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Lee "Scratch" Perry

Some call him a genius, others claim he's certifiably insane, a madman. Truth is, he's both, but more importantly, Lee Perry is a towering figure in reggae -- a producer, mixer, and songwriter who, along with King Tubby, helped shape the sound of dub and made reggae music such a powerful part of the pop music world. Along with producing some of the most influential acts (Bob Marley & the Wailers and the Congos to name but two) in reggae history, Perry's approach to production and dub mixing was breathtakingly innovative and audacious -- no one else sounds like him -- and while many claim that King Tubby invented dub, there are just as many who would argue that no one experimented with it or took it further than did Lee Perry.

Born in the rural Jamaican village of St. Mary's in 1936, Perry began his surrealistic musical odyssey in the late '50s, working with ska man Prince Buster selling records for Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's Downbeat Sound System. Called "Little" Perry because of his diminutive stature (Perry stands 4'11"), he was soon producing and recording for Dodd at the center of the Jamaican music industry, Studio One. After a falling out with Dodd (throughout his career, Perry has had a tendency to burn his bridges after he stopped working with someone), Perry went to work at Wirl Records with Joe Gibbs. Perry and Gibbs never really saw eye to eye on anything, and in 1968, Perry left to form his own label, called Upsetter. Not surprisingly, Perry's first release on Upsetter was a single entitled "People Funny Boy," which was a direct attack upon Gibbs. What is important about the record is that, along with selling extremely well in Jamaica, it was the first Jamaican pop record to use the loping, lazy, bass-driven beat that would soon become identified as the reggae "riddim" and signal the shift from the hyperkinetically upbeat ska to the pulsing, throbbing languor of "roots" reggae.

From this point through the '70s, Perry released an astonishing amount of work under his name and numerous, extremely creative pseudonyms: Jah Lion, Pipecock Jakxon, Super Ape, the Upsetter, and his most famous nom de plume, Scratch. Many of the singles released during this period were significant Jamaican (and U.K.) hits, instrumental tracks like "The Return of Django," "Clint Eastwood," and "The Vampire," which cemented Perry's growing reputation as a major force in reggae music. Becoming more and more outrageous in his pronouncements and personal appearance (when it comes to clothing, only Sun Ra could hold a candle to Perry's thrift-store outfits), Perry and his remarkable house band, also named the Upsetters, worked with just about every performer in Jamaica. It was in the early '70s after hearing some of King Tubby's early dub experiments that Perry also became interested in this form of aural manipulation. He quickly released a mind-boggling number of dub releases and eventually, in a fit of creative independence, opened his own studio, Black Ark.

It was at Black Ark that Perry recorded and produced some of the early, seminal Bob Marley tracks. Using the Upsetters rhythm section of bassist Aston "Familyman" Barrett and his drummer brother Carlton Barrett, Perry guided the Wailers through some of their finest moments, recording such powerful songs as "Duppy Conqueror" and "Small Axe." The good times, however, were not long, especially after Perry, unbeknownst to Marley and company, sold the tapes to Trojan Records and pocketed the cash. Island Records head Chris Blackwell quickly moved in and signed the Wailers to an exclusive contract, leaving Perry with virtually nothing. Perry accused Blackwell (a white Englishman) of cultural imperialism and Marley of being an accomplice. For years, Perry referred to Blackwell as a vampire, and accused Marley of having curried favor with politicians in order to make a fast buck. These setbacks did not stem the tide of Perry releases, be they of new material or one of a seemingly endless collection of anthologies. Perry was also expanding his range of influence, working with the Clash, who were huge Perry fans, having covered the Perry-produced version of Junior Murvin's classic "Police and Thieves." Perry was brought in to produce some tracks for the Clash, but the results were remixed more to the band's liking.

All this hard work was wreaking havoc with Perry's already fragile mental state, leading to a breakdown. The stories of his mental instability were exacerbated by tales of massive substance abuse (despite his public stance against all drugs except sacramental ganja), which reportedly included regular ingestion of cocaine and LSD; one potentially apocryphal story even had Perry drinking bottles of tape head-cleaning fluid. But these stories, as with much surrounding Perry, blur fact and fiction. One story that was true was that Black Ark, and everything in it, burned to the ground. Perry claims bad wiring as the culprit, but the more familiar and commonly accepted story is that Perry burned the studio down in a fit of acid-inspired madness, convinced that Satan had made Black Ark his home. Whatever the case, the site of Perry's greatest moments as a producer had been reduced to (and remained) a pile of rubble and ash. Soon after the fire that consumed Black Ark, Perry, increasingly fed up with the music business in Jamaica (which by all accounts is corruption personified), decided to leave Jamaica.

