If there was a Mount Rushmore for reggae, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s would be one of faces carved on it. The producer-songwriter-musician-singer, now 83, rose through the ranks of the Jamaican music industry, working with other Rushmore candidates like Coxsone Dodd, Joe Gibbs and Bob Marley before striking out on his own with his Upsetter label. Since the 1970s, Perry has worked with everyone from the Wailers to Keith Richards to Ari Up and has a new album, Heavy Rain, that features Brian Eno, among other heavy hitters. PKM’s Amanda Sheppard conducted an interview with Scratch Perry, who preferred to give her “an outerview.” See for yourself…
Equally known for his mystical eccentricities as he is for his musical genius, legendary dub-reggae pioneer, Lee “Scratch” Perry shaped the sound of Jamaican music in its golden age and influenced artists such as The Clash, The Slits, PiL, and the Beastie Boys. The Grammy award winner began as a ska singer and uncredited producer-songwriter in the 1960s and emerged as The Upsetter with hit singles at home and on the UK pop charts where his music found favor among the early skinheads. By the early 1970s, Perry was a sought-after producer who helped cultivate the roots sound for Bob Marley and the Wailers and went on to produce hits for Junior Murvin, Max Romeo, The Heptones, and The Congos at his Black Ark Studio.
Perry has been referred to as the “Salvador Dali of reggae music” having collaborated with everyone from Ari Up to Keith Richards and, at age 83, scored his first #1 album on the Billboard chart, this past December, with Heavy Rain. Produced by Adrian Sherwood, Heavy Rainfeatures guest appearances from Brian Eno and Jamaican trombone legend Vin Gordon who has worked with Perry on such albums as Super Ape and with Marley on Kaya and Exodus.
Lee “Scratch” Perry – Here Come The Warm Dreads, featuring Brian Eno [Official Video]
Lee Scratch Perry: When I talk funny, it’s not me who talk, it’s the holy talk. So, now, I talk in the power of the International Monetary Foundation. By the power vested in I, by the power of my suitcase, my suitcase and my ears pierced the sky, the army, the atmosphere, and justice. Now, IMF Perry speaking in the name of IMF. Now IMF, International Monetary Foundation, President Abraham Rainford Hugh Lee Scratch Perry, the upsetting Upsetter, who return to upset, to upset the devil government, Satan government. And to big up Africa, once more, to the top. And to give Africa all the gold and silver, all the riches, all the wealth, all the fortune, all the fame….all of the lion and all of the animal power to raise over hell, Satan, Baphomet, Apomet, Rapomet, and Capomet, in the name of God, the Father, and the Holy Son, holy shit! (laughs) … And I believe in my holy ship, see my the Black Star Liner, and I don’t know what people think about Marcus Garvey but I believe in Marcus Garvey as the Black Lion…I believe in Marcus Garvey and the Ark of the Covenant. And I believe in Abraham and I believe in tour and I believe in hammer but I don’t believe in poverty but I believe in miracles.
“I Chase The Devil” – Max Romeo & The Upsetters
Born Rainford Hugh Perry, he got his start in the 1960s delivering hot wax to Coxsone’s Downbeat sound system before becoming an A&R man for Coxsone’s Studio One where he worked with The Wailers as an uncredited producer/songwriter. Perry also recorded for Coxsone and got the nickname “Scratch” after he auditioned his song, “Chicken Scratch” for Coxsone Dodd, himself. Dodd, however, lacked confidence in Scratch’s singing ability and only cut his songs on sound system acetate. Scratch became frustrated with his work arrangement under Coxsone and left Studio One in 1966.
Lee Scratch Perry: I believe in my feet and I believe in my sleet and I went to school and I didn’t learn anything from school. All I learned is what I learn is from my dream, so, I believe in dreams and my dream came true. And I believe in my holy shit and my holy shit give me the International Monetary Foundation. My holy shit give me all the pounds, all the shillings, all the pence. All the kroner, all the trone, all the flip, and all the bone, in Jesus name. And I believe in Jesus and I baptized in the name of Jesus…
Lee “Scratch” Perry, espousing his philosophy in “10 Commandments”
Shortly after his split from Coxsone, Scratch collaborated with Prince Buster on his song “Johnny Cool,” as well as the rude boy classic “Judge Dread.” Scratch also worked briefly at WIRL Studio, where he cut “Run For Cover,” a slam of Coxsone Dodd and his business practices. Following his stint at WIRL Studio, Perry took a job with Joe Gibbs at his struggling Amalgamated Records, where he would record his most iconic jab at Coxsone, “The Upsetter.”
