Reggae and dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry died August 29th in Jamaica at age 85. Perry started his career as an apprentice to reggae producer Clement Coxsone Dodd. After a time of working with Amalagated Records he formed his Upsetter Records in 1968. He started his career as a solo artist with his inaugural single “People Funny Boy” being released under the name Lee Perry. A series of songs followed and were released on various labels he controlled and there was time spent working with his studio band The Upsetters. In 1970, he produced and released his first production for The Wailers, “Mr. Brown.” His famous Black Ark studio was constructed in 1973 and legendary sessions for Bob Marley, The Heptones, The Congos, Junior Murvin and Max Romeo took place. This was also the year he would collaborate with fellow dub designer King Tubby on the Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle album which many consider to be the first dub album. Augustus Pablo, who became known for adding melodica to dub, is also on the album’s personnel.
Perry’s productions took reverb and echo to make rippling rhythms that reflected a disjointed diaspora yet united the various geographies in sound. Samples of American soul made itself into dub alongside the distinct reggae beat he helped to popularize with his first recordings. He saw the studio itself as an instrument to be manipulated and used as his own artificial intelligence hybrid. Perry claimed to have burned The Black Ark down himself at the beginning of the ’80s. But he also had a creative resurgence and started working with producer The Mad Professor and others. His fame continued to grow in the ’90s and he had a high-profile appearance on the Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty album. The 2003 Grammy for Best Reggae Album award went to Perry for his 2002 Jamaican E.T. album. Perry collaborated with producers Bill Laswell and Adrian Sherwood for the Rise Again and The Mighty Upsetter projects during the 2000s. He would later venture into the dubstep genre with the group Dubblestandart and the Subatomic Sound System. Music was his life’s work but he also became a visual artist and had his first exhibition at Dem Passwords Gallery in Los Angeles in 2010.
Perry stayed busy with music until the end of his life. He co-produced The Orb’s 2012 The Observer In The Star House album and still went on tours. He participated in the first two Dub Champions Festivals in New York City in 2011 and 2012 and Coachella in 2013. Three documentaries were released about him; The Upsetter (2011), Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision Of Paradise (2015) and The Revelation Of Lee “Scratch” Perry (2019). He released 77 albums and four this year including Dubz Of The Root, Friends, No Bloody Friends and To Conquer The Evil Duppies. There was a re-release and remaster of Roast Fish, Collie Weed and Cornbread for Record Store Day 2021.
Lee “Scratch” Perry’s dub and reggae creations have seeped into punk, dance music and hip-hop. Several artists paid tribute to him on Twitter and acknowledged the way he forever changed music.