The Money Behind ‘Legalize It’

The following article about a new Lee Jaffe book was published in Barbados Nation five days ago.  Jaffe played an instrumental role in Bob Marley and the Wailers from 1973-1975, even playing on several well-known hits (“3 O’ Clock Road Block” and “Talkin’ Blues”) and performing live with the band on the 1973 and 1975 tours.  His impact on the sound and vibe of the group from 1973-1975 is undeniable.  Imagine “3 O’ Clock Road Block” and “Talkin’ Blues” without his trademark harmonica and you will clearly take note.

He stayed involved in the Jamaican music scene through his friendship with Peter Tosh and even co-produced and help finance Peter Tosh’s Legalize It, which in my opinion is the greatest reggae album ever recorded.  He also shot the iconic cover shot.

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He is a friend of this website and he has even contributed photos and memorabilia for some of our best posts (Bob Marley and the Wailers: NYC 1975 and Bob Marley at Cane River Falls and The Wailers Live at Max’s Kansas City, NYC, 1973.

Barbados Nation
June 23, 2014

Peter Tosh never hid his love for ganja. He wrote several songs about its spiritual powers and was a passionate advocate for its legalisation. But was the ‘Stepping Razor’ part of an illegal ganja trade that reportedly thrived in Jamaica during the 1970s?

A book co-written by American Lee Jaffe, his former associate, says Tosh was part of a 1976 smuggling operation that raised money to fund his groundbreaking album Legalize It.

Jaffe and French university lecturer Dr Jeremie Kroubo Dagnini co-wrote Bob Marley & The Wailers: 1973-1976, an extension of One Love: Life with Bob Marley and the Wailers, a 2003 book Jaffe co-authored with Roger Steffens, widely considered the authority on Marley and The Wailers.

Released last year, the book is written in French and was released by Camion Blanc, a small French publisher.

In it, Jaffe claims Tosh was short on cash to record Legalize It and shopping for a record label after splitting with Marley and the Wailers band in late 1973.

Jaffe says Tosh got US$1 000 from Marley, which was enough to record three songs. The rest, he claims, came from a one-off ganja operation.

“I was trying to make a record and we were broke, so that wasn’t like some genius idea. I had already sold herb in the US, I had friends in the business, that’s what they were doing, my best friends from school and people in Jamaica,” Jaffe says in the book. “Weed brings the foreign currency on the island, man. And in the world I was living in Jamaica, herb was not a bad thing,” he added.

“It wasn’t seen as dope and it was supporting the farmer, the community, the Rastas, so this was not dealing drugs. This was a noble endeavour. Ok.”

Jaffe says Tosh gave the operation, which originated in Jamaica, his blessing. He (Jaffe) and a pilot flew to Miami with hundreds of pounds of ganja aboard a DC-3 craft to Miami where it was sold.

“We flew beneath the radar, 100 feet above the water. With the sun going down, the world couldn’t be more beautiful. We avoided flyin’ over Cuba. Fidel would have shot our . . . out of the sky,” Jaffe related.

He said the shipment raised US$75 000, more than enough to complete Legalize It, which was released in 1976 by Columbia Records.

The Sunday Observer tried to contact Jaffe by e-mail, but there was no response.

Tosh, disc jockey Jeff ‘Free I’ Dixon and Doc Brown were killed by gunmen at his St Andrew home in September 1987. He was 42 years old.

Born in New York City, Jaffe says he first met Marley there in 1973. The singer/songwriter, then a member of the Wailers, invited him to Jamaica.

Jaffe accepted and became a member of the band’s inner circle for the next three years. He played harmonica on Natty Dread, Marley’s 1974 album.

Dagnini, 37, was born in Reims, France to a West African father and French mother. A lecturer in British and post-colonial studies at the University of Orleans, he has written two books on the history of Jamaican music.

Tosh recorded two outstanding albums for Columbia, the other being Equal Rights. Oscar-winning British film-maker, Kevin MacDonald, is producing a Tosh bio-pic.

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