A decade after the release of a film called “Steppin’ Razor: Red X” and one year after Jamaica honored Peter Tosh with the nation’s third highest award – the order of merit – his very first biography has been published.
Written by reputed British journalist John Masouri, this long-awaited 486-page turner is entitled “Steppin’ Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh.”
The book distils rumors about Jamaica’s most controversial reggae star and spills truisms about the rude boy, founding member of reggae’s most prolific trio — the Wailers and offers a compelling profile of the recording artist who has been too-long overlooked and ignored by authors.
Tosh is the acclaimed Mystic Man, Medicine Man, who is known as the Steppin’ Razor.
He was also acclaimed as Red X – allegedly because he owned tape-recorded diaries which he called the Red X Tapes. The name reportedly also refers to the red X that Tosh often found next to the signature line on documents he was required to sign.
Tosh was a Rastafarian and African nationalist whose mantra was the legalization of marijuana. Some claimed like Malcolm X, Tosh’s Pan-African advocacy and uncompromising political stance earned him a parallel tag that branded him the Caribbean alternative to Malcolm’s militancy and Jamaica’s Red X.
Second only to Bob Marley among reggae audiences worldwide, Tosh died six years after Marley when gunmen stormed his Kingston home and killed him at age 42.
It was rumored that the men were assassinators whose mission was to end the life of the Mystic Man, alleged to be involved in beliefs of the occult and supernatural undertakings and also a participant in Kingston’s criminal underworld.
Another theory was that Tosh had to be permanently silenced after expressing a strong desire to buy and broadcast a 24-hour, radio station dedicated to Rasta/reggae philosophies.
Still a third premise was that Tosh had become very vocal about his anti-colonial stance, rich and was a prime target for robbery.
That he was uneasy about police brutality, racial injustice and perceived Black empowerment direction probably perplexed more than a few power-brokers.
It was widely speculated that his enemies had him assassinated.
The book bases much of its claim on hundreds of interviews with those who knew the Mystic Man. His collaborator and the only living Wailer, Bunny “Wailer” Livingstone contributes valuable details.
Set against a backdrop of 70s Jamaica, stories abound about the genesis of hits such as “Legalize It,” “Equal Rights,” “Get Up Stand Up” and “Johnny B. Goode.”
Tracing his recording career, his encounters with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker are also detailed. The book would be incomplete without documents on his volatile relationships with Bob Marley and producer Lee Scratch Perry.
The author recently spoke about why the project took him longer than planned.
“I actually did walk away from it for a year after it became clear that the Peter Tosh Estate weren’t interested in being involved. I’d had my heart set on writing an authorized biography, and it took time for me to readjust and finish the book without them.”
When asked about the disparity with publications of Tosh and Marley, Masouri explained — “It’s not just Peter Tosh. We should be asking why there are no major biographies of other reggae artistes too. In my own experience, publishers are reluctant to venture beyond books on Bob Marley and historical overviews. The majority still don’t believe in the power of this music to attract an international fan base, or feel the need to promote the few books that do make it onto the shelves of major retailers.”
“The question I’ve been most asked since starting work on the book is ‘Why isn’t Peter Tosh remembered to the same extent as Bob Marley?’ He and Bob’s lives were so intertwined for the first 10 years of the Wailers but even after the group split, Peter was constantly having to field questions about Marley and fend off comparisons.”
Masouri is also the author of “Wailing Blues: The Story of Bob Marley’s Wailers” and co-author of “The Guinness Book of Reggae” and “The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae.”
Catch You On The Inside!