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Monday 30 August 2021

Lee 'Scratch' Perry

Word came out of Jamaica yesterday that Lee 'Scratch' Perry had died aged 85. He seemed to have been around for so long and seemed so ancient that the idea of him dying is faintly absurd- it looked like he would just carry on forever but (like Charlie Watts last week) it turns out he was mortal after all. Perry's recording career from the early 70s onward is the stuff of legend. His role in the development of reggae and especially dub, using the studio as an instrument, is unsurpassed. His productions from the mid- 70s, done at his own Black Ark Studio are mind-bending pieces of music- the use of space and echo, animal noises dropped in, FX bouncing around, panning from left to right and back again, his creation of acres of room in the tracks but with sounds crammed in and piled on top of each is sheer brilliance. The basslines and horns. The snippets of vocals- soul fire, roast fish, cornbread and collie weed- are like missives from another world. His razor sharp productions for Junior Murvin (Police And Thieves, almost certainly my entry point to his work via The Clash), the unbelievably, effortlessly cool Heart Of The Congos, Party Time by The Heptones, Max Romeo's War Ina Babylon, Prince Jazzbo's Croaking lizard set the standard for what reggae music should sound like. His work with Bob Marley and The Wailers was crucial in their story. His influence on the punks, not least The Clash (and his production on Complete Control, probably reeled in after the event to make it more palatable to their audience), was huge. His song with The Beastie Boys is a wonky joy. His album with Adrian Sherwood last year showed he was still cutting it. 

In 1996 a compilation called Voodooism came out, a stunning collection of dub works taking in his own tracks and productions and dubs of the likes of Zap Pow, Errol Walker, Earl Sixteen, Leo Graham, The Hombres and The Black Notes. Future Dub is a dubbed out flipside to Errol Walker's Better Future single from 1977. I bought it and palye dit 

Future Dub

Soul Fire, from 1978 and the Roast Fish Collie Weed And Corn Bread album is otherworldly- cows mooing, a skanking riddim, a sizzle and a vocal that sounds like the heat of the surface of the sun. 

Soul Fire

Dreadlocks In Moonlight is smoother and slower, a vocal roots reggae song from 1976, Scratch cutting the tempo and the heat. 

Dreadlocks In Moonlight

On and on into his back catalogue you can go, finding something to love at almost every turn. 

Lee Perry aka The Upsetter, RIP. 


Khayem said...

Excellent tribute, Adam. I woke up this morning to the sad news, and posted a hastily-cobbled together mix on my blog as I struggled to find the words. You've summed it up perfectly, particularly with the closing invitation to dive into Lee 'Scratch' Perry's back catalogue. You're right, there's also something new to discover and love, even with tracks that I've heard countless times before. What a legend.

Charity Chic said...

A one off genius and legend.I discovered him via the same route as you
A great heartfelt tribute Adam

Anonymous said...

A Soundcraft mixer, a Teac 4 track, the stars and the universe. Thank you. RIP Lee

The Swede said...

A superb tribute Adam. There are very few artists who have literally redefined the very parameters of the genre of music in which they work, but Scratch was definitely one such artist. We'll not see his like again.

Jake Sniper said...

A more than fitting tribute, a true one off.