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"I never liked to work because I don't want no one to be a slave. I want to be worked in my mind. Every thing that's going on, there's some big spirit behind me who send me to do the thing that I must do." --> Lee "Scratch" Perry (Barrow, Katz, and Wyatt 5)
"I'm a miracle man, things happen which I don't plan, I've never planned anything. Whatsoever I do, I want it to be an instant action object, instant reaction subject. Instant input, instant output." --> Scratch (Davis and Simon 134)
Yes, Scratch definitely is a miracle man. These two quotes give some insight into the way that Perry operates, and some explanation as to why he was capable of innovating so many different sounds, and producing such incredible amounts of music. When speaking of Reggae music, one cannot leave out the name Lee Perry. He has made vital contributions to the music in just about every genera since the early 60's. Scratch's musical, mystical, and eccentric genius is the force and the spirit that lies behind all of his music. Perry never attained huge popularity when he was producing the most music, but he was always the brain behind it all, continually coming up with a fresh sound that had never been heard before and delighted the ears of anyone who could recognize good Reggae.
To fully understand Lee Perry a description of his character is needed. Scratch's real name is Rainford Hugh Perry. He is also known as Lee, Little, King, Scratch, The Upsetter, Pipecock Jackson, Super Ape, Ringo, Emmanuel, The Rockstone, Small Axe, and dozens of others. He was born on March 20, 1936 in Kendall Jamaica. He is now 62 and resides in Zurich, Switzerland. Perry is a small man who stands around 5'4", but has a huge presence. His personality is completely eccentric, some would even say Perry is as crazy as a bottle of potato chips (which is pretty crazy if you think about it for a moment), and others would say it is just a clever disguise put on by a completely sane genius. Ever since his mental breakdown in 1979 his behavior has been totally loony. Journalists have found Perry at his Black Ark after he burned it in 1979, worshipping bananas, eating money, and baptizing visitors with a garden hose. In 1981, when he tried to resurrect his Black Ark studio he set up all of the equipment, then cut all of the wires and dug a duck pond in the studio instead. After 3 weeks and no ducks, Perry cast spells on all that were involved and took off (Sleeper 5).
Scratch is always busy working on something. Ideas are always flashing into his mind, and he never sits still; leave him in a room and cryptic writings, drawings, and scribbles will cover every surface (Markert). All of these examples point to the fact that Scratch certainly may be raving, barking mad, but as folks like Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent Van Gogh have demonstrated, lunacy is not always an impediment to artistic greatness.
Scratch is undoubtedly a musical genius, and his 40 years of the most innovative musical productions are there to prove it. A lot of the knowledge gained about the Upsetter is through interviews. In these interviews one can start to understand what the man is like. First of all, he insists that he will not do and interview, he says that he will only do an "outerview". When questioned, Perry usually answers in sweeping, and often confusing parables that can test the patience of even the most sympathetic journalist. Perry will frequently rhyme his responses or break into song or laughter. He will randomly thunder Old-Testament style threats and pronouncements whenever he feels necessary (Green # 2). When analyzed, though, the quotes and writings of Scratch actually have a lot more meaning than one would assume. He seems very silly and isn't usually taken too seriously, but what he is sometimes saying can actually be very deep. It his personal religion that he is constantly getting across to people. It is either that, or maybe he really is an alien, who is here from outer space to teach the universe (as he claims) (Davis and Simon 133). After understanding the man, I would say that if anyone was an alien, it is he. Is he crazy, or is he a serious genius? This is a constant debate among Reggaeologists and others. It takes a good understanding of the man, to figure it out, but most who really know him will attest that he certainly is a genius, at the least a musical genius. Scratch's genius with music can be traced to his basic understandings of it.
The early part of Perry's life shows how he gets into music, and where he found his feel for the music. As a youth of the age of 15, Perry left school to find his own peculiar path of non-conformity. He started playing dominoes, and learned to read the minds of others. This he found incredibly useful in the future. Scratch started going to dancehalls a lot as a youth, and he claims that he became the "dance champion". With these experiences he first starts getting into the music:
"The Neat Little Thing they call me, the Neat Little Man. From there I start to go into the music, and start to have the love for the dance music that can make me do funny things. Those days things were really nice, boogie woogie and blues, and jazz and all them things, but we would like the wild type of dancing, roots music" (Barrow, Katz, and Wyatt 6).
In Negril Perry got a job shoveling stones at a construction site. He started throwing the stones at each other so that they would clash and make a noise. "When the stones clash, I hear like the thunder clash, and I hear lightning flash, and I hear words, and I don't know where the words where them coming from. These words send me to Kingston" (Barrow, Katz, and Wyatt 6). These experiences are what seem to give the background of his feel for music. He loves music that makes you dance, and natural sounds. Besides rocks clashing, Perry likes the noises of the ocean, of air, of thunder, and any other sound of nature. He actually incorporates these sounds into his productions. When asked recently who has taught him most about music, he simply answered "The earth, the air, the water, and the fire" (Markert). One can see how Perry feels the music, which leads to an excellent ear, and excellent productions.
