by Jay Trachtenberg
The music world has lost another towering figure with the passing of reggae’s Lee “Scratch” Perry at age 85. Nicknamed “The Upsetter” because of his penchant for causing upheaval, Perry will be remembered for helping to create the original, bubbly, effusive sound of early reggae in the late 1960s and, most importantly, as an idiosyncratic, innovative, and visionary producer for the likes of Bob Marley, The Heptones, Junior Murvin, and The Congos. Working between 1975-79 at his self-constructed, backyard, Black Ark Studio, Perry not only revolutionized the sound of Jamaican music but forged a sonic template that would go on to influence generations of musicians worldwide. It’s astonishing to hear the psychedelic sounds he created at Black Ark on a humble four-track tape machine. According to Perry, “It was only four tracks written on the machine, but I was picking up twenty from the extraterrestrial squad. I am the dub shepherd.” Dub refers to mostly instrumental reggae that has been remixed by way of reverb, sampling, distortion, and other imaginative tools of the trade. Perry was among a handful of the most creative dub producers, having pioneered an art form that is now an aural mainstay of electronic music.
Austinites were fortunate that Perry played here innumerable times over more than two decades, thanks to Flamingo Cantina proprietor, Angela Tharp. She fondly remembers her time with him:
“People always think Scratch is crazy but he knew exactly what he was doing. He had a childlike wonder of the world, always learning, creating and his sense of humor was unlike any other. He loved his fans, his music, friends, and his family. What other 85-year-old do you know who is continually creating music, ideas, and art? It’s like I lost my fairy godfather. Life won’t be as sparkly without Scratch, but I’ve been blessed and give thanks for the time I had with him on this earth. Jah now has a new angel to keep heaven dubbed out and magical.”
Here are six releases that highlight some of Perry’s best work as a producer and recording artist: