by Fikisha Cumbo
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Peter Tosh’s songs, “Legalize It” and “Bush Doctor” have become ‘herb’ standards. Released in 1977, “Legalize It”, though banned from air play in Jamaica, could still be heard in yards all over the island.
Peter said: “Herb is one of Jamaica’s international resources, seen?
Jamaica has the earth to produce the best herb in the West. I am listening one day to see the first shipment legally leave the country. The same way rum or bauxite leaves….The many beating I have suffered at the hands of the Jamaican police is for smoking herb. This leads to my fervent plea for the legalization of herb, for equal rights and justice….. Prime Minister Michael Manley interceded with the Jamaican radio and other authorities to have the tune “Legalize It” play on the air.” In appreciation, Tosh gave Manley 60 EQUAL RIGHTS albums to distribute as he wished.
Duke Reid, a flamboyant 6’4″, 350 pound former policeman and sound system DJ recorded the first four tracks: “Whatcha Gonna Do”, “Why Must I Cry”, “Till Your Well Runs Dry” and “Burial” at his legendary bullet ridden studio. It featured Bunny Wailer, Carlton and Family Man Barrett, Al Anderson and Tyrone Downie.
In Miami , during the overdub sessions, to Peter’s utter delight, a 20 year old Albhy Galuten introduced him to the early synthesizer.
Peter was the first to use it on the “Igziiabeher” tune. He was the first to use it in reggae. Then on to Leon Russell’s studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma for bass and drum parts which were unsatisfactory to Tosh, so Robbie Shakespeare (bass) and Sly Dunbar (drums) replaced the Tulsa rhythm section in Jamaica.
Lead guitarists, Donald Kinsey and Al Anderson added flavor to the tunes, “No Sympathy” and “Till Your Well Runs Dry.” Peter’s distinctive staccato guitar licks penetrate throughout the album, with Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley singing background vocals.
Then more overdubs at Columbia studios.
Sly’s “one drop” rocks and Tosh’s scratchy guitar, mix with his deep, fine voice. He chuckles when he says: “Some people who only know my deep voice, who have never seen me, think I am a great big guy.” When asked about the words ” Igziabeher, megusa negast” in the song, “Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised) Tosh replied: ” That mean a whole heap’a t’ings man. ‘Igziabeher masagan’ means “JAH, Let him be praised”. ‘Negusa negast’ is “king of kings.” ‘Medanialam’ is just a reverence of His almighty powers that you give to Him, reverence you give to anyone high.
Reverence to JAH, seen. Like when anyone in court, when the judge come in ya’ have to stand up, ya’ give reverence to that guy. He doesn’t deserve it, he shouldn’t be getting it. We call him thief.”
The Columbia Legacy double CD release contains on Disc 1, the original LP and on Disc 2, the original Jamaican mix with its dub and alternate versions and several ShaJahShoka dub plates.
On reggae, Peter says: “Reggae is life man. If ya’ hear the roots, you love it. Reggae helps to wake up certain spirit vibrations within us and pull us back to GOD. We know that singing was a talent given to I and I by JAH from such time to wake up the slumbering mentality of people, bring them closer to reality.”
When EQUAL RIGHTS came out, the New York Times rated it over Marley’s EXODUS, but that came and went. Peter’s rightful claim to ‘reggae royalty’ continues to be an uphill fight just as his life proved to have been.
Herbie Miller says: “Since its release in 1977, Peter Tosh’s EQUAL RIGHTS has been hailed as his grand narrative, his tour de force. It occupies a place next to the very best recording that addressed the social and political conditions in the twentieth century.” His liner notes convey a capsulated history of Jamaica’s social, political and economic struggles in the mid-70’s as he tells his integral part in the production of the album; the hair-raising scenarios and Bunny Wailer coming in from his farm in the country, despite the dangerous milieu, with organic fruits and veggies and with organic ‘reasoning’ that “ensured a highly charged vibe.” Bass player, Robbie Shakespeare was not disturbed by anything–bombs, killings, guns–nothing!
The rhythm tracks were laid down at Randy’s Studio in downtown Kingston. They also used Dynamic Studios in volatile West Kingston, Joe Gibb’s Studio in the Crossroads area and the uptown Aquarius Studio in Half Way Tree. It was mixed in Miami at Criteria Studio. Ozzie Brown headed the production at Columbia in New York City.
Musicians on the album: Peter Tosh (vocals,guitar,keyboards), Sly Dunbar (drums) , Earl “Wai” Lindo (keyboards) , Bunny Wailer (background vocals), Robbie Shakespeare (bass) and Al Anderson (lead guitar). Others contributing to the album: Carlie Barrett (drums), Harold Butler (clavinet), Dirty Harry (tenor sax),Tyrone Downie (keyboards), Karl Pitterson (guitar), Bobby Ellis (trumpet) Skully
(percussion) and Abdul Wali ( guitar).
The Disc showcases seven bonus tracks of previously unreleased original session out takes which include: “400 Years” ( written by Tosh & Marley), “Hammer”, “Jah Man Inna Jamdung”, “Vampire”, “Babylon Queendom”, “You Can’t Blame The Youth” and “Mark Of The Beast.”
All tracks on this Disc are either alternate, dub , extended or dub plate versions. “Get Up, Stand Up”, the extended/alternative version, rocks wickedly, using the original lyrics. Peter talked about the original lyrics of this song: “They want to tell you WHAT to say. Like I was writing this tune called “Get Up, Stand Up.” I was writing it with Bob and when I’d written this verse and song it, my verse said, “We’re sick and tired of this bull shit game, dying and go to heaven in Jesus’ name. We know and we understand that Almighty JAH is a living man.” The guy tell me I can’t say bull shit, I must say something else but him can’t tell me what to say so I just say ‘ism, schism.’ But it’s bull shit, but in this society only certain people can say certain words.”
When asked about the relationship of LEGALIZE IT to EQUAL RIGHTS, he said: “It’s just messages irrespective of what category of message it is and what it relates to. Well, the first LP is relating to the legalization of herb and the second one is equal rights, that means universal justice. Legalization of herb is only a part of the justice that man is to get, ya’ know seen. Well, EQUAL RIGHTS is ALL of man’s rights, seen. So those are the relationships.”
In Jamaica Peter was seen as a leader and folk hero, for when he roamed the winding country roads and crowded city streets in “Yard”, people flocked to him for advice, a joke or a smile, all of which he offered generously.
The music in EQUAL RIGHTS has a heavy political and social message, Peter said: “Well you see experience teaches wisdom. I have been trotting the earth from such time to such time and I have seen so many deluges and detriment, people becoming a victim of circumstances. And you know trotting through death valley so many times give me so much experience that I really have to sing them. Seen. To warn and to teach those who longeth to seek knowledge…….The world would say I think subversive, but truthful rights I deal with, equal rights and justice that I stand for, because I have got too much injustice for the good that I do. If I and I was doing wickedness I’d kill up a whole heap of blood claat. Ya’ know, seen. Yes I. Dem know that I am doing goodness, so dem fight against I.”
About his music: ” I play the tough rock. I don’t know if them call it hard or not but it well tough and reggae is hard rock. Yeah man, because it makes you rock, hard.” As to its future: “Reggae will still be selling because people are beginning to realize what reggae is; that is is not only a music, it’s a therapy…..The two beats of the heart combine together to make a syncopation that we call reggae, which is the King’s music….There is a certain beat in music that can not be heard, only be felt. You don’t hear that. That beat is between the heart beat.”
This Columbia Legacy release LEGALIZE IT and EQUAL RIGHTS lives up to Peter’s words. It rocks! Hard!