Perry got his first job with the pioneering record producer Clement "Coxsone" Dodd at Studio One. He was a gopher, bouncer, spy, talent scout, unaccredited songwriter, and eventually performer. One of the best talents that he scouted out was Toots and the Maytals, who he brought to Dodd's attention. He started cutting his first records in the early 60's, and his first hit was "Chicken Scratch" in 1965. This is an innovative Ska album, and The Skatalites, the early Wailers, and The Soulettes (with Rita Marley) are all part of the album. It is still fresh to this day, and gave him his most enduring nickname. In 1966, Scratch left Studio One because Dodd wasn't giving him enough money, recognition, or chicks. Then, he went to Joe Gibbs, and cut his first signature tune, the sinister "I Am The Upsetter", as a warning to Coxsone and anyone else who might try to screw him. In 1967, Gibbs hired Perry to run his new Amalgamated label for him. Perry produced a string of hits including The Pioneers' "Long Shot", which was the first song to use a new rhythm in Jamaican music - it didn't have a name at the time, but a year later The Maytals christened the beat "Reggae". "Long Shot" and other Perry works from this time is therefore evidence for those who claim that he actually invented Reggae (Sleeper 2).
Gibbs wanted a "silent" partner, so Perry split furiously. In a collaboration with Lynford Anderson, Scratch released "People Funny Boy", which was another "screw you" song aimed straight at Gibbs' head. This album is the one in which people recognize Scratch for producing the new Reggae sound. It is one of the 4 albums that people argue started Reggae (Sleeper 2). With this album, Scratch started experimenting more using sounds such as baby cries in the track. Perry's experimentation and mixing anticipates the greater role of the recording engineer in the future. At this point in his career, Perry first got to produce music using his creative skills. He started the new rhythm called Reggae, and even started experimenting with the tracks and sound effects (Barrow and Dalton 83).
The Upsetters (Perry's studio band) were essential for Perry's most innovative work in the 70's. They also did almost all of the music for Lee Perry productions. The Upsetters started in 1968 when Scratch decided he was fed up with other producers and he hired the best musicians he could find to get the sound he wanted. The band was formerly known as The Hippy Boys: Aston "Family Man" Barrett on bass, brother Carlton playing drums, guitarist Alva Lewis, Glen Adams on keyboards, and Max Romeo on vocals. The band decided to join Perry because he was 'bad ass', and they became Perry's studio band, named The Upsetters after Perry's current nickname, and record label (Sleeper 2). The band had heard Perry's new sound in "People Funny Boy", and "they we're ready to play that kinky, funny type of idea that I had" - as Scratch would put it (Barrow, Katz, and Wyatt 9). The former Hippy Boys had recorded for some smaller producers before, but Scratch brought out something in them that was in the 'dread' mood, which is slow and edgy with a feeling of threat, and anger. This type of music was perfect for Scratch's two major acts at the time, Junior Byles and The Wailers, whose songs had tough, spiritual, black self-determination themes.
The Upsetters cut many instrumentals, which were released under The Upsetters themselves (Barrow and Dalton 121). The Upsetters used to hang out with Perry all day in Kingston, and see spaghetti westerns before heading back to the studio for an all night session. This inspired many violent, spooky instrumentals like "Kill Them All", "The Vampire", "Dig Your Grave", and what became their signature tune, "Return of Django". In 1969 "Django" became a top ten hit in England, and Perry took the Upsetters on a 6-week tour on its strength - a first for a Reggae band. They were a sensation everywhere that they played. Once the Upsetters returned from Britain, they were rather pissed off with Perry, who - ironically, given his past dealings with Coxsone and Gibbs - apparently had taken the lion's share of the cash from the tour. In 1973, after working with Perry for years, the Wailers left and The Upsetters joined them to go off and become Reggae superstars. The Upsetters went their separate ways, but Perry kept the name to refer to the "floating band of killer musicians" that played for him over the next few years (Sleeper 2).
"In America and England, Bob (Marley) heard the funny sound that I had. He come back to Jamaica and say 'Scratch, you have a sound, and honestly I really want to work with you'. I say, 'I don't really want to work with no singer at the moment', because I was just making instrumental. ...When I look I see that someone really sent him, because he need help somewhere. I say 'let me hear the songs you have to sing,' he start to sing this 'My cup is overflowing, I don't know what to do'." ---- Lee Perry (Barrow, Katz, and Wyatt 10)
Bob Marley saw that The Upsetters were so popular overseas, and he loved the new sounds that young producers like Perry were making. Marley also felt that The Wailers and The Upsetters would be an unstoppable combo. After a few jam sessions, Marley talked The Upsetters into abandoning Perry's ship and joining The Wailers. Perry found out, and he was ready to kill Bob. They met one day to have it out, and everyone thought someone's head would end up broken, but instead they appeared hours later, all smiles and slapping backs. This started off Marley and Perry's love/hate relationship, which comes up again later in the history of their association. The Upsetters were joining the Wailers, but their exclusive producer was to be of course - Lee Perry (Sleeper 2,3).
Perry recognized that Marley, Tosh, and Livingstone would need a self contained band in order to court success abroad. In addition, Scratch recognized that Reggae was mutating in the face of influences such as Rastafarianism. Bass had never been a large part of Jamaican music, but Perry axed the horns and pianos that dominated ska, and made the seismic shift to bass. Using Aston "Family Man" Barrett's incredible bass skills, Perry had slow, sinister lines pumping into the new form of music. This change in the music was spectacular, and lastingly influential. To this day, ominous bass lines are Reggae's hallmark - and Barrett's were the first and the finest. Barrett puts it simply: "Everything started out right at Lee Perry's table" (Green # 1).
Perry pounded his fist in the studio and turned the two bands into killers. Perry worked The Wailers into a heavily rock-slanted unit that typified the best in early Reggae exploration. He urged Bob to tighten up his lazy singing, and Bob's lead suddenly became compelling and mournful. Bob's vocals were unhindered by the silly, high-pitched gymnastics that had sometimes spoiled the Wailers' ska and rock steady 45s. Perry also advised the group to minimize their worn-out falsetto harmonies and work on unobtrusive backing vocals that would serve as a cushion for sharp, assertive leads. Peter had a wondering baritone he'd long tried to discipline and both Bob's and Bunny's tenors were fluid but erratic and sloppy. It didn't matter, Perry told them. The important thing was to be genuine and go for the gut. Perry wasn't obsessed with horns like so many other producers; he preferred a flinty rhythm guitar that was cuffed in sharp stabs and wounds around the bass line, which he allowed to belly up to the surface. The tempo of this music was thud-heavy, volatile, insistent as a nagging child. "Dis is how reggae should sound!" Lee Perry insisted (Islandlife).
Bob respected Scratch as a musical genius; he was awed by the "street suss" through which this non-musician heard musical possibilities that would escape a trained player. Scratch and Marley certainly had a chemistry in the studio, and Scratch managed to get things out of Bob in a jovial way. After several sessions, enough material was recorded for two albums. These albums were psychedelic reggae. This is due to the new strange, heavy sound that Scratch wanted, and because at the time Bob was greatly influenced by Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. The two albums produced were Soul Rebel and Soul Revolution. The chemistry between Perry, Marley, The Wailers, and The Upsetters proved to be phenomenal. The music that was produced changed the course of reggae, and laid the foundation for Marley's subsequent success. Many of the songs were re recorded later in Marley's career, but the magic of the Perry sessions has never been surpassed. Definitive singles emerged from the LPs that set the future course of reggae, including "Duppy Conqueror," "Mr. Brown," "Kaya," and "Small Axe" (Islandlife).
The Wailers/Upsetters had a lot of success from 69 to 71, but Marley and Perry shared a love/hate relationship that would have an ugly end. There were many fights over chart success and credit, and The Wailers signed with Island in 1973. The Marley and Perry families were in a cold war up until Bob's death in 1981 because Perry took all of the money from bootlegs of their popular collaborations. This was a very greedy and hypocritical move by Scratch considering the alleged robbery that other producers had subjected him to (Sleeper 3). Perry did not keep hard feelings about Bob at all after their problems. He actually loved and respected him very much.
"I and him quarrel because there are certain things between me and Bob that no one can understand. In Jamaica, professionally and musically we are blood brothers so there's nothing he can do wrong for me. You see I believe in originality and Bob is an original" (Chang and Chen 167).
"Dub music, that stripped-down, permutated instrumental sound that began in Jamaica in the sixties, has arguably gone on to be THE most influential phenomenon in all of pop music in the latter half of the 20th Century" (Wendt). Lee Perry was the world's second greatest dub pioneer after King Tubby (Osbourne Ruddock). The Upsetters "Blackboard Jungle Dub" (1973) is one of three albums (previously dubs, or versions, were just found on B-sides of regular albums) that is argued to have been the first dub album to hit the streets. Perry collaborated with King Tubby on this album, and the combination of the two masters produced the most definitive dub album known. This album was Perry's first, but amazingly is his strongest to date. To judge which dub master, Perry or Tubby, did more for the musical form is hard to say. The issue is that all Tubby did was engineer dub instrumentals, but Perry was also doing regular reggae production. Tubby's entire focus was on dub, and Perry's was on everything. This is the main reason why Tubby contributed more than Scratch to dub music. Scratch would put their relationship this way: "Tubby come to meet me, 'cause him was looking for adventure. He was brilliant. I thought he was my student, maybe he thought I was his student, but it makes no matter. I'm not jealous" (Barrow, Katz, and Wyatt 204). More than any other producer, Lee Perry defined the parameters of Dub, a sound made up of light and space, of minimal rhythms and overloaded reverb, a music in which the producer's console desk is the creative instrument, where deconstruction is the means and the end (O'Hagan T12).
What Lee Scratch Perry is most well known for is his work done at his Black Ark studio. This studio was Perry's own, and was part of his house. This gave him the power to experiment and lay down "the Ten Commandments of reggae", as he would put it. The Black Ark was completed in 1974 at his home in Washington Gardens, a posh Kingston suburb. Now that Perry was in command of his own studio, he began to expand on many of the musical experiments he had introduced to Jamaican music while working with other producers. Twenty years before the term "alternative music" came up, Perry shot pistols, broke glass, ran tapes backward, blew ganja into the tracks, and used samples of crying babies, falling rain, and animal sounds. Dub, which was pioneered by King Tubby, became a trademark of the Black Ark and had Perry playing the mixing board like an instrument. Perry was a master of this art; he probably had the quickest hands of any dubmaster known. Using basic equipment, Perry was able to take four tracks and make them sound like 16 or more by dumping several tracks onto one, then repeating the process. At the time, no one could figure out how he did it. Scratch put it this way: "It was only four tracks written on the machine, but I was picking up 20 from the extra terrestrial squad. I am the dub shepherd." With less than state of the art technology, Perry managed to pull up a bag of tricks that many producers still puzzle over today (Sleeper 3).
