Tosh blazes the trail
Peter Tosh

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 41st of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

NOT many people in Jamaica dared to speak publicly about legalising ganja during the 1970s. An exception was Peter Tosh, the fiery singer-songwriter who defied conventional trends in 1976 with the release of Legalize It, his debut solo album for Columbia Records.

The title track is the only song on Legalize It that actually addresses the legalisation of ganja, but its daring jacket photo of Tosh sitting in a weed field in his native Westmoreland was provocative enough to draw attention.

American Lee Jaffe was Tosh's manager at the time and it was he who suggested Tosh take the 'high grade' photos. Jaffe took the photos, one of them capturing Tosh defiantly smoking a ganja pipe.

In a 2012 interview with the boomshots.com website Jaffe spoke about the concept and recording sessions for Legalize It, which took place at Randys and Treasure Isle studios in downtown Kingston.

The cover of Peter Tosh's 1976 album Legalize It.

"Peter was living in Spanish Town and we were all into recording the Legalize It album. The song had been recorded, we had done most of the overdubs — I think we had done just about everything except mixing — and we were working on a deal with Columbia but it was in the air and to me… in the US at the time, nobody grew herb. It didn't exist and nobody knew what it looked like. Herb was something that came in bricks or something like that," Jaffe recalled.

With Legalize It the controversial artiste touched on a topic close to his heart — 'freeing up the herb'. It was released in June 1976, two months after Rastaman Vibration, the acclaimed album by Bob Marley who was Tosh's former colleague in The Wailers.

Some of the musicians who played on Rastaman Vibration worked on Legalize It, including bassist Aston "Familyman" Barrett, drummer Carlton Barrett and guitarist Donald Kinsey.

Legalize It contained the ominous Burial, Brand New Second Hand, Ketchy Shuby and the haunting Igziabeher. Thirty-nine years after its release, the sputnik.com website saluted Tosh's riveting album.

"The album contains hardly any weak moments, making Legalize It practically a perfect example of a classic reggae album. The nine tracks that make the album are merely a combination of catchy and lively tracks, and a variety of ballads and slower tunes," read its review.

The following year Tosh released Equal Rights, another hard-hitting album, on Columbia Records. He was murdered at his Kingston home in September 1987 at age 42.

In 2015 Jamaica's legislators began taking steps to decriminalise ganja in the country.

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

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