Despite the considerable lows in his career, Perry remained busy and, so it seemed, reasonably happy. Although he was less in demand as a producer, his solo work remained very strong, and his continuing influence could be felt in the contemporary dub music of the Mad Professor (another former Perry protégé that Perry went on to treat with disdain) and some post-rave electronica music, particularly the jungle/drum'n'bass scene. Even the Beastie Boys gave Perry his props in a rhyme on their release Ill Communication and later added him to the bill of performers at a concert for Tibetan freedom. In 1997, Island (the label started by the vampire Chris Blackwell) released Arkology, a well-received three-disc compilation of Perry recordings. That same year a collaboration with Dieter Meier of the Swiss electronica duo Yello called Technomajikal arrived on the Roir label. The project was made geographically possible by Scratch's move to Switzerland.

A reunion with Trojan happened in 2002, when the new album Jamaican E.T. was released by the label. Two years later, Panic in Babylon was recorded with the European outfit White Belly Rats, while his legendary Super Ape album would receive a limited-edition reissue on the Hip-O Select label. The 1973 release Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle -- sometimes referred to as Blackboard Jungle Dub -- saw its definitive reissue appear in 2004 when Perry biographer David Katz helmed its release for the Auralux imprint. Also that year, a different mix of the album landed on Sanctuary's two-CD collection Dub-Triptych. The label was also responsible for 2005's I Am the Upsetter, a well-chosen and well-annotated four-CD set. In 2006 George Clinton, DJ Spooky, and TV on the Radio would all contribute remixes when the U.S. label Narnack reissued Panic in Babylon with different artwork and a bonus disc. The 2007 set Ape-ology fit three classic albums -- Super Ape, Return of the Super Ape, and Roast Fish, Collie Weed, and Cornbread -- on two CDs. In 2008, a documentary about Perry titled The Upsetter premiered at the annual SXSW festival in Austin, Texas (it would eventually see a full release three years later). He collaborated with Andrew W.K. for the album Repentance and Adrian Sherwood for The Mighty Upsetter. A dub version of the latter, Dub Setter, followed in 2010.

In 2012 a full-length album, Master Piece, appeared on Born Free Records, built from tracks that first appeared in rougher versions on a 2010 EP titled The Unfinished Master Piece. Perry also collaborated with ambient techno pioneers the Orb for an album titled The Orbserver in the Star House, which was eventually followed by More Tales from the Orbservatory, recorded during the same sessions. Perry was recognized by the Jamaican honors system in 2012, as he was elected to Commander class in the Order of Distinction. The following year, he was awarded a Gold Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica.

Shortly thereafter, Perry began working with producer Daniel Boyle at London's Rolling Lion Studio, aiming to re-create the sound and vibe of Black Ark Studios' rudimentary audio magic. The result was the surprisingly accurate throwback dub album Back on the Controls, which surfaced in 2014 with help from a fan-funded online campaign. The album was subsequently nominated for a Grammy. In 2015, Perry's studio in Switzerland (where he resided with his wife and two children) burned down, this time by accident, destroying numerous unreleased recordings and stage costumes. Fortunately, he was unharmed, and he remained productive, releasing The Super Ape Strikes Again (with Pura Vida) in 2015, followed by Must Be Free in 2016. ~ John Dougan & David Jeffries
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Zion Funky Rock

1. The Man Zion

2. Hold On Death

3. Upsetting Dub

4. Lee Perry Special Dub

5. The Dub Warrior

6. Rough Already

7. Dark Destroyer Dub

8. Knock Out Dub

9. The Godfather

10. This Is The Scorcher

11. Law And Order

12. Funky Punk Rock

13. Live Up Jah Man

14. Never Get Away

15. Jack Of My Trade

x

Track List: Must Be Free

1. Psycho Dread

2. Rat Race

3. House Of Sin

4. Isabel

5. Jungle Tongue

6. No Evil

7. No Sorrow

8. On Nigeria

9. Strip Off

10. Too Much Is Too Much

11. Therapist

12. Must Be Free

13. House Of Sin (Remix)

x

Track List: Reggae (Single)

