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POP BEAT / Duncan Strauss

December 03, 1987|Duncan Strauss

Before he was killed during a robbery of his home in Jamaica three months ago, Peter Tosh--a pioneering force in reggae since the '60s when he formed the Walters with Bunny (Wailer) Livingston and Bob Marley--had planned to embark on a world tour that would have begun in November.

There still is a Tosh tour in full swing, but now it's being done as a tribute to the late singer by the Jack Miller Band.

A former resident of Dana Point, Miller is a reggae recording artist in his own right; and the outfit backing Miller for the tribute tour--which includes a Dec. 10 date at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano--features two longtime Tosh colleagues: guitarist Tony Chin and bassist George (Fully) Fullwood.

Discussing the genesis of the tribute tour by phone from his home on the island of Hawaii, Miller said: "Fully and Tony, who've worked a lot with Peter, were planning on going out on that big world tour with him."

"And we all felt that since Peter wasn't here to get the music out, we should at least get the message to the people."

Miller described Tosh as "probably the most outspoken of all the reggae leaders." So "the message" he speaks of was invariably part of Tosh's music--and often quite aggressively phrased--from writing the classic "Get Up, Stand Up" while with the Wailers (he left the band in 1974); to the pro-marijuana anthem "Legalize It," through a number of blunt exhortations on his current album "No Nuclear War."

He gained broader exposure from rock audiences in 1978 when he recorded "Don't Look Back" as a duet with Mick Jagger, and again in 1983 when his loping version of "Johnny B. Goode" (and the corresponding video) earned considerable air play and eye play. Tosh also received a Grammy nomination in 1985 for best reggae recording for "Captured Live."

Tosh clearly recorded a great deal of music over the course of a lengthy career. And Miller promises that fans of Tosh, and of reggae in general, will leave next week's show satiated:

"Yeah, (the audience is) going to get a full evening. We've been doing three sets and then an encore. . . . We've been playing over three hours of music every night.

"What we do is a couple of sets of originals and a mixture of (covers)--we do some of Bob Marley's tunes, some Jimmy Cliff, some Black Uhuru. But it's predominantly originals for the first two sets," explained Miller, a singer-songwriter-keyboardist who has released three albums.

"And then the last set is the tribute set, where we really come on strong with Peter's music. We're trying to cover almost all of his career, from the very latest album all the way back to the earliest days. We're trying to make it all-inclusive, sort of cover his history."

Miller's own history as a recording artist doesn't go as far back--he put out his first album, "Rockers Rising" in 1978--but he's certainly planning to extend his future with the release of his fourth LP, "Reggae Preacher."

Miller, 39, hopes the album will hit the stores early in 1988, depending on such variables as how long it takes to edit the "Preacher" music video and to finalize a distribution deal for the record.

The exquisite title track--a sprightly piece with bouncy keyboard fills, smooth sax bursts, darting lead-guitar lines and all kinds of vocal crossfire riding atop a sinewy, slithering rhythm--bodes well for "Reggae Preacher" to be Miller's most inspired work yet.

And that would be a fairly impressive feat, considering that years ago the premier reggae riddim team of Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, who played on Miller's first two records, labeled him "The Great White Reggae Hope."

Overall, though, he's remained a fairly well-kept secret--a situation he's hoping to change with "Preacher," as well as a pair of possible projects: a compilation album or CD of his past and present music, and a live album culled from shows recorded during this Tosh tribute tour.

If the live LP comes together, Miller speculates it will capture a stellar band playing at the height of its powers. (In addition to Chin and Fullwood, the Orange County-based group--which works separately as the International Reggae All-Stars--includes lead guitarist Peter Dobson and drummer Larry Dent).

"It's a real lean, tough band, and it's a joy to work with," Miller enthused. "You know, sometimes when you get about seven or eight people in there, there's a tendency for people to have to hold back --to leave space for everybody.

"But this band just works so nice it really can get the house 'up.' It syncs together nice and it's got the elements of a band that really rocks ."

The Jack Miller Reggae Band will present its tribute to Peter Tosh at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $10. Information: (714) 496-8930.

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