Peter Tosh (1944-1987) helped bring reggae to the world through his collaboration with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. From the November, 1981 edition of High Times comes John Swenson’s interview with the late music legend, who would have been 76 years old on October 19.
Remember “Stop That Train” the great reggae song that helped put the Wailers on the map in the ’70s? If the song makes you think of Bob Marley, you’ve made a big mistake, because the man who wrote and arranged the tune, then played virtually all the instruments on it to boot, was Peter Tosh. Though Tosh was overshadowed in the Wailers by the charismatic presence of the late Marley, Tosh was the band’s musical director and as such was one of the central figures in reggae’s development.
Tosh is said to have invented the hypnotic, undulating rhythm-guitar patterns that serve as reggae’s foundation, and his playing on the Wailers’ brilliant 1973 debut LP Catch a Fire, set a performance standard for the music that virtually all subsequent reggae must be judged against.
Catch a Fire was unlike most debut records in that it was the product of a group that had been together for a decade; Tosh, Marley and Bunny Livingston (“Wailer”), who met in Kingston’s Trenchtown ghetto in the early ’60s, had already established themselves as the innovative masters of the form via a number of great singles before Catch a Fireintroduced them, and reggae, to the world at large.
Here was a band with a maturity and beauty in their musical concept akin to America’s the Band (the opening track, “Concrete Jungle,” enforces the comparison), as well as a similar grasp of the deepest cultural currents of their society. The Wailers were relentless in their determination to counter political and economic oppression in their songs, yet their message was delivered with such compassion and attention to sociological detail that the effect was never one of single-minded sloganeering.
The Wailers broke up shortly after coming to worldwide attention, and though Marley continued to use the name for his own group, Tosh elected to begin a solo career that was characterized by an increasingly political commitment in his songwriting. As Tosh made himself a symbol of the Rasta principles and a strident critic of Jamaican society, he became a political target. In 1975, before the better-known political reprisals against Marley began, Tosh was arrested by Jamaican police for his religious practice of smoking ganja and was brutally beaten. Far from being scared off by this brutality, however, Tosh was prompted to write “Mark of the Beast,” which was banned from Jamaican radio, and “Legalize It,” a pro-marijuana song that became a huge hit in Jamaica even though it, too, was banned from radio play. The following album, Equal Rights, stepped up the intensity of Tosh’s political message and once again prompted Jamaican authorities to reprisal: The singer was beaten nearly to death by Jamaican police in 1978.
Tosh subsequently was signed to Rolling Stones records and released two records, Bush Doctor and Mystic Man, on which Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards helped him and which demonstrated an attempt by Tosh to push the conceptual limits of reggae music to incorporate other styles. Generally this took the form of a softer, more lyrical approach, which unfortunately prompted many people to accuse Tosh of deserting reggae.
Wanted: Dread and Alive, the new album, should silence those who’ve felt that Tosh turned his back on the music, because it’s a strong set of songs that shifts easily from the hard-edged reggae of “Coming in Hot,” “The Poor Man Feel It” and “That’s What They Will Do” to more experimental music like “Fools Die” and even standard R&B with “Nothing But Love.”
I found Tosh an entertaining and articulate speaker, but the transcript of his conversation doesn’t transfer efficiently: The linear medium of the printed word turns some of his language into gibberish, and in a few cases, his actual meaning was only served by rephrasing his words. It occurred to me that his language would be best translated as verse, with the proper pauses inserted between phrases in order to communicate the subtle interline emphasis that is so important to understanding Tosh. You have to try to hear him talking as you read, to surrender your imagination to the languid rhythms of his speech pattern. As we talked in his Manhattan hotel room, Tosh drank a brown banana porridge, his breakfast, from a Thermos. On the table next to him was a well-thumbed Bible and two empty Johnny Walker Black bottles filled with a pastel liquid prescribed for Tosh by bush doctors. The homemade labels bore intricate inscriptions with invocations to Jah.
High Times: The new record is really amazing. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a record associated with reggae that has encompassed so much. It’s a very broad-based reggae music, yet not in the sense that it goes away from its roots.
