I have said it before here, and I will say it again: the undisputed King of Reggae is Lee “Scratch” Perry. Here is an interview circa 1984.
LEE ‘SCRATCH’ PERRY interview – a classic from the NME circa 1984. A surprisingly lucid look at the Black Ark, Bob Marley and Blackwell…
by DANNY KELLY
When Lee Perry – aka Scratch, aka The Upsetter– burned down his Black Ark studio, many people thought he had finally flipped his lid. But now he’s back, with a new LP, a new studio and a vengeful plan to bankrupt Island Records – whose villainy, he claims, brought about his past madness. Danny Kelly takes a schizo-reading on the man who invented dub and made Bob Marley famous.
WHEN THE sprawling, jagged, beautiful, wicked history of popular music is definitively assembled, the name of Lee Perry will be writ large. If his sole achievement had been to engineer Doctor Alimantado’s ‘Best Dressed Chicken In Town’, a tune that fired the pimply imagination of John Lydon, he would have been entitled to a line at least. Or if he had only been the coproducer of The Clash’s fiercesome ‘complete Control’ he’d have deserved a small paragraph.
But Perry was also the man behind some of the greatest records ever made, reggae or otherwise. And the politics that drew the latent genius of Robert Nesta Marley to the surface. And the brains, ears and hands that helped create dub, an innovation that altered the sound, the very possibilities, of black music as surely as Leiber and Stoller’s inspired orchestral drenching of The Drifters’ ‘There Goes My Baby’ or the white-coated circuit-board wiz who gave soldered life to a micro monster and called it DMX.
In truth, the felling of all the forests of Scandinavia couldn’t produce enough pages to do justice to the wondrous art of Lee Perry. And yet, on one hazy Jamaican morning in 1980, this amazing man made an effort to write himself out of that history. He destroyed his fabled Black Art studio, his tiny haven of creativity that had become a torture chamber to him.
Perry’s legendary eccentricity appeared to have spilled across the invisible line into full scale insanity.
Since then all we have heard are rumours, spread, he claims, by his enemies, of continued madness, some third-hand quotes (some pitiably said, others laced with acidic anger) after the death of Marley, and a series of reworked rhythms put out on compilations by the miniscule Seven Leaves Records in North West London, welcome but nonetheless faded echoes of former glories, dusty crumbs from a table once groaning with bounty.
But now the Lee Perry legend may be on the verge of resurrection. An all-new record (‘History, Mystery, Prophesy’) has appeared in America and the genius is holed up in London, planning, scheming, plotting and ranting, preparing to tour and, joy of joys, to produce more new music…
My favorite Lee Perry-produced track is the Congos’ “Open The Gate” from Heart of the Congos. This one, however, is a very close 2nd – “Mistry Babylon”/”Version” by The Heptones. Recorded at the Black Ark in 1976 and released as a 7″ on the Hep Hep label.