Dub & Reggae Music Legends: Lee “Scratch” Perry 1936-2021
Rainford Hugh Perry (b 20 March 1936) died on 29th August 2021 of an unspecified illness. Better known as Lee “Scratch” Perry, Pipecock Jackson and The Upsetter (Scratch and The Upsetter after two of his most famous tracks), he was a pioneering Jamaican record producer and singer, noted for his innovative studio techniques and production style.
Starting out with little formal education - he later said “I went to school...I learned nothing at all. Everything I have learned has come from nature” - he worked for Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, the influential record producer and owner of the Downbeat Sound System, then for Joe Gibbs and his Amalgamated Records.
With his own band The Upsetters, Perry had an international hit in 1969 with Return of Django (no. 5 in the UK charts). This was an early reggae hit, but not the first. Perry’s 1968 single People Funny Boy was noted for its fast-chugging beat, that would come to be known as reggae: the record sold 60,000 copies in Jamaica alone.
Perry built his own studio, The Black Ark, in his back garden. There he recorded and produced such artists as Bob Marley & the Wailers, Junior Murvin and Max Romeo. His productions became more lavish, and he developed his own unique sound, even though he used basic recording equipment. Paul Douglas of Toots & the Maytals said of him: “Scratch had a particular sound and everybody was fascinated by his sound. He had this way of putting things together…it influenced a lot of people.”
A fallow period followed, from 1978 until 1984, but his creative powers returned when he gave up alcohol and cannabis. He was known for blowing cannabis smoke into the microphone, so that “the weed gets into the record,” but said later that he wanted to see “if it was the smoke making the music or Lee Perry making the music. I found out that it was me and that I don’t need to smoke.”
Later he collaborated with rock musician Andrew WK, the experimental pop band Animal Collective and the Austrian dub band Dubblestandart, (Who knew there WAS an Austrian dub band?). He produced albums for The Orb, Pura Vida, Daniel Boyle and the New York collective The Subatomic Sound System. His music has been featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto V. Films have been made about him; one of them used film of Perry and the Upsetters taken over a period of 15 years.
His death at the age of 85 ends a career filled with innovation and eccentricity, a career that has spread the influence of reggae music across the world.
He leaves a widow and their two children, and four other children.