On the video "Roots, Rock, Reggae" there is a 5 minute part that shows the Upsetter in full effect in his Black Ark, with the Heptones singing along. Scratch is surrounded by studio equipment, and he is continually adjusting the sound and tweaking the knobs of the mixer. He seems really in to the music, and he is always clapping his hands and dancing. The process that Scratch goes through to make his music was explained. He first starts with drum and bass, the basic rhythm. He than balances the instruments, and when it sounds just right, The Upsetters then lay down the music. Whatever singer or singing group that is at the session begins to sing, and Scratch records it. In all of his music, a rough-edged sound is made. Scratch always knows exactly what he wants to do while producing, he is constantly ordering people around and adjusting his equipment (Roots, Rock, Reggae). The magic of the Black Ark attracted Jamaica's best performers, and many 'newbies'. The atmosphere in the Ark was a nonstop party of musicians and others smoking ganja, drinking rum, and just having fun.
Classic, ganja soaked, dub-drenched albums from Max Romeo (War In A Babylon), The Upsetters (Super Ape), Junior Murvin (Police and Thieves), The Heptones (Party Time), and The Congos (Heart of The Congos), along with hundreds of singles flowed form the Black Ark between 1976 and 1979 (Sleeper 4). Anyone with a sense for experimental rock and ambient music, where the studio is used as an instrument would recognize the dense 'underwater' ambience of Black Ark productions. On the dub side of things, Perry began pushing the music to the limit, creating harsh and startling aural environments where fragments of sound leapt out of the mix at the listener in new, unpredictable ways. A great example of this sound is The Upsetters "Super Ape" album, which is packed with such vast amounts of different noises, so that most reggae critics call the album "over-dubbed" for Perry's style. The Ark was slowly gaining attention as a focus of dread creativity. The studio was gradually becoming associated with the heaviest, most dread, and most adventurous music being created in Jamaica (Barrow, Katz, and Wyatt 15). The Black Ark years (1974 1979) was an extremely prolific time for Perry. Three days after a session was recorded, the single would hit the streets. Scratch managed to do this mostly by stockpiling rhythms so that when a singer came in with a tune, he would come up with the right beat immediately (Barrow, Katz, and Wyatt 20). Often, someone would be outside of the studio playing guitar and chanting, and Scratch would be tuning into him, without the musician even knowing it. He would find the right rhythm track, and tell the musician to come in and do it (Rough Guide 165-168).
Perry's sound was becoming internationally famous in the late seventies. In 1975 he had secured a worldwide distribution deal with Island Records, and his productions had attracted the attention of white rockers such as Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer, and The Clash. With the world beating a path to his door, the Black Ark soon reached a boiling point and a point of no return for Perry (Sleeper 4).
One morning in 1979, Perry set fire to the Black Ark and burned it to the ground. On the same day, Scratch shot himself in the foot. His wife Pauline had left him and taken the kids apparently tired of dealing with Perry's second marriage to his music. This separation, combined with the alcohol and ganja fueled 18 hour recording sessions he had been doing for years, had pushed Perry over the edge (Sleeper 4). His explanation of his emotions that day sounded quite strange:
"I woke up that morning with turmoil in my heart, and went to the studio. I love kids' rubber balls - they are air-trapped. I had one favorite from America on the mixing desk. Someone had taken it when I got to the studio, so I destroyed the studio. Burnt it down. Over" (O'Hagan T12).
His torching of the Ark was an attempt to (literally) burn all of the bridges of the past behind him. Perry resented being cast in the shadows of artists that he had put on the map in the first place. He had created a dread studio, and he felt that he wasn't a dread. He suffered a mental breakdown and began his now famous eccentric behavior including covering every surface of the ruins of the Black Ark with cryptic graffiti and small crosses (Sleeper 4).
During the early 80's Perry musical career was very weak, of the productions that he did make, they were mostly erratic records of little consequence. This rut that Scratch got in was probably the consequence of his breakdown. In 1986 Perry started coming back. The album "Battle of Armagideon" on Trojan was recorded while Perry sipped a mix of blackcurrant juice & Gasoline and wore an electric heater on his head. The album was halfway decent (as compared to the absurd album "History, Mystery, and Prophesy" of 1984), and reflected his current situation: after years of slumber the Upsetter was slowly coming back. A much stronger come back was Perry's collaboration with Adrian Sherwood and his house band The Dub Syndicate, who were in many ways a modern version of The Upsetters. They produced the great "Time Boom X De Devil Dead" which was a digital throwback to Perry's glory days at the Black Ark. In 1989, Perry re-located to Switzerland with his new bride, Mireille Ruegg, a shrewd Zurich businesswoman who became Perry's manager. That year, Scratch was reunited with his old mentor/nemesis Clement Coxone Dodd, and produced 2 albums. Also during 1989, Scratch reunited with Adrian Sherwood again and Island records. Perry's second monumental album of the decade, "From the Secret Laboratory" was the result of the reunion, and it turned out to be the Upsetter's best work since the Black Ark days. Perry has also done several excellent collaborations with the U.K's Mad Professor (Neil Fraser) (Sleeper 5). These albums are all exceptional, and have pushed dub even further into outer space, the depths of the vast ocean (reflecting the sound of the muffled, deep bass), or any other unknown territories. Along with dub, at this time Perry has also been experimenting a lot with techno, trance, drum and bass, and jungle. These forms of studio music would have never been around without the techniques that dub pioneers like Tubby and Perry came up with. Clearly, Scratch's lust for music makes it easy for him to produce these digital music forms very easily.
