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29 August 2021

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Musical Visionary And Pioneer, Dies Aged 85

Lee 'Scratch' Perry
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Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, one of Jamaican music’s most important figures, died on Sunday 29 September 2021 at a hospital in Lucea, Jamaica at the age of 85. No cause of death was immediately given.

The news was confirmed in a tweet from Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness. “My deep condolences to the family, friends, and fans of legendary record producer and singer, Rainford Hugh Perry OD, affectionately known as ‘Lee Scratch’ Perry,” Holness wrote. “Perry was a pioneer in the 1970s’ development of dub music with his early adoption of studio effects to create new instrumentals of existing reggae tracks. He has worked with and produced for various artistes, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Congos, Adrian Sherwood, the Beastie Boys, and many others. Undoubtedly, Lee Scratch Perry will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music fraternity. May his soul Rest In Peace.”

Perry establishhed himself as a visionary and idiosyncratic musical force in the late 60s and 70s, producing some of the most cutting-edge Jamaican artists, with his Upsetter label helping establish many of the genre’s greats, including The Wailers.

Perry was born Rainford Hugh Perry in Hanover, North West Jamaica in 1936, and left school when he was young. He was hired by Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, head of reggae studio and label Studio One, as an assistant, then as a talent scout, DJ, store manager and eventually a recording artist. He earned his ‘Scratch’ nickname from an early recording, The Chicken Scratch, in 1965.

He left Dodd and Studio One after a clash of personalities in 1966 and began working with the producer and Amalgamated Records label head Joe Gibbs until 1968, when Perry and Gibbs split and Perry formed his own label, Upsetter. Perry also formed his own backing band, The Upsetters and released his first single on Upsetter, People Funny Boy, in 1968. The innovative single highlighted his distinctive, dub-heavy production technique. His studio experimentations — which included early uses of sampling and remixing — helped lead to the creation of the dub genre.

After a string of boundary-pushing releases, including the early recordings of Bob Marley & The Wailers, in 1973, he built his own studio, Black Ark, where his experiments with drum machines, sound affects and studio techniques pushed his music to ever-more sophisticated and unusual heights. He pioneered the practice of producing of dub versions of reggae tracks, with the bass emphasised, vocals often removed, and reverb added to create an eerie, echo-heavy musical setting.

As the 70s progressed, Perry produced countless classics, including Max Romeo’s War Ina Babylon, The Congos’ Heart Of The Congos, The Heptones’ Party Time, The Upsetters’ Super Ape and Junior Murvin’s Police And Thieves.

Perry burned down the Black Ark in 1983, convinced it was possessed by evil spirits, but he steadily continued to record solo material throughout the rest of his life. His career-spanning 1997 compilation, Arkology, proved hugely successful and inspired a whole new generation of musicians. His collaborators included George Clinton, Moby, The Orb, The Slits’ Ari Up and the Beastie Boys. He also collaborated with British dub producers Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor. His last solo album, Heavy Rain, was released in 2019 on Sherwood’s label, On-U Sound.

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