There comes a time in the existence of many musical acts when the fame of one member eclipses that of the others. Before reggae broke internationally, that happened when Toots Hibbert got billing over The Maytals (becoming Toots and The Maytals). And it happened soon after with Bob Marley and The Wailers.
In Marley’s case, it represented a bigger change within the band. Fans who became acquainted with the band from its Island albums saw it staring them in the face. On Catch a Fire (1972), the group’s first Island LP, the act was “The Wailers,” which included Peter Tosh, composer and singer of two tracks.
That continued with Burnin’ (1973), the band’s exquisite follow-up. Once again, Tosh had songwriting credits and lead vocals on two songs (including “Get Up, Stand Up”). But Tosh took his leave after Burnin‘ (as did original Wailer Bunny Livingston). From that point on, the band was Bob Marley and The Wailers.
Peter Tosh left before Bob Marley and The Wailers’ ‘Natty Dread’ LP
When The Wailers signed with Chris Blackwell at Island Records in ’71, the band was going through a very rough patch. In brief, they were in London and out of money. Island was almost a last resort, and the signing changed the fortunes of Blackwell and the band members for good.
Almost immediately, Blackwell began highlighting the status of Marley as the band leader. That exacerbated tensions that already existed. Since Tosh and Marley got together with Livingston in the ’60s, the three had mostly operated as equals.
That clearly began to change in the Island era. For starters, Livingston refused to go on tour after the release of Catch a Fire. As for Tosh, he began to resent the spotlight going on Marley.
During a late ’73 tour of England to promote Burnin’, Marley and Tosh acted as co-leaders with Livingston resolved to stay in Jamaica. And by the end the two longtime bandmates and friends had parted ways for good.
Marley and Tosh got into a fistfight on the ‘Burnin” tour
With three powerful songwriters and vocalists in a band, it’s only a matter of time until someone becomes disgruntled. (See: George Harrison and The Beatles.) Livingston, who passed away in March ’21, was the first to go.
Tosh didn’t stick around much longer. During the ’73 tour of England that got cut short, the simmering resentment Tosh had for Marley turned physical. In Bob Marley (1985), Stephen Davis wrote that the two actually “came to blows.”
That final straw marked the end of an 11-year run of recording for Marley, Tosh, and Livingston. The three had landed hits in the ska, rocksteady, and reggae eras, and they mixed in soul-style vocal compositions (e.g., “I’m Still Waiting”) along the way.
But they grew to be very different men, which becomes more apparent when you listen to their records as leaders of their own bands. As for their recordings of 1962-73, the magic they created in the studio in those years eclipsed what each did as solo artists.
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