Rhetoric of Reggae
(You Gotta Walk and) Don’t Look Back
Either, Reggae or Rock n’ Roll could both be argued as the biggest, and best music genres off all time and both just happened to originate in the early 1960’s. When Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger, two of the biggest producers for their respective music genres decided to write a song together, it showed how similar Peter Tosh’s and Mick Jagger’s styles of music, and life styles were. Although the path to the top was extremely different, the end result was the same; they both were stars. Peter Tosh’s Reggae music and Mick Jagger’s Rock n’ Roll have surprisingly similar origins, tempo and tone. It’s amazing how the two different style artists can combine their music to create a musical masterpiece.
Growing up Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger had pretty opposite living situations. Peter was raised in the slums in Jamaica while Mick Jagger was born into a middle class family in London, England. Growing up as a child living in the rural western part of Jamaica, it was extremely hard for Peter because he did not have a father or mother, who had the time or responsibly to raise him properly and care for his well being. (Rolling Stone) For the majority of the population of Jamaica, life was a struggle. People had a hard time affording food for the table, or putting a roof over their head. Jamaica was struggling and unemployment was staggering. For Mick Jagger, life growing up wasn’t a struggle like it was for Tosh. He had both a father and a mother who were loving and had the ability and time to look after him. Both of his parents were employed and had jobs. Life wasn’t as much a struggle in the beginning years of his life as it was for Tosh.
Peter was born on October 19th 1944, as Winston Hubert Mcintosh, as an only child of Alvera Coke. At this time, Winston’s father, James Mcintosh was a preacher at a local church. Peter was one of many children to call James “Dad”. His father neglected him so much to the point where James refused to acknowledge his son, and Peter didn’t even get to meet his father until he was ten years old. When asked about his father he once said, “My father, James McIntosh, is a bad boy, a rascal. That's what him do for a living. He just go around and have a million-and-one children! Right now me have many brothers that me don't know”. (Holmes and Steffens, Reasoning with Tosh)
Just 432 days before Winston Hubert Mcintosh was born, on July 26th, 1944 Michael Phillip Jagger was introduced to earth in Dartford, Kent in England. He was born to his father Basil Fanshawe ("Joe") Jagger and his mother Eva Ensley Mary Scutts. Joe and Mick Jagger’s grandfather, David Ernest Jagger, were both teachers. While they were teaching, his mother Mary employed as an Australian immigrant and a local hairdresser. Mick Jagger was born during a time of uncertainty. World War II was being fought in his back yard and his parents had decided to volunteer as Air Raid Precautionary personal. This was a group formed by the government of the United Kingdom to protect their civilians of bombings that were being dropped in the battle of World War II. Conditions had deteriorated in 1940 when the group was forced to issue 27,215 gas masks and 80,00 sand bags were obtained to shore up the local buildings from the bombings. The day before Mick Jagger had been delivered, The Red Army Factions, had dropped over 2000 tons of bombs. Joe and Eva, Mick Jagger’s parents were expecting a female child and were “dreamt up” over the next few weeks after learning it would be a male. (Mick Jagger: Rebal Knight 11-13) World War II had finally ended in May and things had seemed to turn around for the Jagger family. Dartford itself returned back to a socialist nation and more jobs were becoming available to the unemployed.
For Peter Tosh growing up with out a father was extremely taxing on him emotionally. This had a huge influence on Peter. Growing up without a Father figure in his life, and having a mom, who never had the time to care for his well being led him to figure out life on his own. With his father neglecting to acknowledge Peter as a human being and his mother spending her life working in order to put food on the table, his aunt was forced to raise him from when he was three until he was fifteen. In an interview with Roger Steffens and Hank Holmes, both whom are contributing editors of the Reggae News, Peter was asked about his life as a youth. When Roger Steffens asked, “What was your life like there as a youth? Did you live with you parents?”
“I didn't live with my mother, but I am my mother's only child, and I didn't grow with her, I was grown with my aunt, my mother's aunt, my grand-aunt, when I was three years old until I was fifteen…. See, I was three years in size, but fifty years old in the mind, seen? Because I was born with matured mind, and born with a concept of creativity, and any time there's a controversy within me, it create an inner conflict, seen? And any time that inner conflict is created, something is wrong, so you must internally investigate it. And with that mind, I grew up with that mind. I like, and I love, everything that is right, seen? I was born, raised in righteousness, not to say that my parents was righteous, because they did not know what was righteousness. They were being led away to a shitstem, or being deceived by deceivers, you see, because they wanted to know what was righteousness.” (Holmes and Steffens, Reasoning with Tosh)
This is what made Peter Tosh who he was. He was a man who raised himself and taught himself his own values.