In April of 1997, Perry surprised everyone by playing two delirious, sold out gigs in San Francisco, which were his first American shows in 10 year. Later in June he played the role of elder statesman at the alternative Free Tibet concerts in New York (Sleeper 5). Scratch also toured in many other parts of the country after the San Francisco show. Those who have seen the shows say that it is just really weird. This past Halloween Scratch played at the Wetlands club in New York City. The Robotiks band did a very good job with the music, and The Mad Professor was working the mixing board. Even long time Perry fans were very confused:
"His songs are cagey cranky rants; they're full of advice, messianic pronouncements, come-ons and doggerel, with lucid nuggets surrounded by malarkey. Mr. Perry was dressed like an Afro-Caribbean deity figure. He wore a mirrored headband, earrings, rings on all ten fingers, golden bracelets and a T-shirt with a space alien on it, captioned 'Take me to your dealer'. He held a small plastic gorilla in the crook of his arm, suggesting his album 'Super Ape', and along with a microphone he held a bicycle horn honking it every so often."
The performance was actually very good, and kept the club dancing until 3 A.M" (Pareles F11).
Perry will be touring again in the future, and there will be another show at the Wetlands in May. Surely, the author of this paper will be present. This incredible amount of recognition that The Upsetter is now getting points to the fact that now in the late 90's the Reggae world is witnessing a Lee Perry renaissance as a new wave of fans embraces the Upsetter's music. This was started off mainly due to the Beastie Boys' excellent Grand Royal retrospective of Scratch in 1996. The record companies weren't slow to react to public interest and in 1997 Island released "Arkology", a Black Ark anthology with 3 CDs, 52 tracks, and a 52 page booklet (Sleeper 5). This collection allows the listener to hear the Upsetters genius at a creative apex. It stands as a monument to the man, an irrefutable mark of genius. Overall, Perry is now getting the credit that he deserves, and people recognize that.
Throughout his career, Perry was always changing and mutating the face of Reggae music. In the beginning of Scratch's career there was ska, in which he contributed the classic "Chicken Scratch". This album collaborated the early Wailers, The Skatalites, and even Rita Marley's Soulettes. The sound to this day is fresh, and even if Perry ended his career then, he would still be an important part of the story of Jamaican music. In the production of The Pioneers "Long Shot" single is the dawn of the new beat, which would later be named Reggae. Clearly, this single change is huge; it marked the switch from rocksteady to Reggae. The next drastic change in Jamaican music is the rise of Rastafarianism as an influence to Reggae. Scratch saw this upcoming change in the music, and he sensed how the music should sound according to the current emotions of people. With the Hippy Boys (especially Aston "Family Man" Barrett the bassist) Perry started the sound of the 'dread' mood. Before, most rhythms were basically happy, light-hearted, and focused on the higher notes of music. The 'dread' sound that Perry sensed was radically different; it had lots of droning, heavy bass, and a slowed tempo with a bass drum and snare beat on the third beat (usually called 'one drop'). The vocals were filled with emotion, anger, and black self-determination. The instrumentals and vocals reflected the condition of the Rastafarians perfectly. This sound is probably the most significant and long lasting of all that Scratch innovated.
Bob Marley and The Wailers clearly have done the most to bring fame, popularity, international recognition, and political awareness to Jamaican music. They were actually not fully behind the new sound of the music, and their singing. Perry understood the potential of the group, and he managed to literally 'tune' their singing to the sound of the hardest hitting, emotion invoking vocals, that we hear in The Wailer's greatest works. Another way to put this is that Perry laid the blueprint for all subsequent Bob Marley and other Wailers' music. Perry's next musical adventure is Dub. Dub basically is a compilation of experimental studio techniques to bring out the 'vision' of the producer or studio engineer. Perry certainly had the vision, and he had the skilled techniques needed to go with it. On top of that, Scratch was always experimenting with new sounds and techniques. The result: a sound that really lies in a genera of its own, and is infinitely fresh to any music lover's ears. So where would Jamaican music be without Lee Perry? Who knows? What we do know is that in the realm of Jamaican music, Perry is the spirit who forced the evolution of the music with his knack for huge risk taking, and with the vision that guided his actions throughout his huge body of work. Perhaps this is the reason why Perry's picture is central on the cover of the definitive guide to Jamaican music "Reggae: The Rough Guide".