Tosh: It varies, goes in many different angles. You see, most people who listen to reggae music don’t know what reggae music is all about. Many artists who plays reggae music are influenced musicians who only can create an idea from an idea. Or paint a picture from a picture. Well, when you’re inspired, when you enter the garden of inspiration, then you can see the difference of the beauty of the music, see? And reggae music is a very spiritual music. You have to be spiritual to enter the garden of inspiration. When you enter the garden of inspiration there’s so much different music, it’s like going to a flower garden where you see blue flowers, white flowers, pink flowers, green flowers. All of them is beautiful. So when you go and explore that garden you can pick, choose and refuse because inspiration is unfinishable, see. And what you heard on this album is just a fraction of a fraction of inspiration within the garden, see.
High Times: The last song on the record, “Fools Die,” is so beautiful. I’ve never heard anything like that. Had you ever tried anything like that before?
Tosh: Well, I did a song approximately similar to that which was “Creation” which is the final song on the Mystic Man album, which has the same kind of idea. I woke up in the morning and I went into the bushes where the birds were singing their song—it was about five-thirty, six—and just taped the birds. And I went by the brook where the water was flowing down the hillside, and taped the sound of that. I went by the seaside and I taped the sea flowing in on the edge of the shore, and combined them together. And created the idea called “Creation.” And it was very beautiful.
High Times: Then there’s also your beautiful singing on “The Poor Man Feel It.”
Tosh: Yeah mon. I love that song too. Very beautiful. And because, you see, there are so much poor people in the world. It’s like eighty percent of the world is poor. See? And whenever you have rise, inflation rises and cost of living steppin’ up and people wages is stationary and the shitstem continue to be the same way. And all the people get these promises from politicians what they will do ten years later. Ten years accomplish and nothing happens, and the same shitstem goes on over and over again and the people remain the same way. So because I know of the situation that exists, and I know that people who suffer at similar situation will sing a song like this as a national anthem. So that’s the reason why I sang this song for the people, the poor people. See.
High Times: I have noticed that you have been criticized for supposedly going away from reggae and yet first of all you practically created it.
Tosh: As I say people who hear reggae music does not really know what reggae music is unless they have been painting this picture every time. And in the garden of inspiration there is so much beauty, different ways of painting the picture which is the right spiritual way.
Most people who hear reggae music think that reggae music should be only drum and bass and a guitar going chick-a, and an organ or a piano going strong. But reggae music is one of the most symphonic music in the world. It takes many instruments as well as it can take three or four instruments to make it. But I who is an architect… Because is not everyone who make reggae music is an architect, see. And you have many shoemaker who tries to build house, but it is impossible. It is like an apple tree trying to be a mango. See? But I know how to create the ideas for it to be highly acceptable.
Reggae music has a spiritual hypnosis. It automatically hypnotizes the ears and it gets to the mind. And you find your finger flicking [snaps fingers] and your head going like this [bobs head] without you even being conscious of what going on. So when you can create that idea you are in the garden of inspiration. And no one who does not know how to architectuate the music can tell me what reggae music is. Because reggae music varies. It goes in many angles. Because even the song like you said “Fools Die’,’ I can play it in reggae, see, and it’s the same beauty. So people who don’t know what the music is cannot tell me what the music is. As I say a mango tree cannot be an apple.
High Times: What do you think of other reggae performers? Black Uhuru for a start.
Tosh: I love every reggae music. And I love every reggae musicians. As I say it is not everyone paint the same picture. While the same time, everyone have to live. It is not everyone who has the same spiritual ingredients, but everyone has to live. And as I say is not everyone who make a shoe is a shoemaker. But everyone has to live. You have cabinet makers who make shoes, you have tailors who make shoes, you see? Everyone have to live.
High Times: How about the Police, say? Do you like what they have done?
High Times: With reggae.
High Times: The Police.
Tosh: Oh. The Police are being influenced by the music and that only proves the potential of reggae music to the world. That reggae has a potential, but because of the political shitstem to keep black people down they would prefer to have the Police establish reggae music and make it look like they are the origination of reggae music, which we know they are only an influence of the music. But let them live. Because who had created the idea will one day get the recognition. If three million people buy the Police music, those three million people will know that Police is not the foundation of reggae music. And soon they will want to investigate where this music came from.
High Times: I have seen it written that you invented or discovered the rhythm-guitar style that is commonly used in reggae.