Tosh’s interest in music had begun when he was just in the fifth grade. It all started when he received piano lessons for just six months. It wasn’t until he walked past a man on chillin’ on his stoop strummin’ his guitar that Tosh became fixated on the guitar. He spent the rest of the half-day on the stoop with the man, plucking cord for cord and note for note.
"Me just one time see a mon in the country play guitar and say 'My that mon play geetar nice'. It just attract me so much that me just sat there taking it in for about a half-day and when him done-he was playin' one tune for the whole half-day-he had hypnotized me so much that my eyes extracted everything he had done with his fingers. I picked up the guitar and played the tune he had just played with him showin' me a t'ing. And when he asked me who taught me I tell him it was him!"(White, In the Path of the Stepping Razor).
Tosh and his aunt moved from Savanna-la-Mar to Denham Town in Kingston. Soon after moving his aunt suddenly died and he was forced to move again, this time he moved in with his uncle in Trench Town Jamaica. In 1951, the category three Hurricane, Charlie had struck the island of Jamaica. It had strengthened to a peak intensity of 135 mph. In its path, Hurricane Charlie had caused more than 150 deaths and $50,000,000 in damages. Charlie had produced Jamaica’s deadliest disaster of the 20th century. (The Daily Review, 1951) The hurricane tore through the shacks and slums of Kingston, which is the spiritual home of the Rastafarians. It was in the Hurricane reckoned city of Kingston where he met two people that would forever change his life. It was in Kingston where Tosh was introduced to Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer through his vocal instructor, Joe Higgs. After a while of talking and spending time together Tosh had taught Bob Marley how to play the guitar. The three of them had formed a band originally under the name, The Wailers Rudeboys, then to The Wailers.
Mick Jagger was more of the singing type. In the book According to the Rolling Stones Jagger states,
“I was always a singer. I always sang as a child. I was one of those kids who just liked to sing. Some kids in the choir; other like to show off in front of the mirror. I was in the church choir and I also lived listening to sinfers on the radio- The BBC or Radio Luxembourg – or watching them on TV and in the movies”.
At the age of 4, Mick Jagger had met and fell in love with future band member Keith Richards. Soon after establishing a friendship the two lost contact when they both went to different middle schools at age 11. One day while both Richards and Jagger where boarding a train to London, Keith Richards had noticed that Jagger was holding R&B albums under his arm while boarding the train, and started a conversation. When the two realized who each other where and how they lost contact for so long, the relationship went off. Jagger, who at the time was a student at the London School of Economics, was a hard core blues aficionado, while Richards’ interests leaned more towards the Rock n’ Roll. Keith Richards had soon joined Jagger’s band, Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys and the rest is history. (According to The Rolling Stones)
Surprisingly the roots of Reggae and Rock n’ Roll have a fairly similar background. Reggae is a genre that was first starting to develop in Jamaica during the nineteen sixties. When you take Reggae all the way back to the origin you have to give Jazz a ton of credit in helping shape Reggae the way it is today. Reggae was simply the growth, and development of what had been happening in Jamaican music dating all the way back to the 1940s.
Beginning with SKA, and then Rock Steady, Jamaica, the loudest island in the world had declared its real musical independence. With the appearance of Jazz in the early 1950s American popular music had made a shift to Jazz. In Jazz, Be-Bop became the new movement. Rhythm and Blues, the black style formerly called race music, started coming on strong. The era of the Jazz orchestra was slowly fading, as music grew harder, stronger, and more youthful. This trend had spread to Jamaica, just as it did to all of the other parts of the globe. (The History of Jamaican Music)
Then in Jamaica, changes had begun. Jamaica had mostly been a rural country but now things were different. People had come all over the country to settle in the most prosperous city, Kingston, in search of employment. On the weekends Kingstonians old and new would gather for dances in the open spaces called ‘lawns' all over the city, where sound systems would blast and bump with the latest tunes from the States. If you didn't have a radio, and with the poor economy many didn't, this was how you heard the new records while having a good time. R&B and Jazz was the heart of the music being played to Jamaicans on the lawns. R&B was fast, raw, with a thick beat, it played well to both the young and the elders. Sound system owners would travel to the U.S. to buy new records. It was a constant war to have the newest, and freshest sounds. A popular disc might be played 15 or 20 times during the course of a night.
