About Lee “Scratch” Perry
Lee “Scratch” Perry (born Rainford Hugh Perry March 20, 1936) is one of the most influential people in the development of reggae and dub music in Jamaica. Perry began his career in the late 1950s working with Prince Buster and Clement Coxsone Dodd’s sound system. He was soon producing records with Dodd and recording at Studio One, but the pair eventually stopped working together due to personality and financial conflicts. Working with Joe Gibbs at Wirl Records, Perry tried to begin his recording career, but again, personality and financial problems caused conflict, and Perry left to form his own label, Upsetter, in 1968 (see 1968 in music). His first single “People Funny Boy”, which was an insult directed at Gibbs, sold very well. It is notable for its innovative use of a slow, sluggish, bass-driven beat that would soon become identifiable as a distinctively “reggae” (or, more accurately, roots reggae) sound. During the 1970s, Perry released numerous recordings and acquired a variety of nicknames including Scratch, The Upsetter, and Super Ape. The nickname Scratch has been attributed to Perry’s 1965 song “Chicken Scratch”. Most of his hits were big in both Jamaica and the UK, and he soon became known as much for his eccentric character and outlandish style in his appearance as for his music.
In the early 1970s, Perry participated in the creation of dub along with King Tubby (both men have claimed to be the originators of dub). He formed a studio, The Black Ark, to experiment in the style and produce tracks from notable musicians like Bob Marley & the Wailers (who were his “house band”) and The Congos. With a studio of his own, Perry was free to experiment without concern for paying hourly for studio time, and he lavished a great deal of time on the records he produced. Virtually everything recorded in The Black Ark was on a 4-track recording deck. Perry remained in the forefront of dub innovation and experimentation until, surrounded by rumor and controversy, The Black Ark recording studio burned to the ground. Perry is fond of telling stories and regularly tells new versions of old stories; at times he insists it was an accident due to faulty wiring, but he has also claimed that he set the fire himself. It is unlikely anyone but Perry will ever know if the burning of The Black Ark was purposeful or accidental. For a brief period in the 1980s Perry changed his name to Pipecock Jackxon, and worked with a Dutch record label to rebuild his burned down studio, ‘The Black Ark’, with typically eccentric Perry features, including a pond in the drum booth.
Even after producing such seminal singles as “Small Axe”, Perry sold the tapes to Trojan Records without telling Bob Marley, Peter Tosh or Bunny Wailer. After Bob Marley & the Wailers signed to Island Records, Perry began accusing Chris Blackwell (head of Island Records) of cultural imperialism and psychic vampirism, as well as calling Marley an accomplice and a sell-out to his race. Perry’s grudge against Blackwell continues to resurface and references can be found in even his present day recordings. In spite of his difficulty getting along with some, Perry continued working with a variety of musicians, including the Clash, the legendary British punk group who were perhaps the earliest white artists to combine rock’n’roll with reggae rhythms. Perry took a public stance against all drug use except cannabis, an integral part of the Rasta religion, but rumors still circulated regarding the use of LSD, cocaine and even gasoline and tape head-cleaning fluid. These stories are likely urban legend, though Perry’s behavior is known to be erratic when he is drinking alcohol.
Since leaving Jamaica soon after the destruction of Black Ark, Perry has lived in Switzerland. He continues recording with great success, and continues touring and performing at venues around the world. Though his production work has slowed down significantly, without a studio of his own, Lee has collaborated with Mad Professor as well as Adrian Sherwood and Dub Syndicate (both of On-U Sound Records) to produce two albums. In 1998, he collaborated with the Beastie Boys on the track “Dr. Lee, PHD” for the Hello Nasty album. In 2003, Perry won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album with the album Jamaican ET.
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