High Times: Is that true?
Tosh: Well, it is my idea. Is a concept that came out of me about when I was with the Wailers from about 1971, that idea began coming in and now it reached a stage that I can take it many angles. It’s like, when I play my guitars, like I hear a machine gun firing shots. Tch-tcha-tch-tcha-tch, and maintain the same tempo because most people who play reggae, they play it like this: chick-a… chick-a… chick-a. But within that tempo I can chicka-cha… chicka-chicka… chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka in the same tempo and it is not distorted and it does not depreciate the rhythm or anything. It just syncopate the beat and, you know, create a beauty around the other instrument that does not clashes with no other instrument. And it takes an architect to do that. And since I have been playing that, many people have been influenced by that because I hear many songs that a lot of guys try to play the same. You know?
But it is good when something beautiful can be influenced by someone because there is no laws that say that one must not adopt or be influenced by the beauty of something. So it makes me feel good when someone try to play it, but they should come to me or see me do it when they learn how to do it. Don’t listen and then try to do it because it can create conflicts within the music if you don’t know how to syncopate it so that it does not clash with the rest of your instruments.
High Times: Did you teach Keith Richards to play it?
Tosh: Uhn-uhn. Because Keith Richards does not play reggae. With Keith Richards, I was in the studios once when I was doing I think it was Bush Doctor. I was recording I can’t remember which song, and he came into the studio and took up his guitar and started playing something. I don’t know. I say, “That sound good, play it now.” He just did it and it sounded right. But he don’t play reggae because this kind of strumming is very difficult, I tell you.
High Times: How did you come by that idea of that hypnosis rhythm? Because it seems to me that rhythm-guitar approach is the key to the whole structure.
Tosh: Well, I don’t know how I come by it. Just exploring the garden of inspiration. And I found out that there was so much beauty in the music and there are so much things that you can do with even the piano, with the organ or with the guitar or with the drum because the percussiveness and the syncopation that you put in is very, very effective and it goes around the heartbeat, and when anything touches the heart, it goes to the mind and it make the body move. So it is just an inspiration given to me by the creator who was the first inspirer of the music.
High Times: Was there any one song that you wrote that you first used that on?
Tosh: I don’t even remember which was the first song I tried it on. I think I first tried it onstage. I don’t remember the name of the show. That was about 1970 maybe, and the idea came to me, and I played it in a song very good, and after I played it I hear many musicians trying to play it in the studio. And the second time I did it I was arranging some music for Ras Michael. And if you listen Ras Michael music some of them from the first album he did, it was I did some of the arrangements and integrated some of that music. Which was loved because no one had heard that kind of rhythm before.
High Times: The Wailers existed at that point for some time. Had you started just as a vocal group, and didn’t play at the same time, or did you always have a band concept?
Tosh: No, we never had a band concept. It started as a vocal group, but at the same time I was the first one who played instrument because I learned guitar when I was about twelve. How I learned my guitar is I was at the house, at my mother’s house [in Westmoreland], and there was an old man who used to live up the road who could play some nice country-western style and some church music. And when he came to my gate one day he was picking his guitar and I just liked the way he was picking his guitar, and I just came near. It was like the spirits send him to inspire me to begin to play the reggae music and to play music and he just sat there for about three hours and was just playing and I sat there watching him. And kept my eyes on his fingers… watched how he picked his fingers and how he moved his top finger, and it was like this for four hours. Until when he was tired, now, I asked him for a play. And it was the first time I got hold of a professional guitar. I made my own guitar when I was about five years old.
High Times: How did you make it?
Tosh: With a piece of board and fishing line and a sardine pan, and I got sound and it sounded good. And I even tuned it myself without even asking somebody to tune it, and I played it. People used to throw pennies, because it sounded good. It was a concept of creativity that was in me for some time.
High Times: What had you heard? What kind of music had you heard when you were five years old?
Tosh: Well, when I was five years old there was plenty country and western music on the air and Elvis Presley and all those kind of music. All ancient white pop or rock artists we used to hear. I used to hear them plenty on the radio. But I was not influenced by that music.
