Few artists can claim to have played such a defining role in the development of reggae and dub music as Lee “Scratch” Perry (b. 1936). With an astonishing career spanning well over 50 years, the legendary Jamaican music producer continues to excite audiences despite his advanced age. Just one day after his 80th birthday, Perry performed at the Apolo, Barcelona’s landmark music hall; quite a special gig indeed.
Upsetting the music business
Born into a poor family, Perry’s beginnings were humble. As he relates: “I went to school, first in Kendal, then in Green Island, ‘til fourth grade, around 15. I learned nothing at all. Everything I have learned has come from nature. My father worked on the road, my mother in the fields. We were very poor.”
Perry decided to move to Kingston, Jamaica in order to pursue his passion for music. In the late 1950s he started working at the renowned Studio One hit factory, known as “the Motown of Jamaica.” In 1968 he went on to form his own label, Upsetter Records. Perry, by now an experienced and daring producer, released numerous recordings during the following years, further developing and experimenting with new approaches to music production.
”Everything I have learned has come from nature”
Lee “Scratch” Perry
The Ark is on fire
In the early 1970s Perry built his his own personal studio, named the Black Ark, in the back yard of his family home. Using basic and unsophisticated equipment compared to the state-of-the-art recording studios of Jamaica’s big producers, he gained total control over the production process, thus giving birth to a diverse array of exciting new sounds and advance innovating recording techniques.
It was during this extremely creative period that Perry worked with notable musicians such as Bob Marley & the Wailers and Max Romeo. Around 1980, however, work at the black Ark was stopped as the studio was burned to the ground. Although there is some controversy about the actual circumstances, Perry has claimed that he set the Black Ark on fire himself in order to “cleanse” it from undesired spirits. In his own words: “[T]he atmosphere in the Black Ark studio was changing; it wasn’t like it used to be. Then I decided to make a sacrifice as the energy wasn’t good anymore.”
The legend lives on
A highly eccentric figure and a man with seemingly inexhaustible resources of both physical and creative energy, Perry continues his long and extraordinary career to this day, having produced several notable albums and collaborated with distinguished musicians over the last years.
What is more, his flamboyant presence and unique performing style make him a great entertainer on stage, as was aptly demonstrated last Monday in Apolo. An eternally young and heretic spirit, Lee “Scratch” Perry has given music his body and soul; as to the rest of us, he has given an abundance of intoxicating sounds, new ways to make and approach music, as well as constant inspiration to listen to it with a new set of ears.