Scratch's almost infinite amount of works are a testimony to Perry's creative vision, he is dub's one and only auteur, who has had long lasting effects on reggae, dub, rap, house, garage, jungle, drum and bass, techno, and countless other musics. The way that Perry works in the studio is by deconstruction (O'Hagan T12). This means that he takes every track with each instrument, vocals, and effects then cuts whichever tracks he feels necessary, until the sound he wants is present. Drum and bass usually stays throughout, and the volumes of the other instruments, and vocals jump in at random intervals. This is why dub is commonly called x-ray music, there is and almost eerie feeling of open space in the sound. This basic technique was originated and mastered by the dub masters of the 60's and 70's. Perry was a leading pioneer experimentally, and he took the music form far, far away from earth. This basic technique, which leads to very complex music, is used in all forms of modern experimental music.
When Perry first really started experimenting with post-production techniques in the early 70's, we see how he prefigured hip hop/rap. In the 1973 single "Cow Thief Skank", by Perry, we can hear Scratch scratching and mixing by cutting between the beats of two separate songs while freestyling over the resulting new rhythms (Zach). The connoisseurs of today's cutting edge, digital music, are recognizing the Upsetter as the main influence upon their music. That is why The Beastie Boys' Grand Royal magazine dedicated a whole issue to the man. Perry's iconoclastic methodology still confounds today's techno heads, hard at work in their multi-tracked state of the art studios (O'Hagan T12). From today's creators of decent "alternative" music, there is always a profound respect for the man behind it all: SCRATCH. Why do people always refer to Lee Perry as "Scratch"? Well, it is said that all things must start from scratch.
"I'm Mr. Joseph Perry. Ha ha ha! I am the President, the Upsetter, death's conqueror, I am everything. I am Buddha and I am the Devil, the negative and positive. I am creation" (McCormick 14). --> With quotes like this delivered in total seriousness most people come to a simple conclusion about Scratch... He's just plain crazy. He is certainly portrayed as a madcap, a role he, himself, plays to the hilt. Yet there is a methodology in Perry's madness: like the late great Jazz musician Sun Ra, another inter planetary visionary, Lee Scratch Perry has ended up inventing his own cosmology, remaking the world in his own image, the way he once remade music. Scratch is a musical genius, and that is irrefutable (O'Hagan T12). The way he does it is through his feel for music - a profound understanding of aural environments. Drum and bass are the bare essentials of Reggae music (and all Reggae influenced music) from which all-else flows. In a recent interview Scratch spoke about the importance of drum and bass:
"Everyone who started dub music must have heart. Your heart goes boop
boop, boop-boop; that's the beat of the drum. A brain goes tick-tick, tick
tick; that's the bass. Your brain is your bass and your heart is your drum. So make sure your heart is not corrupted because what you send out comes back to your heart. If you send out a good heartwave it'll come back with a dub you see flying in a cloud of good news. So you start from a good heart and a clean brain - drum and bass. You can have guitarists and pianists around, if they are not confusing, but I prefer drum and bass" (Wendt).
This lengthy quote gives us a good idea of Perry's savor for his music. Reggae definitely goes by a biorhythm, and that is what Scratch is touching upon. It is no wonder why this music almost forces the body into dance. The mind of the Upsetter is constantly thinking of music, as he puts it "the studio is now in my brain" (Jones). To those that have observed Scratch in recent times will claim that his mind is so full of ideas that it is overflowing. Such an active mind has to be occupied with something; this describes a lot of Perry's behavior, and especially his musical production skills.
Mick Sleeper, a huge Perry fanatic, creator/organizer of the most complete Scratch web page, and Upsetter interviewer, describes the man this way:
"Art may imitate life, but for Perry there's no difference between the two. He literally paints, writes on, sculpts, films, records, and sings about everything he encounters. His repertoire makes use of a wide variety of references - personal, Biblical, Rastafarian, sexual, musical, and of course megalomaniacal" (Sleeper 6).
This quote is very accurate to the disposition that many others have also observed, but the complexity of Scratch's persona is actually much deeper than just an over-active mind. "Scratch has always been what his pseudonym suggests - an upsetter," says Steve Barrow, who has compiled and interpreted the exhaustively researched the three-CD box set, "Arkology". A conclusion can be drawn about Perry: "(Scratch is) Someone whose role was to turn things upside down. He used to do it musically, now he does it with his own reputation. He comes across as a madman but it's a cloak to keep the world at bay" (O'Hagan T12).
The premier deejay Dr. Alimantado who did many works with Perry in the Black Ark gives a truly respectful and understanding view of Scratch:
"Upsetter to me was like a teacher. Upsetter is not just a producer only. He is an artist, producer, writer, everything. ...I see Upsetter as an inspirer. He is not an imitator, he's an originator, and you cannot keep telling an originator that he's mad. I'm saying they shouldn't wait until he is dead, they should recognize him now while he's still alive, so he can enjoy some of that high" (Barrow, Katz and Wyatt 29).
With compilations such as "Arkology", no one needs to explain why Perry deserves all of the respect and credit for what he has done.
"As interesting, entertaining, and fascinating as Lee Perry's life and personality is, it can almost all be forgotten and replaced with one simple idea: his music always has and will speak for itself" - Mick Sleeper.