I was born a musician, see. And after I learned to play a guitar my mother send me to piano lessons and I did that for about eight months. And when I did it for about six months the woman say she never seen anyone—she teaches many people to play the piano—she never seen anyone who learn the music so quick, see. That I could play jazz, and I could get into it, and know the keys because I play it on the keyboard. It was like I don’t remember how to play a piano because I was so overwhelmed and enthusiastic over how the guitar sound. And I just put piano back behind and start to get into the rhythm guitar because I thought there was something very effective in the rhythm with guitar. And I loved it from that. It was like it was part piano.
High Times: I always was really affected by your organ playing as well. The beginning of “Concrete Jungle” is amazing.
Tosh: Yes. Well, those are times when I had to play approximately…The only thing I didn’t play was bass and drums. Because we didn’t have no money to pay the musicians to do these things, so I have to play the piano, I have to play the organ, I have to play the rhythm guitar, and do what I could do, percussion and all those things, to make the music beautiful. From the start with Catch a Fire to Burning—we had albums like Soul Rebel, Soul Revolution and one they call The Best of the Wailers—and all the music that we used to do with the Wailers, it was I who used to decorate, add my fingers to make it beautiful on keyboards and guitars because we couldn’t pay.
High Times: You said you played everything except bass?
Tosh: Well, I played bass, too, but I prefer to play the keyboards. And I could play the drums, and I can play the drum because that syncopated percussiveness is in me. But all the time I even told myself that I am going to make a song that… I am going to play everything, drum, bass, guitar, piano, synthesizer, everything. To give a whole picture from me.
High Times: So you actually arranged the entire Wailers’ sound.
Tosh: Approximately all of them. Well, on “Concrete Jungle” many of them, “Stir It Up” and the first one we did which did well in Jamaica was one called “Bend Down Low.” The only time I didn’t do it was if I was not in the studio at the time. But if I was leaving for the studio we would have to dub it on later.
High Times: I always loved “Stop That Train,” too. That’s one of my favorite reggae songs.
Tosh: Yes, yes. I love that music, too.
High Times: How did you write that? Was that a real image that you had that you suddenly—
Tosh: Yes, that was an idea. Well, this was after singing with the Wailers over twelve years. And it was like singing with the Wailers it was like driving a train. When you are still driving on a train for twelve years, and I realize that now comes the time for me to manifest myself. So I just wrote the song “Stop that Train”: “I am leaving, it won’t be too long.” It was about a couple of months after I just started on my own. That was about 1973.
High Times: It seems really weird, I guess, the way that you were harassed politically when you went on your own. And then Bob Marley, they tried to assassinate him. Do you see that as a part of one mind trying to stop both of you or what you stood for?
Tosh: I see it was politically motivated. There are always elements there to try to stop anything that is awakening to black people. If there is one who try to give a message to black people, there is always obstacles. They always try to put obstacles in the way. But because I know that I was not influenced by what I was doing, it was a divine inspirationthat came to me to do this work. For example, I don’t look at myself as a singer. I look at myself as a preacher, as a missionary who comes to preach and to teach and to awake the slumbering mentality of black people. Because this is not something new. So it was in the beginning. From thousands of years ago there has always been preachers who go around and preach and teach and tell the people of the true and living, see. And tell the people how to live. Teach the people what is right from wrong. So because the world now today is divided into two, you have the good and bad. Whatever time you start to deal with good it becomes so political that bad gets jealous and try to put obstacles in your way. They try everything to stop you. From the start they tried everything to stop me. The last time they tried was 1978.
High Times: You were beaten twice, right?
Tosh: Yeah, 1978 was the last time, when about ten police took me in a cell and beat me in the head. That even now my central nerve system is still exposed.
High Times: You are scarred on the face, too.
Tosh: Yeah, mon. Well, this was a car crash. That was another spiritual element. Many ways they try to stop you from doing what you intend to do because you have the masters of evil who can sit in his room and can bring evil devices to pass that you become the victim of the shitstem and knows not what took place, if you are not seeing from that spiritual point of view. Because if you cannot see between the lines you become a victim of the shitstem. And if you are not in line with the creator, people can move you off the earth as easily as that.
High Times: You believe in imminent redemption, though, that we live in apocalyptic times. You don’t really believe in death, right?