1. Reggae (Feat. Suga Roy & Conrad Crystal)

x

Track List: Black Ark Classic Songs

1. Zion Blood

2. Run Obeah Run

3. Egypt For My Ransom

4. Doctor S**t!

5. Dub Fire

6. Spirits Speak

7. Telephatic

8. No More Roast Fish!

9. Have Mercy

10. Ready Lee

11. Moving On

12. Power Dub

x

Track List: Trojan Classics

1. Roast Fish And Corn Bread (Jamaican Mix)

2. Disco Devil

3. City Too Hot

4. Words

5. Bionic Rats

6. Soul Fire

7. White Belly Rat

8. Curly Locks

9. Stay Dread

10. Free Up The Prisoners (12" Mix)

x

Track List: Back On The Controls

Disc 1

1. Sound Of Jamaica

2. Sound Of My Dub

3. Repent

4. Repent And Dub

5. Land Of Dub (Raw Mix)

6. Land Of Dub Version

7. Copy This & Copy That

8. Copy My Dub

9. Come Up Scratch

10. Come Up Version

11. Words Re-Vision (Dubplate Cut)

12. Lee's Special (Dubplate Cut)

Disc 2
x

Track List: Master Piece

1. Soul Man

2. Master Piece

3. Medusa Dub

4. Mr. Upsetter (Dancehall Fusion Mix) (Feat. Born Free)

5. Mr. Upsetter (Feat. Born Free)

6. Mr. Upsetter (Funky Mix) (Feat. Born Free)

7. Mr. Upsetter (Pop Mix) (Feat. Born Free)

8. Forgiveness

9. Forgiveness (Road Of Life Riddim)

10. Soul Man (Reprise)

x

Track List: Revelation

1. Revelation Revolution & Evolution

2. Used To Drive A Tractor In Negrille

3. Firepower

4. Holy Angels

5. Scary Politicians

6. Let There Be Light

7. Books Of Moses

8. Money Come, Money Go

9. Psalm

10. Run For Cover

11. Freaky Michael

12. Weatherman

13. An Eye For An Eye

x

Track List: Dreadlocks In Moonlight / Cut Throat (Single)

1. Dreadlocks In Moonlight

2. Cut Throat

x

Track List: Scratch Came Scratch Saw Scratch Conquered

1. Having A Party

2. Heavy Voodoo

3. Saint Selassie

4. Scratch Is Alive

5. Jealousy

6. Yee Ha Ha Ha

7. The Game Black

8. Headz Gonna Roll

9. Rolling Thunder

10. Rastafari Live

11. Once There's A Will There's A Way

12. Sinful F**kers

13. The Seven Wishes Of Lee "Scratch" Perry

x

Track List: Repentance

1. Shine

2. Fire

3. Pum Pum

4. Raggae Man

5. Baby Sucker

6. Crazy Pimp

7. War Dance

8. God Save His King

9. Santa Claus

10. Heart Doctor

11. Chooga Cane

12. Party Time

x

Track List: The End Of An American Dream

1. Disarm

2. Are You Ready?

3. The End Of An American Dream

4. One God Rain

5. So Be It

6. I Will Be There

7. I Am The God Of Fire

8. The Lord's Prayer

9. I Am New Yorker

10. Teddy Bear

11. Hallo Jamaica

12. Shazam

13. Memories

14. Vooba Skooba

15. Cats Bats Rats

16. Disco Cats

x

Track List: Mastercuts Presents: The Essential Lee "Scratch" Perry

1. Clint Eastwood Rides Again

2. Enter The Dragon

3. Wind Up Doll

4. Stay Red

5. Dreadlock

6. How Deep Is Your Love

7. Jah

8. Irie Irie

9. Cool Rockers

10. Rude Walking

11. Run For Cover

12. Something You Got

13. People Weird

14. You Funny

15. Bless The Weed

x

Track List: The Upsetter Live! 1995 - 2002 (Part One: The Truth As It Happens)

1. Hit Me With The Drum

2. Introduction

3. Legalise Ganja

4. Have You Seen Jesus Christ ?

5. Jungle Safari

6. Piss

7. The Sacrifice

8. Roast Fish

9. Heads Of Government

10. Open Door

11. Seven Devils

12. Bucky Skank

x

Track List: Kung Fu Meets The Dragon

1. Enter The Dragon

2. Theme From Hong Kong

3. Heart Of The Dragon

4. Hold Them Kung Fu

5. Flames Of The Dragon

6. Scorching Iron

7. Skango

8. Fungaa

9. Black Belt

10. Iron Fist

11. Kung Fu Man

12. Black Belt Jones

13. Exit The Dragon

x

Track List: Jamaican E.T.

