music legend, someone who stood up for himself and his country -- has never gotten the recognition he deserves. His messages are still powerful and relevant today, and they still need addressing. Just listen to the track 'No Nuclear War' if you don't know what I mean."
As Tosh sliced a channelthrough the Jamaican roots-music scene with the Wailers, he become an outspoken civil rights activist, demanding government assistance for the poor and composing songs about oppression, equal rights, and the social issues of that time. Tosh left the safety net of the Wailers to pursue a solo career in 1973. His landmark Legalize It album (its cover featuring Tosh puffing on a pipe deep under the shade of a ganja bush) created waves for him in 1976. Equal Rights followed shortly after, and by 1978, the Rolling Stones had hired him to open concerts for them and gotten him signed to their label. His duet with Mick Jagger, a cover of the Temptations' "(You Gotta Walk and) Don't Look Back" became an international hit single, and the two even performed the song together on an episode of Saturday Night Live. On September 11, 1987, Tosh was shot and killed in his Kingston home. He was 43 years old. Ironically, Tosh won the Reggae Grammy Award for his final album, No Nuclear War, after his death.
With a minimum $25 donation, Tosh fans can buy a brick for the Peter Tosh museum and have their names listed as contributors to it. In addition, they will be entered to win one of several prizes in a grand draw. Up for grabs are Peter Tosh CDs, Peter Tosh box sets, a Martin acoustic guitar, museum and Martin Guitar T-shirts, VIP passes to the Peter Tosh International Music Festival, and other prizes. All contributors will also receive a signed certificate declaring them an honorary member of the Peter Tosh Foundation.
"Right now, we are at a crucial point in the fund-raising efforts," Malott says, "and we need the public's help more than ever."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.