No ordinary man
Herbie Miller recalls his Peter Tosh yearsSunday, October 17, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
For five years cultural historian and current director of the Jamaica Music Museum Herbie Miller served as the manager for reggae icon Peter Tosh.
Those years — 1976 to 1981 — provided Miller with a front-row seat and insight into the man who was often misunderstood, but undoubtedly a brilliant musician, humanitarian, and advocate for the legalisation of marijuana and equal rights and justice for all.
However, he is quick to point out that his admiration for Tosh began long before... as a fan.
“It began with me loving the music of The Wailers. The Wailers, for me, are the most fantastic group ever, in terms of their sound and the subject matter of their lyrics. Whether they were singing love songs, conscious lyrics, or rude bwoy tings, that sound is so distinctive; the best bar none. So I definitely started out as a fan,” Miller shared.
Later in life his path would cross with the three primary members of the group — Bunny Wailer, Bob Marley, and Tosh. His acquaintance with Tosh grew and as such he was asked to accompany him on the 'Legalize It' tour of the United States in 1976.
“I distinctly remember joining them in Miami as they started rehearsals and met two representatives from Columbia Records — Ted Cammon, who was the tour manager, and Bruce.... I can't remember his last name, but he was the tour accountant. They were so happy that I joined the tour party as they were now able to communicate with someone... and I would have been able to explain some of the cultural differences.
“That tour commenced at the University of Miami with Chuck Mangione also on the bill. We then moved on to the Beacon Theater in New York, the famous Harvard University, and other notable stops along the way,” Miller added.
He admitted that the music was indeed spectacular, but it was the measure of the man that has left an indelible mark and great memories 40 years after he stopped working with the artiste.
“There are so many moments and memories throughout my years on the road with Tosh that were not about the music. His unequivocal stance against apartheid. That no-nukes concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. Peter came on stage wearing a traditional Palestinian garment. It was a Palestinian holiday and Israel had just bombed Palestine. He was just unafraid. I remember seen him just sitting in his dressing room in Dallas [Texas] just taking with Stokely Carmichael about the struggle. Saw him backstage with Angela Davis. I was able to see the real Peter Tosh, who conveyed his socio-political messages through his music, sitting with those advocated of equal rights and justice. Those are some of the moments I will cherish.”
Miller refused to name a favourite Peter Tosh song. For him there is a song from the reggae singers catalogue to suit every particular situation in life. He noted that at any given time one is able to chose a song that perfectly addresses the situation that he is facing.
Tosh being often misunderstood made him, in Miller's eye, an easy target for the police and authorities.
“People don't like when people speak the truth forcefully. Peter was just that... and he wasn't about prettying up the truth either in order not to hurt people's feelings. For him the truth was simply that, the truth, and it had to be said. So he often criticised the police, who as we all know arrested him many times. He picked on politicians at home and abroad without apology. He was often ridiculed for his knowledge and beliefs in otherworldly spiritual practices... so he had his four-eye man and his bush doctor who he called on for advice. So we would be at the airport waiting for him and he would not show up as he was advised not to travel on that day. Many Jamaicans saw this as iniquity, but Peter often remarked they were the same ones who hid to go visit their obeahman. So he spoke out against that level of hypocrisy,” said Miller.
Tosh was murdered at his St Andrew home on September 11, 1987. Were he alive he would have celebrated his 77th birthday today.
Miller noted that, unfortunately, he did not live to see some of the issues for which he advocated come to pass.
“He wasn't here to see the end of apartheid in South Africa. This was the man who staged the protest march outside the British High Commission. He isn't around to see the legalisation of herb in some places. We know how much he pushed for this,” Miller shared.