1. 10 Commandments

2. I'll Take You There

3. Message From The Black Ark Studios

4. Holyness, Righteousness, Light

5. Babylon Fall

6. Mr. Dino Koosh Rock

7. Hip Hop Reggae

8. Evil Brain Rejector

9. Jah Rastafari, Jungle Safari

10. Love Sunshine, Blue Sky

11. Clear The Way

12. Congratulations

13. Shocks Of Mighty

14. Jamaican E.T.

15. Telepathic Jah A Rize

x

Track List: Techno Party

1. Techno Party

2. Armegedeon War

3. No Dreads

4. This Old Man

5. My Name Is!!!

6. Black Buster

7. Mr Herbsman

8. Papa Rapa

9. Having A Party

10. Crooks In The Business

11. Come In

12. Daddy Puff

13. Earthquake Rock Dub

14. Perry In The Ghetto Dub

15. Working In The Jungle

x

Track List: Fire In Dub

1. Working Girl (Angry Mix)

2. Can't Control The African (Angry Mix)

3. Don't Try To Capsize I (Angry Mix)

4. Denise The B**ch

5. Fire 'Pon De Witch

6. Don't Try To Capsize I

7. Working Girl Dub

8. Can't Control The African

9. No Stick For Denise

10. Dub 'Pon De Street

11. Witches Are Funny

12. Na Go With Ravenkiller

13. Keep On Learning Dub

14. Covetious Girl

15. I Won't Dub You

x

Track List: Technomajikal

1. Maxi Merlin

2. Ufo Attack (Ambient Version)

3. Technologically

4. L.S.D. - L.S.P. (Flute Mix)

5. Unitcorn

6. X-Perry-Ment

7. L.S.D. - L.S.P. (Hard Trance Mix)

8. UFO Attack (Instrumental)

9. Maxi Merlin (Radio Version)

10. X-Perry-Ment (Radio Version)

11. Crazy House

x

Track List: Who Put The Voodoo `Pon Reggae?

1. I Am Happiness

2. Megaton Bomb

3. Go And Come Back

4. Magic Music

5. Don't Touch My Shadow

6. Mokey Party

7. Small Morsel

8. Mr. Arkwell Spell

9. Black Ark International

10. Messy Apartment

x

Track List: The Upsetter Shop, V. 1: Upsetter In Dub

1. Noah Sugar Pan

2. Ketch A Dub

3. Version Train

4. Rootically Dub

5. Son Of The Black Ark

6. Lorna Skank

7. If The Cap Fits

8. Dub A Come

9. Tedious Dub

10. Rejoice In Skank

11. Babylon Thief Dub

12. Foundation Solid

13. Bagman

14. Better Reach

15. Dub In Time

16. Fun And Games

17. Sipple Dub

18. Bionic Rat Dub

x

Track List: Experryments At The Grass Roots Of Dub

1. Jungle Roots Dub

2. Dubbing With The Super Ape

4. Sky High Dub

5. Nucleus Dub

6. Dub It Wide Open

7. Dub Wise Experryments

8. Pooping Dub Song

9. Black Ark Come Again

x

Track List: Black Ark

1. Space Dub

2. Cool Rockers

3. Ethiopian Dream

4. Camp Of Righteous

5. Lion Of Abbysinia

6. Deepest Dub

7. The Valley Of Dub

8. Yush Dub

9. Cuss Cuss

x

Track List: Soundzs From The Hot Line

1. Bionic Rat

2. Ashes And Dust

3. Righteous Oily

4. In This Iwa

5. Babylon A Fall

6. Rainbow Throne

7. Standing On A Hill

8. News Flash

9. When You Walk

10. Sweet Guava Jelly

11. So You Come, So You Go

12. Free Up The Prisoners

13. Track 13

x

Track List: Lord God Muzick

1. Free Us

2. Colt The Game

3. Lightning And Thunder Flash

4. Air Manifestation

5. Angel Gabriel And The Space Boots

6. Lee The Upsetter

7. Happy Birthday Marcus

8. Hot S**t

9. Supersonic Man

10. Reggae Emperor

11. Collie Ruler

12. Lee In The Heartbeat

x

Track List: From The Secret Laboratory

1. Secret Laboratory (Scientific Dancehall)

2. Inspector Gadget

3. (I Got The) Groove

4. Vibrate On

5. African Hitchiker

6. You Thought I Was Dead

7. Too Much Money

8. Push, Push

9. African Headcharge In The Hackney Empire

10. Party Time

11. Seven Devils Dead

x

Track List: History, Mystery & Prophecy

1. Mr. Music

2. The Ganja Man

3. Nice Time

4. Tiger Lion

5. Funky Joe

6. Heads Of Government

7. Daniel

8. Bed Jamming

x

Track List: Return Of The Super Ape

1. Dyon-Anaswa

2. Return Of The Super Ape

3. Tell Me Something Good

4. Bird In Hand

5. Crab Yars

6. Jah Jah Ah Natty Dread

7. Psyche & Trim

8. The Lion

9. Huzza A Hana

10. High Rankin Sammy

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