You could say that Reggae music, and especially dub strikes a nerve deep down inside of me. While hearing it, my legs automatically start bending and straightening, bending and straightening, and soon enough I am in full dance. Whenever I am feeling at all depressed or just plain pissed off, I'll put in my favorite tune (at the time), and I can feel my mood change in a matter of seconds. I guess that what reggae really brings out in me is my strongest spirituality. After listening to the music enough, I can really understand those Jamaicans, and there tough lives. On top of that, the rhythms, with their ominous bass lines, conjure up pure emotion from my gut. Overall, one can see the profound effect the music has on me. I have always loved reggae, because my parents have always played it, and kept a few albums around the house. Starting around 10th grade is when I really started getting into it. By 11th I had quite a few Bob Marley, and some other artists' albums. For my final paper in my "dominant ideas" class of my 11th grade I wrote a 10-page paper on Rastafarianism. Learning about the culture of Jamaicans boosted my interest in reggae, and I started collecting much more. My reggae collection now just gets larger as the months go by. I have somewhere around 50 different reggae albums, 20 of them being dub (all of my documented musical references I own). This collection has been compiled relatively quickly (3 years), and is about 95% of what I listen to.
As far as live reggae, I have certainly seen my share for a young person. The list of artists that I have seen live is a lot more extensive than I thought (now that I am writing it down): Burning Spear (twice), Culture, Israel Vibrations, Macka B, Anthony B, Sister Carol, the Mad Professor, a handful of others from the 97' Vermont Reggae Festival whose names I can't remember, Eek A Mouse, Toots and The Maytals, Luciano, Sizzla, Capleton, Anthony B, and the Major General. I have the last two Vermont Reggae Festivals, and Fall 97'-Spring 98's Club Toast (Burlington, VT) Reggae shows to thank for all of this. In the future I will be seeing the Dub Syndicate at Toast, and on May 8th and 9th I am going to New York City, to The Wetlands Club, to see the man that I now know so much about... Lee Perry!
The timing of it all is as perfect as it can be. Scratch started touring in the states for the first time in 10 years during 1997. I thought that it would never happen again, but I was wrong, and he is having another tour this spring. I will hand in my paper on the 22nd of April, finish finals on May 5th, go home for a few days, and then kick off my summer with Lee "Scratch" Perry. No matter what the performance is like, I can contest that I will certainly be one of the happiest individuals present. I have never put so much time into understanding one person's life and personality (other than those that I know) like I have for Perry. I cannot believe that I will actually get to see the Upsetter perform live. People that I know who have seen some of his recent performances say that it was just really weird. For me though, it won't be so strange because I understand his personality, what he sings about, and his unique past. I can't forget the Mad Professor. I own several of his works, some of them collaborations with Scratch, and I love his sound. It goes perfectly with Perry. He will be at the controls, and the Robotiks band will be pumping out just the sound that my ears are accustomed to.
I can honestly say that I will probably never put so much time, dedication, and love into another college paper (unless, of course, I write an even more extensive paper on Lee Perry). At the beginning of the Reggae class, I knew that I was going to do a paper on Lee Perry. I started compiling data right away, and this whole semester I have put so much thought into my ideas for the paper. Gathering all of the quotes, and using them appropriately has been quite a task. The unique thing about this task is that I have truly enjoyed doing it. With other papers, it is boring and really hard to do, because there is usually very little interest. Due to such complete concentration on Lee Perry, and a good memory of his incredibly numerous quotes, I feel that my paper is on point, and I am quite proud of it. Even if I don't get a very good grade, it doesn't matter; I know what I put into it, and what I got out of it, so I don't care. I will always have it. Mick Sleeper, who maintains the web page "Lee 'Scratch' Perry on the Wire", and who I have been communicating with via email, is quite enthusiastic about posting some of my essay on his page. I am really happy to do this, for Sleeper, and for myself. Also, if my paper is good enough to get posted on the classes web site, I may even have my works in two sites on the World Wide Web. This overwhelms me, but if I can do it, I will be really proud of myself.
As for all of Perry's music, now is a time where I enjoy it more than ever. I have heard a very large amount of his works and productions (which is probably only a drop in the bucket, compared to his complete works) and I have become somewhat of a critic of the works that I know. I can easily list off my favorites, and give reasons why they are special. On this note, I would like to talk about my newest project. My plan is to compile a Lee Perry mix that runs through his history, with the songs that did the most to change reggae, and covers some of his strongest works (in my opinion, of course). I have looked through several Lee Perry discography's, and I haven't seen such a compilation. I feel that I am quite capable of this now that I am so knowledgeable about Scratch, and I own many of his most important works anyway, so I don't have to go broke buying music. The neat part about this mix, is that I plan to fit it all on one 90 minute tape (100 if needed). I only need to obtain about 4 albums, which I will probably order through the Internet. My list for this tape goes as follows:
1. Man to Man - Lee Perry
2. Please don't go - Lee Perry
3. Long Shot - The Pioneers *
4. People Funny Boy - Lee Perry
5. Duppy Conqueror - The Wailers *
6. Kaya - The Wailers *
7. Blackboard Jungle Dub - The Upsetters
8. Rubba Rubba Words - The Upsetters
9. Tedius - Junior Murvin
10. Mr. President - The Heptones & Jah Lion
11. Soul Fire - Lee Perry
12. Chase the Devil - Max Romeo
13. Croaking Lizard -The Upsetters
14. Dread Lion - The Upsetters
15. Time Boom X De Devil Dead - Lee Perry & Adrian Sherwood *
16. The Open Door - Lee Perry & The Mad Professor
17. From the Secret Laboratory - Lee Perry, Sherwood, Island *
Why do all of this? Well, as the conclusion of my paper goes: "Lee Perry's music always has and will speak for itself."