Rock n’ Roll had emerged as a defined musical style in America in the fifties. Although Rock n’ Roll had emerged on to the scene a decade before Reggae, the original origins of the music are surprisingly similar. The presence of Rock n’ Roll had really begun with the end of the Second World War. Before the war had started the music industry was vastly dominated by Jazz musicians. With the war going on, many musicians were being drafted to go and fight and the vast majority of the groups were broken up. In 1942-43 the musicians in America had staged a strike against their own music industry. The lasting effect of the strike was the virtual end of the big bands in favor of solo performers, vocal backings and small groups. The 1940’s also saw a huge migration of African- Americans coming up north escaping the harsh decimation that was occurring in the south. Naturally, they brought their music, gospel and R&B, with them.
Since both styles of music came from the same origins it was enviable that the tone and tempo of the music is going to have a lot of similarities. Doo Wop was one of the most popular forms of 1950s Rock and Roll, with an emphasis on multi-part vocal harmonies and meaningless backing lyrics, which were usually supported with light instrumentation. Reggae also had adapted some of the doo woo sound to it with like artists like Eek –a- mouse. The lyrics of his songs are extremely hard to understand to the casual listener. Eek-a-mouse’s voice had an emphasis on the multi-part vocal harmonies.
The rhythm guitar in Reggae usually plays the chords on beats two and four, a musical figure known as skank. It has a very dampened, short and scratchy chop sound, almost like a percussion instrument. Sometimes a double chop is used when the guitar still plays the off beats, but also plays the following 8th beats on the up-stroke. An example is the intro to "Stir It Up" by The Wailers. Rock n Roll uses a similar method when using their version of the guitar.
Both Reggae and Rock n Roll have had a major influence on the music due to drugs. Peter Tosh was a major activist in the legalization of marijuana. The majority of the time he was seen in public he was either stoned or well on his way with a spliff in his mouth. Although the Stones were not as active in pursuing the legalization of marijuana, they had their fair share of problems that were due to the use of drugs. The group had sunk so far into substance abuse, they were frequently strung-out on barbiturates, L.S.D., and alcohol, so that they were no longer able to function as a musicians. On an album that was released in 1972 the Rolling Stones created a song called “Rip this Joint”. During this song they sang, “Rip this joint, gonna save your soul”. The Rolling Stones were not as ruthless when it came to the actual fight for the legilaztion but it was clear what they wanted.
Although to the casual fan Bob Marley was by far the most recognized Reggae artist, Bob was by no means in the center of the spotlight. The Wailers were comprised of the superb vocal trio that included Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Bob Marley. All three really knew how to put on a show. The Wailers were groomed for stardom right out of the “get go”. With legendary Kingston producer, Coxone Dodd, calling the notes it would be hard to knock them off the top of the charts. In the mid-sixties they were wearing matching suits and ties and singing versions of American pop songs like “Ten Commandments of Love”. After a short stint of covering songs they started writing. In the late sixties they became Rastas. (Timothy E. Scheurer, American Popular Music)
This is a picture of Bob Marley (far left) Bunny Wailer (center) and Peter Tosh (far right). Together they formed the infamous group “the Wailers”
Tosh’s first lead vocal came on the song “Hoot Nannay Hoot”, and this sound had grabbed him some attention in the music world. The Wailers later followed by titles such as “Maga Dog” and “Rasta Shook Them Up”, all of which had displayed Tosh’s great ability to hit the notes and sing with a purpose. These singles appeared with the credit to Peter Touch & The Wailers. It wasn’t clear whether it was an intentional misspelling of his last name or a typo. (Wailers) These songs seamed to put a giant spot light on the group and they had begun to make the move to the top of the Reggae “food chain”.
