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The Day the Music Died in Kingston

Carlton "Santa" Davis | May 03, 2018
Courtesy of Santa Davis

Pioneering reggae drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis has worked with notable acts like Bob Marley & The Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, Big Youth, The Aggrovators, Soul Syndicate and Roots Radics, among others. He currently plays with Ziggy Marley.

The story that follows, chronicling one of the darkest moments in music history, is in Davis' own words as told to writer Larson Sutton.

On Sept. 11, 1987, I was at Peter Tosh’s house, lying on my stomach, with a gun pointed at my head. I thought I was going to die. At various times, and by various people, I’ve been asked about what happened that night. I have chosen to speak publicly about it only a few times. I understand people’s interest and their fascination. But, for me, it’s something I rarely want to remember and I know I will never forget.

Peter Tosh was my bandmate, my friend, a brother to me. There are people that have suggested things about the events of that night in September that are just not true. It is hurtful and sad to hear these false accounts. Six people, including me, were shot. Three, including Peter, were killed. I will tell what I remember about his death, but first, I want to talk about Peter’s life and my time with him.

I grew up in Kingston 13 in Jamaica, in Greenwich Town, but everyone called it Greenwich Farm. From the start, I was surrounded by music. Jamaica has always been a place for music— work, food, music.

People would get done with their shift, stop to pick up the latest single, and play it on their turntable immediately when they got home. Every bar had a jukebox playing. Every corner store or restaurant had music playing. In their spare time, folks would sit on their steps or street corners every day listening to calypso, ska, R&B, reggae—everything.

There was radio, but it was the sound system that ruled in Jamaica. On weekends, dance halls would open and men would bring in their speaker boxes and turntables. In the trees or on the roof, they would wire up steel-horn speakers. You could hear the music for miles. Sometime they would even put their systems on the beds of pickup trucks, driving around Kingston like mobile disc jockeys.