Roger Steffens & Native Wayne Drop Peter Tosh Bombshells
On March 11, my friend, legendary reggae historian Roger Steffens, emailed me to inform me: “A few days ago my dear friend ‘Native Wayne’ Jobson and I did a lengthy fun-filled interview with Clyde McKenzie (co-author of Copeland Forbes’ long-awaited new bio) about Peter Tosh. Lots of new info within and I think it’d be worth your time to dive deeply into it. Have a feeling you’ll really enjoy this!”
Now when I get reggae advice from Roger Steffens, I listen. And in this instance, in my opinion, Roger is as right on this as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer were righteous.
Titled “The Remarkable Life of Peter Tosh,” Roger included a link in his email to this new 76-minute video—courtesy of “Musically Speaking” on “The Bridge 99 FM”—that has been posted to YouTube, and is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to reggae history.
The program begins enthusiastically with McKenzie gushing, “Gosh, we’re talking Tosh!” Introducing Jobson, McKenzie says: “He’s a musician. he’s an attorney-at-law. He’s a documentarist. He’s a historian. And we could go on and on with all the roles he has played in music. He’s a broadcaster—a pioneering one, too. And there’s so much one could say about Wayne Jobson—‘Native Wayne.’” Introducing Steffens, McKenzie calls him, “Another legendary figure. Talking about archivist, journalist, a man who has been so responsible for much of what has happened with the Grammys and reggae.”
Watching the video is unquestionably the best way to consume this interesting, and in many instances, explosive information about Peter Tosh—and this article provides you with the YouTube link to do just that. But if you’re pressed for time, and need an executive summary—and also, for the future benefit of all reggae researchers, journalists, and lovers of the music—I have excerpted and summarized below some of the best Peter Tosh stories Jobson and Steffens tell:
Steffens says Tosh did an interview “with a Black musical correspondent for the L.A. Times”—sometime between 1979 and 1981—and Tosh “was talking about all the reforms he felt needed to be made. And especially the legalization of ganja.” And “Dennis Hunt basically wrote a column saying that Peter Tosh was a certified madman, and should be in an institution. And the one thing that the three Wailers wanted more than anything else was to be accepted by the African American audience. And in those days, their heads were in a very different place. And they didn’t want to hear any kind of ‘Back to Africa’ message at all. Or to be told that they had to smoke herb to get a full overstanding of the situation they were living in. All of those things contributed to negativity toward reggae music, and toward Peter Tosh.”
Jobson notes Tosh signed “with Rolling Stone Records. And Mick Jagger and Keith Richards took him on tour, playing stadiums around the world. And then, how did he thank them? He captured Keith Richards’s house. Threatened to kill him. And then threatened to kill Mick Jagger. So much so that, one day Mick Jagger was recording in the studio and Peter showed up. And Mick Jagger came before Peter and said, ‘Peter, I saw the headlines all around Europe that you were gonna kill me. Kill me right now! See me here? Kill me.’ And Mick pulled back his shirt and said, ‘Kill me now.’ And Peter said, ‘No man. Get up. Get up. You’re a businessman. I’m a businessman.’ And Mick was like, ‘No, kill me now!’ And then, you know, Copeland Forbes was there. Copeland got—everybody left the studio—and left Peter and Mick in there alone, expecting to come back and see Mick dead. And they came back, and Mick and Peter were jamming and playing music. And Mick said, ‘I didn’t even know that we owed you money.’ So Mick just wrote him a huge check, and gave it to him and said: ‘Hey this is not from Rolling Stone Records. This is from me as a gift.’ And so Mick really loved Peter. In Peter Tosh, Mick saw the rebel that he wished he had been. Because in the beginning, Mick Jagger was a rebel, you know? And again, you know, society and all that. And then he became ‘knighted.’ Then he became very respectable. So he wished he had gone back to being that rebel that Peter Tosh was. A no-compromise rebel.”
Steffens recalls Tosh “could be very antagonistic to reporters and others. He hated all the record companies he ever recorded for. Never had anything good to say about them. And he was right in a lot of instances. And, you know, Wayne and I remember Peter when Bob passed away, and what he said at the time. Basically they were looking for some kind of calming statement (‘Oh I loved my brother, and I’m so sorry he’s gone.’). And instead, Peter said: ‘Well, now at least it gives us a chance to break through.’ And I remember you telling me that at the time, Wayne.” Jobson responds: “That was outrageous. He should have been way more sympathetic. But the other side of the story is, at the same time he said, if you watch the movie ‘Red X’—those of you out there who have never seen it, I produced a documentary called ‘Red X’—‘Stepping Razor: Red X.’ Which you can go just on YouTube and watch it for free. And it is the life-story of Peter Tosh…But when Bob passed, I wish he would have been more sad and said, ‘Hey, you know, I’m so sad my brother is dead.’ But he said, ‘At least it leaves a little space for the rest of us to go through.’ Which was very uncool. But at the same time, Melody who was his wife [and] baby’s mother—and mother of the various kids—said that she was with Peter when they found out that Bob died. And he was crying in her arms for hours. So, you know what I mean, it was when it really hit him, right that same day, it really hit him and he was really sad. He made that statement a few days later. But at the time he was really sad. Because they were like brothers, you know? They were together from the beginning. And it was kind of a love-hate relationship. But the fact that he was crying for hours when Bob died means he really loved him, you know?”