Tosh: No. Death is an element that is created. And when you fear death, that is when death take holds upon you. When you do the things that ignite death, that is when death takes hold upon you. When you keep yourself, your whole temple, mind and soul in one concept, one aim and one destiny with the father, then you avoid death because Jah say he will not have I to dash I foot against a stone. Or to have any elements of destruction that lurks in any dark places to destroy I. For example, you may walk into pits, see, you may stumble over obstacles, but when you fall you can rise, but those who don’t praise the divine creator with their whole heart, soul and mind will die. See, because you have many who say but they don’t do. It’s not what you say it’s what you do that protect you from the element of death.
High Times: Was Bob Marley not protected?
Tosh: Well, if he was protected he would be here, see? But, when one dies is for those who live to see that one dies, and is not for you to walk in the same road because of one’s mistake is another one’s beefsteak. See?
High Times: Well, since you are a vegetarian, that’s a particularly loaded line.
Tosh: Well, when you say beefsteak, you have vegetarian beefsteaks, which is no meat contents.
High Times: There was the sense that Marley took credit for a lot of things that you actually did, and in fact, I saw his name on some of your songs, like “400 Years.”
Tosh: Yes, many of them. Many songs. And many songs I didn’t even… many songs I did where I didn’t get no credit whatsoever. But I am not working for credit from men, see. So when you get credit from men, soon you get a tomb and a coffin. I don’t want no credit from men. My credit comes from the creator. And when I get credit from the creator I am protected from the evils of men. That’s why I try to do positive things. Because he who steals me steals destruction. So men can keep their credits. That will not get men further.
High Times: What do you think of the fact that now that Bob Marley is dead people are saying that you are the king of reggae?
Tosh: I am not no king of reggae. It was me who put Bob Marley’s first finger on a guitar. I said, “This is C, this is G, this is A.” It is I who taught Bob Marley to play music. I was born with music to me. Bob Marley has exposed himself and has become international superstar or whatever you call it. I am not a superstar. I am an architect. Don’t want to be a superstar, there are no kings. “In my father’s house are many mansions.” And all of them is beautiful. So I am just doing what I am here to do. I am a messenger, see? I am a missionary, see? Bob Marley’s a musician or a superstar, so they say. I am a missionary preaching the words of righteousness decorated by music.
High Times: How did you get involved with the Rockers film?
Tosh: Well, I was not involved in it. They wanted to use my name to get for promotion purpose. All they did was to use one of my songs on it. They wanted me to play a part but it wasn’t morally elevated where I am concerned. So I did not get involved because where I am concerned it is not progressive. And has not proved itself progressive from that time to now. So I cannot get involved in anything that is nonprogressive morally, spiritually or physically.
High Times: Do you read the Bible every day?
Tosh: No, I live the Bible every day. There are people who read the Bible but don’t live the Bible. Reading the Bible does not save your soul because the Bible is just another version of a version. And the truth has been converted to create conflicts and have people lost in illusion. So as to satisfy those who paint the world a fantasy. But because I know these things and we are reincarnated souls from that time and we know who we were in that time. Bible say, “Seek and ye shall find.” And when you seek to find yourself, you’ll find yourself; “Knock and it shall be open”; the doors of wisdom is open. And when I pray I don’t ask for wealth. I ask for wisdom and knowledge and understanding. And protection from the evils that lurks in dark places. So that’s the way I have to live.
You see the Rastaman’s philosophy is nothing new. Nothing of the eighteenth, nineteenth or twentieth century. It was from the earth was. It is not a religion. It is a traditional way of life. As disciples of Christ.
High Times: Why were you persecuted and why was Bob Marley persecuted and not, say, Bunny Livingston?
Tosh: Well, maybe because we are on the front line and we are mostly heard and mostly seen, so the elements try to do these things because, maybe at that time, Bunny was not on the front page. But as we said, Bunny could be here, too. But he say the same words and it is coming from the same divine creator. And one philosophy is in no competition with another philosophy. So he stays here as one who takes care of the vineyard. And when the time of famine comes around there is food to feed the nation. So Bunny is there taking care of the vineyard, and at the same time making music.
High Times: I thought perhaps it was because it could be explained that he lives a really pure religious life and keeps away from any potential dealings with Babylon or makes no mess.