Barrow, Steve, David Katz and Trevor Wyatt. Arkology (booklet). U.K: Island Records Ltd, 1997.
Barrow, Steve, and Dalton, Peter. Reggae: The Rough Guide. Ed. Jonathan Buckley. London, England: Rough Guides Ltd, 1997.
Brown, G. "'Scratch' Perry not itching to get back to reggae legend, lost time, money." Denver Post 9 Nov. 1997. Lexis/Nexis. Online. Date of access: 2 Apr. 1998.
Chang, Kevin, and Chen, Wayne. Reggae Routes. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 1998: n. pag.
Chirazi, Steffan. "Q & A With Lee Perry." The San Francisco Chronicle 9 Nov. 1997. Lexis/Nexis. Online. 2 Apr. 1998.
Davis, Stephan, and Simon, Peter. Reggae International. New York: R&B, 1982.
Green, Joshua. "Still Wailing; Aston 'Family Man' Barrett of the Wailers is keeping a reggae tradition alive". Denver Westword 19 Feb. 1998. Lexis/Nexis. Online. 2 Apr. 1998: n. pag.
Green, Joshua. "The history of reggae, dub, soul, and 'meggae', as told by Lee 'Scratch' Perry." SF Weekly 19 Nov. 1997. Lexis/Nexis. Online. 2 Apr. 1998: n. pag.
Islandlife. (no name given) "Lee 'Scratch' Perry: Bob Marley's musical influences." BOBMARLEY.COM. URL: http://www.bobmarley.com/ 1997
Markert, Thomas. "Lee 'Scratch' Perry: The Grand Royal Interview." Grand Royal Magazine, Issue 2. URL: http://grandroyal.com/Magazine/Issue2/index.html 1996: n. pag.
Jones, Sasha Frere. "Scratching the surface, Lee Perry is as crazy as you want to think." The Village Voice 19 Aug. 1997. Lexis/Nexis. Online. 2 Apr. 1998: n. pag.
McCormick, Neil. "The Arts: King of a planet all his own at 61, Lee 'Scratch' Perry is one of music's living legends." The Daily Telegraph 31 Jul. 1997. Lexis/Nexis. Online. 12 Apr. 1998.
O'Hagan, Sean. "Music: Scratch'n'Mix." The Guardian (London) 18 Apr. 1997. Lexis/Nexis. Online. 12 Apr. 1998.
Pareles, John. "Delivering The Rant, Rhythm, and Rasta." The New York Times. 4 Nov. 1997.
Perry, Lee "Scratch". Interview "Arkology". All Things Considered. NPR, Washington, D.C. 26 Nov. 1997. Lexis/Nexis. Online. 2 Apr. 1998: n. pag.
Sleeper, Mick. "Shocks of Mighty: The life and Times of Lee Perry." Soundzs From the Hotline: Lee "Scratch" Perry on the wire. URL: http://homepage.oanet.com/sleeper/soundz.htm 1997
Wendt, Doug. "In the Red Zone"-inlet essay. Shananchie, 1997
Zach, Paul. "The music of sampling pioneer Lee Scratch Perry puts the numbing dub and dance tracks of today to shame." Singapore Straits Times 26 Sept. 1997. Lexis/Nexis. Online. 2 Apr. 1998: n. pag.
Perry, Lee "Scratch". Arkology. Producer: Lee Perry. Jamaica, Black Ark studio. Island Records Ltd, 1997.
Perry, Lee "Scratch". Chicken Scratch. Producer: Coxsone Dodd. Jamaica, Studio One. 1965. Heartbeat Records, 1988 (re-release)
Perry, Lee "Scratch". Experryments at the Grassroots of Dub. Producers: Lee Perry and the Mad Professor (Neil Fraser). U.K, Ariwa studio. RAS Records, 1996.
Perry, Lee "Scratch". History, Mystery, & Prophesy. Producer: Lee Perry. Jamaica, Joe Gibbs Studio. Mango Records, 1984.
Perry, Lee, and King Tubby. King Tubby meets Lee Perry: Megawatt Dub. Producer: Watty Burnett. Jamaica, Black Ark, King Tubby's, Harry J's, and HC&F Studio. Shananchie, 1997
The Upsetters. Super Ape. Producer: Lee Perry. Jamaica, Black Ark studio. 1976. Mango Records, 1994 (re-release).
The Upsetters. Blackboard Jungle Dub. Producer: Lee Perry. Jamaica, King Tubby's studio. 1973. RAS Records, 1987 (re-release).
Miscellaneous artists. Dub: Chill Out. Producers: Lee Perry, others not noted. Jamaica, Black Ark et al. Music Club Records, 1996.
Miscellaneous artists. In the Red Zone: The Essential Collection of Classic Dub. Producers: Lee Perry, Vivian Jackson, Horace Swaby, Brad Osbourne, Bunny Lee, Sly & Robbie, Michael Rose, Mad Professor, Henry Lawes, Prince Far-I, Tappa Zukie. Jamaica, U.K, studios not noted. Shananchie, 1997.
Roots, Rock, Reggae. Prod/Dir: Jeremy Marre. Harcourt Films/Shananchie Records, 1988.