The Stones had pioneered the gritty, hard-driving blues-based Rock n’ Roll that came to define Rock n’ Roll. With his beautiful masculine hatred, Mick Jagger became the prototypical rock front man, with his obscene outfits, crazy dance moves, and his detached showmanship. Keith Richards and Brian Jones wrote the blueprint for interlocking rhythm guitars. Backed by the strong yet subtly swinging rhythm section of bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts, the Stones became the breakout band of the British blues scene. Over the course of their career, the Stones never really abandoned blues. (Stephen T. Erlewine, The Rolling Stones Biography)
Studio One is the label that discovered and helped create legacies, and transformed dance hall bands to legends. Without Studio One Reggae music might not be a worldwide phenomenon. Many famous Reggae musicians and historians have dubbed Studio One as “Reggae University”. It was at Studio One where the Wailers had recorded their first songs such as “Simmer Down” and “One Love”. (Studio One) Simmer down had gone as far as hitting number one on the charts in Jamaica in February 1964. This song was directed to the direction of the “Rude Boys” of Jamaica. The rude boys were the people living in the ghetto at the time and the song was sending a message to cool down, or to “simmer down” with all of the violence and crime that was going on in Kingston.
“Simmer down: oh, control your temper!
Simmer down: for the battle will be hotter;
Simmer down: and-a you won't get no supper.
Simmer down: and you know you bound to suffer
Simmer down: simmer - simmer - simmer right down”
This song was a real eye opener to the people living in Kingston. From day one Peter Tosh had a message that he had envisioned to spread his word to all of the people, Equal Rights and Justice. And he didn’t want to limit himself to just Jamaicans. (Ben Watson)
After a few very successful years of performing gigs, and doing other shows the Rolling Stones had started to record their own music. Their breakout song that the Stones’ had was a cover of Chuck Berrys “Come On” and it had reached as high as 21 on the UK charts. Decca Records' Dick Rowe, who had rejected The Beatles, had decided to take an interest in The Rolling Stones. (Oldham, Andrew Loog) An existing contract the band had signed in place of paying for a recording session was disposed of when the owner of I.B.C. studios accepted the explanation that the band was breaking up and agreed to a buy-out for 100 pounds cash. After a few years of producing their music in industrial recording settings, The Rolling Stones had decided to create their own studio. They were discouraged by the 9-5 limitations that a regular studio can offer.
The concept for The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio first came about in 1968 when The Rolling Stones decided they needed a new environment in which to record music. The Stones decided to use Mick Jagger’s house and all of the necessary equipment was bought by the group and installed. The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio was one of the most famous recoding studios. In addition to the Stones many other artists have recored music there such as Bob Marley, Led Zepplin and Fletwood Mac.
The Wailers most famous song could be argued for “Get up, Stand up”. This song appeared on the 1973 album Burnin’. While most casual fans probably thought of this song as a Bob Marley song, and it was co-credited with Bob Marley (probably for the instumental half of the song), the lyrics sounded like 100% Peter. The lyrics of “Get up, Stand Up” say it all. While Bob often frames his political commentary in a metaphor, Tosh loved to keep his words raw and uncut. Tosh was a ruthless character. He didn’t care who the “truth” offended and he was afraid of nothing. The lyrics of this song say it all “Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights! Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!” From day one Tosh was on a mission to create equal rights throughout all of the people. It’s really easy for people to just assume that “Get up” was urging black people to fight for their civil rights. I’m not sure that this interpretation is incorrect but I don’t think that it is complete. Peter Tosh’s version of a god is a living man, Haile Selassie I (“almighty God is a living man”) Peter believes that the heaven is the earth. There are no angles that fly in the sky fairies in heaven, but as he said best in get up stand up, “if you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth”. But instead he tried to do everything he could to improve his life during that certain time, “Now that you can see the light, stand up for your rights”. “Get Up Stand Up” was as much a religious song as a political song and Tosh just enjoyed and loved spreading his message of Equal Rights and Justice. (Mtume ya Salaam)
Peter Tosh did what a small few could ever achieve. At his massive six foot three inches, his presence and image was enough to make people stop and listen. Tosh was often seen riding around on his unicycle or his “inicycles” as he called them. Peter had great balance, and had a great deal of elegance and so able to master this art. The wheel became and extension of his legs just as the spliff became an extension of his mouth, or the guitar became an extinction of his arm. (Babylon By Bike) For Peter Tosh music was more than just songs, it was a message. He lived and died for his message - “Equal Rights and Justice.” While Tosh never actually held positions in office, it was almost as if his voice was in itself his political messages and his songs were the speeches. People seemed to just follow his word. “I am not a politician...I only suffer the consequences”, said Tosh.
