A Berry good cover
Musically, Peter Tosh and Chuck Berry were worlds apart. One was a reggae revolutionary, the other a rock and roll original.
They were both rebels.
In 1983, Tosh paid tribute to Berry who died last Saturday in his native Missouri at age 90. He covered the singer/guitarist’s 1958 rocker
Johnny B Goode for his Mama Africa album.
Guitarist Donald Kinsey was a member of Tosh’s Word, Sound and Power band. He recalled the genesis of Tosh’s version in a post on his website.
"Producer Chris Kimsey came up to me — we were staying at the same house — and he asked me what if Peter did a version of Johnny B Goode. When he first said it, I had to just think for a minute. I said, ‘Well, a lot of rock and roll groups have done a version of Johnny B Goode’, and they did it just like Chuck Berry did it. If Peter did it, there wouldn’t be nothing there that would remind you of the original Johnny B Goode, other than maybe some hot guitar licks.
Kinsey, who is from Gary, Indiana, had been in Word, Sound and Power since 1977. He was weaned on the blues and excited about doing a reggae take on Berry’s classic ode to a guitar hero.
Tosh was not.
"So I sit down and try to work out an arrangement. And it turned out we came up with a pretty nice little arrangement and presented this to Peter. For a long time, Peter didn’t want to do the song," said Kinsey. "For whatever reasons, he wasn’t into doing somebody else’s song. I don’t know what it was. There would be a lot of other Rastaman around that would just tell him that he don’t need to do somebody else’s song but I felt that the tune really had something in common with Peter."
The Kinsey arrangement called for some changes to suit Tosh’s roots.
"We changed a few of the lyrics around, like saying ‘deep down in Jamaica close to Mandeville, back up in the woods on top of the hill’, for it to really be Peter. Instead of being the leader of a rock and roll band, he’d have a reggae band. But, man, it was difficult. He did not want to do this song," said Kinsey.
He relented and Johnny B Goode, with a searing solo from Kinsey, turned out to be a Tosh show-stopper.
Peter Tosh was murdered at his St Andrew home in September 1987 at age 42.
Kinsey lives in Indiana. He reunited with Word, Sound And Power last October for a tribute concert marking the launch of the Peter Tosh Museum in St Andrew.