Born Winston Hubert McIntosh, young Peter grew up in the Kingston, Jamaica slum of Trenchtown. Although his short-fuse temper usually kept him in trouble, earning him the nickname Stepping Razor, he began to sing and learn guitar at a young age, inspired by the American stations he could pick up on his radio.
In the early 1960s he met Bob Marley and Bunny Livingston through his guitar teacher, Joe Higgs. In 1962 the trio formed the Wailing Wailers with Junior Braithwaite and back-up singers Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith. The Wailing Wailers had a huge ska hit with their first single, "Simmer Down," and recorded several more successful singles before Braithwaite, Kelso and Smith left the band in late 1965. Marley spent much of 1966 in America with his mother, but he returned to Jamaica in early 1967 with a renewed interest in music and a new spirituality. McIntosh and Bunny followed his lead, and the three became heavily involved in the Rastafarian movement. Soon afterwards, they formed the Wailers.
Veering away from the up-tempo dance of ska, the band slowed down to a rock-steady pace, and infused their lyrics with political and social messages. The Wailers penned several songs for American singer Johnny Nash before teaming up with production wizard Lee Perry to record some of reggae's earliest hits including "Soul Rebel," "Duppy Conqueror" and "Small Axe." With the addition of bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett and his brother, drummer Carlton in 1970, the Wailers became Caribbean superstars. The band earned a record contract with Island and released their debut, Catch a Fire, in 1972; following it up with Burnin' the following year.
In 1973, McIntosh accidentally drove his car off a bridge, killing his girlfriend at the time and severely fracturing his own skull. He survived, but became even harder to deal with. After Island Records president Chris Blackwell refused to issue his solo album in 1974, the volatile McIntosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers citing the authoritarian control of the band by Bob Marley
McIntosh became bitter with his ex-bandmate, claiming that the only reason Marley was so successful was that his father was white. McIntosh began recording under the name Peter Tosh, and released his solo debut, Legalize It, in 1976 on CBS Records. The title track soon became an anthem for the marijuana movement and was a favorite at Tosh's concerts. As Marley preached his "One Love" message, Tosh railed against the hypocritical "shitstem," and became a favorite target of the Jamaican police. He proudly wore his scars that he had received from the beatings he endured. Always taking the militant approach, he released Equal Rights in 1977. His lyric "I don't want no peace, I want equal rights and justice!" would become a rallying cry for the world's downtrodden masses.
Bush Doctor (1978), Mystic Man (1979), and Wanted: Dread or Alive followed. Released on the Rolling Stones' personal label, Tosh tried to gain some mainstream success while keeping his militant views, but was largely unsuccessful, especially compared to Marley's achievements. After the release of 1983's Mama Africa, Tosh went into self-imposed exile, seeking the spiritual advice of traditional medicine men in Africa, and trying to free himself from recording agreements that distributed his records in South America.
Shortly after the release of his 1987 album, No Nuclear War, Tosh was murdered at his own home during a burglary. He died on September 11, 1987. Only one of the three men was caught. One of Tosh's personal friends was sentenced to hang following the murder trial.