In 1974 the trio of the Wailers, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Bob Marley was no longer. Many believe that Chris Blackwell was the mastermind of the breakup. Blackwell saw the success of the group lying on the shoulders of Bob Marley. Another reason for the groups’ breakup was that neither Tosh nor Wailer was willing to go on strenuous tours that the band had just gone through to promote the release of the Catch a Fire album. After the break up Tosh and Marley were no longer on good terms. Tosh was extremely displeased in Marley after the break up because Tosh did not want Marley to continue to use the name “Wailers”, but Bob did anyways.
After the break up of the Wailers in 1974, Peter Tosh had decided to start his own solo career. During an interview he was asked, “What was the final straw for the Wailers breaking up, was it that tour in England?” Tosh had this to say, “Well was not a breakup you know...Is just going three different ways and sending the music in three different directions ... was just that my inspiration was growing and my cup filled and runneth over.”
After the break up he started to record under his own name, Peter Tosh. His first album was “Legalize it” in 1976. This album became the anthem for pro marijuana legalization and pot smokers all over the world. As Marley preached his "One Love" message, Tosh railed against the hypocritical "shitstem", and became a favorite target of the Jamaican police. Tosh loved to wear his scars that he had received from the beatings he endured from the police. Always taking the militant approach, he released Equal Rights in 1977. Tosh put together a band, which was named, “Word, Sound and Power”, who had accompaned him on tour for the next three years, and many of whom appeared on his albums of this period. His album Equal Rights was a huge step for Tosh in getting his messgae out to the world. He was dedicated to speading his message to all of the people. He thought that everyone was deserving of equal rights.
In 1978 Rolling Stones Records signed Tosh, and the album Bush Doctor was released, introducing Tosh to a larger audience. The single from the album, a cover of The Temptations song “Don't Look Back”, performed as a duet with Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, turned Tosh into one of the best known Reggae artists. Although this was a far cry from his start, playing with Bunny and Bob on the street corners of Trenchtown, but it was none the less a key part in making Tosh a key figure to the Jamaicans. Tosh, as the original guitarist for The Wailers, is considered as one of the originators of the choppy and syncopated Reggae guitar style that has continued to be used even today by many Reggae artists. When Mick Jagger was asked about his experience working with Tosh, Mick Jagger said, “Peter was an edgy guy and was frustrated a lot of the time," Jagger says. "Bob Marley got so big, and that probably annoyed him." The two performed the song together on Saturday Night Live. "I wore this ridiculous outfit," Jagger says, "a pink cap and lots of tape all over me. I don't know why — red sticky tape!" (Andy Greene)
That album had really showed how similar the music styles of Reggae and Rock n’ Roll are but how different the artists themselves actually were. Tosh had always had an interest in Rock n’ Roll and this was his chance to exploit other listeners, and show them what he was made of. When Rolling Stones Records came asking if Tosh wanted to team up with the Rollin Stones, Tosh knew this was his opportunity to get his name and message out to the entire world.
Many have believed that Rock n’ Roll help in fact shape the way Reggae was made, but Tosh doesn’t see eye to eye very well with anyone. During an interview with Tosh in August, 1983, Eric Olsen who was interviewing Tosh at the time had asked, “Is your Reggae influenced by Rock 'n' Roll?” Tosh responded, "Who influenced who, mon? Reggae influenced Rock n' Roll. Reggae is the king's music, played by kings, inspired by the King of Kings. Reggae has always been, seen?" (Eric Olsen ) Since Reggae and Rock n’ Roll were both evolving during the same time period I believe that they both helped shape each other.
While the two albums that Peter Tosh had written under the record deal with the Rolling Stones, have been considered to be Tosh’s “worst”, it could very best be the most important decision that he ever made in his life. “(You Gotta Walk And) Don’t look back”, is that song that had put Tosh on the global map. This song showed that not only was he a world famous musician, Reggae would soon be a prominent musical genre that would never fade away. December 16th 1976 is a day that Jamaicans citizens and Reggae musicians alike will never forget. Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger, two of the most famous icons from their respective genres, shared the staged as they performed on Saturday Night Live in New York City. With the entire world watching, and it being broadcasted on nation television, they had a magical jam session to “(You Gotta Walk And) Don’t look back”. Reggae was here to stay.
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