Jobson says “There are two shows you should watch on Peter Tosh. ‘Peter Tosh, Stepping Razor: Red X,’ the documentary I did. And I also have put together ‘Peter Tosh: Behind the Music.’ Which was a show on VH1—probably the biggest music show ever. It was ‘Behind the Music.’ And the one on Peter Tosh was amazing. In it, I have Keith Richards telling the whole story of how [Tosh] captured Keith Richards’s house. In Ochos Rios. I used to go up there and hang out a lot with Peter at Keith Richards’s house. So he said to Keith, ‘Can I borrow your house when you’re not in Jamaica?’ And Keith said, ‘Sure, stay in the house and write some songs.’ So when Keith was ready to come back to Jamaica now, Keith said ‘I need my house back now.’ And Peter said, ‘No. It’s my house now. I’ve captured it. You owe me a lot of money.’ So Keith was like, ‘Get out of my house!’ And Peter was like, ‘No.’ So Keith arrives at Montego Bay airport. Which is like an hour from Ochos Rios. And he said, ‘Peter, I’m coming down. I need back my house. Get out of my house.’ And Peter was like, ‘I have a machine gun. If you come up here, I’m gonna kill you.’ So Keith was like, ‘Well put the magazine in and get ready. Because I am gonna be there.’ Because Keith is like a gangster. Keith is a badman, too, you know what I mean? Don’t mess with him. So he showed up at the house, and of course Peter had run and gone—ran away, you know? And he just waited for like a week, you know, until Keith had left again. And then Peter moved back into the house again. He was watching the house. And so then Keith had to get police to go up there and throw them out of the house. The great part of the story is that Peter had some goats living in the house. Somebody lends you a rockstar house, right? The furniture in the house is just tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a rockstar’s house, Keith’s house. Peter has his goats living in the house. The goats eat up the whole furniture and everything, right? Keith was so angry. When he saw that the goats had eaten up his whole thing. The funniest part of the story is when I did ‘Behind the Music,’ you know, I had to tell the story. So I said, ‘Listen, Peter was a genius and very uncompromising. But one of the bad things that he did was have four goats living in Keith Richards’s house. And eating up the whole house.’ So I got a message from Bunny Wailer. When I called Bunny, Bunny said: ‘I’m so angry with you. How dare you tell people that Peter had four goats living in the house! He only had one goat in there.’”
Steffens tells a story about Peter and his “reverence for ganja.” “One day in—I guess it was September of ’79, we get a call from New York from [Tosh’s publicist,] Charlie Comer.” Comer said to Steffens Peter was in Los Angeles, “but he’s got no herb. Can you help him out?” Steffens said, “Actually, I think I can. I’ve just come back from a plantation in Santa Cruz. And my friend had a very successful year. He had a bunch of 16-foot plants. And he gave me the colas—the tops of two of them. And they were about two-feet long, and they were about as big around as a grapefruit. So he told us where Peter was, at the Sunset Marquis. And he said he’d call him and tell Peter to expect us. So Mary (Steffens’s wife) wrapped it up in beautiful paper, and put a red, gold, and green ribbon around it. And off we go to the hotel. And we knock on the door, and Peter’s got a chain on the door. And he opens it a little bit. And he sees me standing there with this huge thing in my hand. And he says, ‘A-what that?’ And I said: ‘Well it’s a gift for you herb-smoker. From all the herb smokers in Southern California. For you, Bush Doctor.’ So he lets go of the chain, grabs me and pulls me in. Grabs Mary, and pulls her in. Slams the door. Puts the chain all back on. All in about five seconds. And he rips the paper. And he sees what’s in it, and he takes the ribbon off. And paper off. And he holds it in both hands, and looks at it. And he looks down the barrel of it. And he breaks a piece off, and he smells it. Then he turns to me with this enormous cola in his hand, and he says: ‘Cho! Take a whole lot more than this to get my propeller spin.’ But he didn’t give it back.”
Jobson tells a story about Tosh being with his son, and having a pound of herb in his car. Approaching a roadblock. Tosh’s son urged Tosh to toss the bag of herb from the car before they reached the police. Instead, Tosh pulled the bag of high-grade herb out of the car and showed it to the police. Despite herb being “very illegal” at that time, the police waived Tosh on (that’s the kind of royalty status Tosh had developed in Jamaica, Jobson explains, and in Tosh’s hometown specifically, where the incident took place).
Jobson tells a story about how Danny Sims—Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’s former manager—got Tosh on “The Police” tour. “The number one band in the world, right? And they’re playing Montreal stadium. So Danny and I went up to see Peter on the show.” Jobson recounts how some of the best artists in the world in addition to The Police, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Talking Heads were scheduled to perform. And when Stevie Ray Vaughan finished performing, the road manager came on and said, “Peter, it’s time for you to go on now.” And Peter said “No. I’m going on before The Police.” And they said, “No Peter, the Talking Heads are way bigger than you. You’re going on before the Talking Heads.” And Peter said, “I’ve never heard of the Talking Heads. There’s no such thing as a talking head. And I’m not going on before them. Cancel the show right now.” Jobson then said he was worried Tosh was about to wreck his career by walking out on the show, and he did some quick thinking to prevent that; Jobson explained to Tosh that The Police had seen the kind of power Tosh had—because they had opened for Tosh before—and so they didn’t want to suffer by comparison to Tosh; therefore, Jobson explained to Tosh, The Police were strategically using the Talking Heads as a “buffer.” According to Jobson, Tosh accepted this explanation—and the show went on.