Ask anyone in the street about reggae stars and they’ll most likely say Bob Marley. Few know that Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry was the man who moulded the Jamaican legend. As legendary now for his eccentric habits as for his pioneering production skills, ‘Scratch’ is still the man. In an effort to find out just what makes him tick and what makes him great, we grill some of the people Closest to him. Interviews: Mark Robertson
American journalist and author of the definitive Perry biography People Funny Boy.
I had written an article about Scratch for a magazine in'the States and when I came here I arranged an interview with him but he wasn’t interested in talking, he was preoccupied with other things. He read the article later on and summoned me down to his studio, put me through an elaborate initiation and bestowed the title of ghostwriter on me to help him write his autobiography.
The book [which eventually became a biography] was written over a twelve-year period and any time he was recording, mixing, rehearsing or performing in Britain, 1 was there. There is a belated recognition of Scratch now; The Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal magazine tribute issue was a turning point in his career. It was like ‘hey, if the Beastie Boys are bigging him up he must be cool’. Live, you never really know what you’re gonna get. He hates repetition, so every show will be different. Mostly, he ad-libs a lot. The thing that is impressive about the perfomiances he gives now is that Mad Professor really knows how to mix him well as a vocalist; he will keep it constantly interesting, even if Scratch himself gets side- tracked and wanders off to arrange some sculpture that he has started or something like that.
The Professor will draw up vocals Scratch has done moments earlier and loop them, only for Scratch to stop what he‘s doing, return to the mic and chant over the top. lt’s live dub. Professor facilitates a kind of space and gets the best out of him.
As far as being a genius is concerned, that is a
word that I feel is grossly overused in popular music but in Scratch’s case I feel it’s entirely deserved.
Musical collaborator and head of Pressure Sounds.
I actually first met Lee when l was about fourteen and working at Pama Records in my summer holidays. I met him again in I985 when I had established ()n-U-Sound and Steve Barker at Radio Lancashire hooked us up and said, ‘you should work together”. We played each other some tunes and we ended up making an album together called Time Boom X De Devil Dead. Our re-release label has put out three of the definitive Black Ark records including Voodooism and Divine Madness . . . Deﬁnitely.
1 would say he’s one of the most important figures in 20th century music; his approach to sound and the mischief in his work is such that it makes me feel very honoured to have worked with him. If you go back to 1972—73, and you listen to what was going on in music, and then you hear dance records, garage, hip hop, all that’s happening now, his influence is in there. Jamaican parents went all over the world and they were playing Lee Perry’s records‘and their kids have grown up and are now making their music.
His legacy is incredible. Bear in mind he was at Studio One [legendary Jamaican recording studios] as a talent scout, he was responsible for training engineers and organising the recordings, he held it together. Everyone’s just linking up the things that he did and the magical musical mischief he has caused.
Laconic dub producer and collaborator and Perry’s host when visiting Britain.
I’ve been a friend of his for eighteen years. He had laid some tracks down in Jamaica and wanted to voice them in my studio. He came to my studio back then to do a session and we started to work together and produced a few albums. The unique thing about him as a singer is the vocal connection between him and what Bob [Marley] did.
ls Lee an eccentric? Well, yeah, Lee has some extreme moves where he just goes over the top and some moves where he was just normal like the most normal man in the world. He’s wonderful to perform with live. Every date is different and you
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