Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: 10 of his best recordings

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When I moved to Kingston, Jamaica in 2003 for a job, it was during the month that Lee “Scratch” Perry won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album for Jamaican ET, a record that in the most pure Scratch style, contained everything, including the kitchen sink. . I remember listening to a radio show where Jamaicans wondered who this guy was. It wasn’t entirely surprising – Perry, although arguably Jamaican’s most influential artist (and therefore arguably one of the most influential artists of all time), is best known for his work as a producer. rather than a leader.

In truth, Perry – who died aged 85 – was incredibly gifted and prolific in both roles, and so it would be laughable to attempt a full or representative list of Perry’s work (although you can turn to this good introduction in David Katz, author of the comprehensive and essential 2000 People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry). The music he created seems to expand – perhaps explode – all notions of what music can be, so it is safer to choose a few stars that demonstrate its breadth and depth than one of the greatest final hits. .

Bob Marley – Small ax

Although Perry’s career dates back to the 1960s and his first single People Funny Boy, it might be best to start with Bob Marley. Reggae and dancehall specialist Sonjah Stanley Niaah was clear when I asked about Perry’s best songs: “Scratch had such an influence that my favorite is not about one song in particular but the body of the material. , in particular the material of Bob Marley and the Wailers of which he was the instrument. in production. As Perry said, he “gave Bob Marley some reggae.”

The Upsetters – Blackboard Jungle Dub (Version 1/Black Panta)

If Perry gave up reggae, it was because he had added his sleeve. The song often called Black Panta, on the album Upsetters Dub 14 Blackboard Jungle, first released in 1973 in Jamaica, is exemplary of the genre. With the studio as his instrument, alongside the group Upsetters, he was able to build thick layered tracks that contain sounds and textures that throb and pulsate.

Junior Murvin – Police and thieves

It’s impossible to talk about Perry without referring to the Dark Ark, his not particularly technologically advanced studio, where he was able to act as, in his words, a “miracle man.” Between 1973 and 1978, he produced a simply magical work. Max Romeo’s War in Babylon, the Feast of the Heptones and Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves are the canonical archives of this period. The latter sounds as if it exists on another plane, revolutionizing the sound of reggae.

Les Congos – Children who cry

Perry was also a master of the ambiance. The 1977 Heart of the Congos set is a masterpiece, but Children Crying (with a moaning cow, through the use of a children’s toy) is breathtakingly beautiful, dazzlingly beautiful: rhythm bouncing and voices that sound as if they are floating in the bluest of blue sky on the greenest of hills.

The Upsetters – Tell Me Something Right

From a dub perspective, explore 1976’s Super Ape and 1978’s Return of the Super Ape, both featuring the Upsetters. The first is absolute genius from start to finish; the second has the dubious distinction of being the last version of the Upsetters before Perry destroyed his Black Ark studio after a period of eccentric and erratic behavior. That being said, even when he would have struggled, Perry was able to produce something as relaxed as Tell Me Something Good, sampling Rufus and Chaka Khan.

Lee Perry – Curly Curls

Although Perry is not known primarily as a singer, he often creates sublime music when he steps behind the mic. On Roast Fish, 1978’s Collie Weed and Corn Bread – his first solo album – his subject matter is varied: Curly Locks is a Rastafarian love song (and a cover of a much smoother recording produced by Perry from 1974 Junior Byles ), while Throw Some Water In is an ode to healthy living, and Evil Tongues calls out false friends.

Lee “Scratch” Perry – Let me introduce myself

The post-Black Ark era is widely seen as patchy, but that’s what you’d expect from someone as prolific as Scratch. The 1980s spawned the LSD-fueled Return of Pipecock Jackxon, and also saw Perry spending time in the UK, meeting English dub / reggae producer Adrian Sherwood and guitarist Mark Downie – this latest connection producing Battle of Armagideon (Millionaire Liquidator) in 1986, whose first track offers a reintroduction to Scratch for those who do not already know it.

Lee “Scratch” Perry & Mad Professor – I’m Not Human

Perry also began working with Neil “Mad Professor” Fraser in the 1980s, but their 1995 collaboration with Super Ape Inna Jungle is particularly memorable. The track I’m Not a Human Being not only gives a deeper insight into Perry’s personality, but also demonstrates Perry’s direct connection to the larger universe of electronic dance music which can trace its roots back to the techniques. dub production: in this case, jungle.

Lee « Scratch » Perry – Headz Gonna Roll (feat. George Clinton)

Scratch has worked with a wide range of not-so-reggae collaborators -om Clash in the 1970s and Beastie Boys in the 1990s, to more recent collaborations with people like Andrew WK, Keith Richards and Brian Eno. (Apparently there’s a never-before-seen project with Mouse on Mars as well.) Perry’s self-identification as an alien places him firmly alongside Afrofuturist luminaries such as Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic, hence Headz Gonna Roll, a a funky hip-hop piece, performed alongside George Clinton, is particularly apt.

Lee “Scratch” Perry – African Hitchhiker

In April of this year, at the height of the second wave of the pandemic, where every day of social distancing was like the last, I had the opportunity to listen to Jamaican academic Isis Semaj Hall discuss the meaning of time. by Perry. Take a deep dive into African Hitchiker [sic], found in the 1990s From the Secret Laboratory (another collaboration with Adrian Sherwood), Semaj Hall explained how Perry describes himself as hitchhiking from one life event to another, “diverging from ‘a western time linear and returning to an African sense of time, that which is built on a long past which is always evolving towards a present.

As we all contemplate the idea of ​​a post-Covid future, perhaps we need to turn to Scratch for advice. It can, according to Semaj Hall, “help us to give new meaning – a decolonial meaning – to time and to the various events happening at the same time. Maybe we can find new freedoms and new paths to self-preservation, maybe we can hitchhike and turn the clock around. We just need to listen. After all, as Scratch himself said, “music is magic”.

What are your favorite tracks from Lee “Scratch” Perry? Share them in the comments below.


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