Tosh: Well, maybe that could be the fact, and he is not out there on the front page to be seen. But we are all persecuted. There are many ways of persecution. You may not be persecuted by assassinators who try to assassinate. There are different ways of persecution that sometimes it is not even heard about. You have to see Bunny for him to tell you of his tribulations. We all go through tribulations. Because whatever time you are dealing with right, you are opposing wrong. And this world is wrong. So he becomes a political target.
High Times: Do you feel that in order to bring your message out to the world that you become involved in bad situations which if you had stayed at home wouldn’t get in your way?
Tosh: Yes, we know that, but at the same time it is written that I and I, it is our duty to go into all the world and to teach and to show the people that Jah Rastafari liveth as he was in those days. He is the same way in these days. Nothing has changed. The creator does not die. Although we have been told that he was crucified, he only did that to prove to men that he is the master of life. No one can kill the creator. So no one will kill those who praise him, because it is written that this time Jah shall not come as a lamb to no slaughter or as a sheep to no shearer. But conquering to conquer, and to eliminate and alleviate all the shitstems of the world and put the world on the right stand, which it was in the beginning. So we are just doing what the father says we must do. Go in the world. Live the life. And let your works be seen so that men may glorify him. Because if you live a negative life and preach a positive word then you will become another victim of the shitstem.
High Times: How can you keep your life positive in the face of so many distractions and the persecutions?
Tosh: Well… the destructions of the world does not destruct my eyes because I know what it is. I know the evils of the world, what they are, all of what they were made of, what they are for. There is nothing new under the sun, and there is nothing that can distract one who is dealing with the father’s work. Nothing. Because they are all ancient, Babylon traditional way of life. Which we all know, so you see, as I say a mango tree cannot bear apple. Because we have people who come and see the living of the Rastaman and try to live like him, but when he reach a little way down the road and find out there is lots of tribulation he get weak and stumble by the way and fall. Sometimes never rise. But there is a song on my album saying “Pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.” So as long as you are living your life a positive way and keep your mind in coordination with the father, he will protect you from the elements and the destruction that lurks. So there is nothing that can destruct the Rastaman who lives his life that positive way because nothing is new under the sun.
High Times: Were you alarmed when you heard that Bob Marley had cancer?
Tosh: No. You see, he had been sick for a long time because it was ages ago that I heard he had a bad tumor. Which I was told that it was infection of cancer. Well, we don’t know what they tried to do which there is no ailment on the face of the earth that is incurable. Because even in Jamaica I know a bush doctor who gave me those medicines, who shows me the two bushes that can cure any cancer. So… and if he had went there, and Africa is always open, because the bush doctors in Africa can cure anything… and anything whether physical or spiritual… nothing is incurable. And if Bob had went to Africa he would be here today. But as we know, experience teaches wisdom, and you have to have faith in what you are doing, but as I say, one dies is for one to see them not to trod the same road or you will stumble the same way.
High Times: Do you know of the Jamaican community in Brooklyn?
High Times: They’ve had some very difficult times, especially of late, sort of small civil wars going on.
High Times: But we have people at High Times who come from that community and write for us occasionally and there are many drug problems in terms of rival gangs fighting and killing over the right to deal ganja.
Tosh: Well, those things are politically motivated. In these times, as it was from those times, they are still trying to prove black people are some insignificant cannibals or something, so to keep these shitstem going they program drugs to the people. And when you take drugs it distorts the mind, and when the mind is distorted it creates conflict. And when the conflict is within it must comes out. And when it comes out it must end up on someone. So it is a part of the shitstem.
High Times: But not ganja.
Tosh: No. But you see herb is not a drug. Herb is the healing of the nation. But because they know that the herb is so morally elevated, guys will try to put drugs into herb so as to create that inner conflict both physically and mentally so then it cause a repercussion within, and you have to do something that is negative. See. But that is the shitstem.
High Times: But also there seems to be a commerce thing involved. The Rastas are involved in a kind of battle over supplying drugs, or supplying ganja—and who sells to whom and who buys.
Tosh: Well, that is not Rastas’ affair. That dreadlocks’ business. Dreadlocks and Rastas is two different things. Rasta does not get involved in those things. But because the devil want to defamate or the ministers of propaganda and public mischief want to keep the definition of the Rastamans corrupt, so that they can illegally incriminate the Rastaman daily so to create a distortion on the focus of righteousness, they always do these things. So as to say Rasta do. Because people can see from a physical point of view that this is dreadlocks [lifts a lock of his hair]. So the first time you see dreadlocks you say Rasta, see? But it’s not everyone who wears this is a Rasta. You have even baldheads who are Rastas from the heart.
High Times: When you were persecuted by the police, did you have any advance warning? Had it been something that had been building up and did you sort of have a feeling that something was going to happen?
Tosh: Yes, I know that, because I know that any time you are doing the type of work I am doing, see, preaching the word of truth and trying to build a nation of unity, that is defied by the shitstem. I know there are lots of opposition because even last year I was… after I was brutalized unto death, because what happened to me is death, no mystery about that, it is death, because when one’s nerve, central nerve system, is damaged, it is either insanity or death. And my central nerve system has been beaten and exposed out of my head about this [cocks his finger], I could touch and feel it. Every time I would touch it, it would make my entire temple tremor. And that is death. And when I see the picture of my head, because photographers came and took a photograph of my head, when I look at that, it look like a dead man. Forty-eight stitches all over inside the brain all on the head top. And that is to prove that I am still protected by the father, see.
High Times: How did they get you? Where were you?
Tosh: Well, I was standing at an office arranging a European tour. I was waiting for my musicians. I had a joint in my hand. Two guys came up behind me. One guy came behind me and just took it out of my hand. He was there looking at me. I took it back from him. He didn’t tell me who he was. I just see him standing there smiling. I just took it from him and said, “What happened?” And he was trying to get it back from me. When I see him trying to get my stick from me, my mind told me he was a beast, so I just tore it up and [blows] threw it away. He didn’t like that. So he started up his aggressiveness, and tried to do what he want, to take me to jail. But I realized he was a beast. He found out he couldn’t manage me physically so he went for his friend. His friend came with his gun and tried and failed, too. That didn’t work so he went to find some more friends. And that still didn’t work. Well, one of them closed his fist on his gun and punch at my face. I moved away and the one who was standing behind me, he got the lick in his face. And it cut him. It began to bleed.
Well, one policeman in his uniform came. I knew he was a police. He said, “What happened.” I told him what happened. Well, he told me to walk with him to the station, and I walked with them to explain the situation. When I walked in to explain what happened, they ganged me. Put me in a cell. About ten of them ganged my head. And that is when I realized that I was in like Daniel was put in the lion’s den. But Peter was put in the dragon’s den. And because I was protected from the elements of death, see, I recovered. When they beat and beat and beat and beat for over an hour and found out I would not dead, they was beggin’ me to dead. When I realized that they were determinedto kill, I just took one blow, another blow, and all those blows. I just lie down. They were convinced that I was dead because I didn’t even wink an eye. I didn’t shake a limb; so they was convinced that when I was lying there I was dead. Well, after they was convinced I was dead and left me, I got up like a lion. And they was marveled. And they said, “Take him to the dumb cell.”
Well, the dumb cell is a cell that when they put you in, there is not even breeze come in. It is all concrete and a door The only hole is a keyhole. And that is where they was taking me. When the guy went to the dumb cell and push his keys—he had about twelve keys together—none of them could fit the place, yet there was the right key there. But it was not spiritually designed for me to go into that cell. Because they wanted me to bleed to death because I was bleeding furiously. So the doctors came to the place when they heard of what took place. They said no, doctor cannot see me. Lawyers came, they said no, lawyers cannot see me. But when they realize that the news was getting spread all over Jamaica they got two lorries of soldiers to take me to the hospital. I went to the hospital. My hand was broken. This hand was broken here. And my head was properly bashed in.
Well, I went to the hospital and the doctor stitched it up, put my hand in plaster of paris. They took me back to jail. Then I find that I could not go into the cell. They didn’t want me among the prisoners. [The jailer] was asking me if I wanted to go among the prisoners. I said “Yes. They are not criminals. You are the criminals.” So I went among them and they used their hot coca tea and bathed my hand and bathed my head. One of the prisoners look inside and say he was seeing inside of my head and saw my nerve going up like this [wiggles his finger back and forth].
High Times: Was that the end of the story?
Tosh: Yes, so far. Not there because there is never an end.