“The Upsetter” – Lee “Scratch” Perry
While at Amalgamated Records, Scratch built his reputation among top musicians as a gifted producer who could easily sing the parts he needed for his rhythms and produced such hits for Amalgamated as the Stranger and Gladdy’s single “Seeing Is Knowing.” Despite producing a successful string of hits for Amalgamated Records, Perry struck out on his own with his Upsetter imprint.
“People Funny Boy” – Lee “Scratch” Perry
Scratch scored his first big hit with “People Funny Boy,” an inspired jab at his former boss, Joe Gibbs, using a parody of a rhythm he produced for The Pioneers’ hit songs “Long Shot” and Jackpot” along with a sample of his crying baby boy. “People Funny Boy” was also a hit for UK reggae label Trojan Records, and he soon followed his success with “Tighten Up,” a track he produced for The Inspirations and inspired Trojan’s Tighten Up compilation series. Scratch’s biggest hit for Trojan was his 1969 instrumental, “Return of Django” which reached #5 on the UK Pop chart. “Return of Django” landed The Upsetters a UK tour [with Aston “Family Man” Barrett’s group, the Hippy Boys, taking over for the All-Stars] and an appearance on Top of The Pops and was even featured as part of a Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar ad campaign.
“Return of Django”– The Upsetters
Scratch became increasingly experimental on his independent releases and revolutionized the dub techniques he first began in the late 1960s. Using a four-track recorder or two 2-track recorders, dub engineers isolate different parts of the instrumentation and add effects [echo, reverb, delay] and bring these parts in and out of the mix. Scratch took this technique a step further and recorded samples of glass breaking, chains rattling, crying babies, chicken frying and sitcom dialogue and spliced these into his mixes. Scratch also used the phaser effect on his Upsetter releases. He continued to revolutionize his dub techniques at his Black Ark Studio in the mid-1970s, where he arranged and recorded the jazz-infused rhythms of his classic album trilogy Super Ape, Roast Fish, Collie Weed, & CornbreadandReturn of the Super Ape. Using humble workhorse equipment, Scratch wove together sound effects, vocal harmonies, percussion dubs, and world-class musicianship and gave it a smoky finish by literally blowing ganja smoke onto his master tapes.
Lee Scratch Perry mixes The Heptones at the Black Ark [From the Roots, Rock, Reggae documentary]
PKM: What would you like the readers to know about Heavy Rain?
Lee Scratch Perry: Well, it mean the Heavy Rain from the beginning. Heavy Rain from Exodus, Heavy Rain from liberty ‘cause it never rain from Genesis. Heavy Rain from the Ark of the Covenant. Until now, I can’t build the Ark but call it Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain, heavy brain. Heavy storm, heavy tidal wave. Heavy curtain, heavy creek. Heavy tree and heavy tree shape. Heavy judgement and heavy justice. Heavy living and constant heavy livity curse. Livity curse politician, livity curse judges, and livity curse many police and livity curse many soldiers. And then livity curse our politician. In the name of Jesus Christ. Holy shit. Any more question? (laughs)
Lee “Scratch” Perry – Enlightened [Official Video]
PKM: And what would you like us to know about working with Adrian Sherwood on this album?
Lee Scratch Perry: It was fun. Everything I do with Adrian is fun and all that.
Adrian Sherwood builds a track: Makumba Rock Dub
Produced by Adrian Sherwood, Heavy Rainfeatures guest appearances from Brian Eno and Jamaican trombone legend Vin Gordon. According to Sherwood, Scratch had brought in some rhythm tracks for them to work on, but liked Sherwood’s Dub Syndicate rhythms so much that he began to improvise material on the spot for what would become their 1987 albumTime Boom X De Devil Dead. Time Boom was well-received by fans and critics upon its release. Despite some spirited ups and downs over the years, the two continue to work together on such Scratch albums as From the Secret Laboratoryand his critically-acclaimed 2019 album Rainford.
PKM: How was your tour?
Lee Scratch Perry: The tour went perfect! Everything I do is perfect, in the name of holy shit! In the name of holy Pisces, I’m a Pisces. In the name of my holy Christian, in the name of my holy fishes, in the name of my holy wishes, and in the name of my holy whip, and in the name of my holy lip, and I am holding my holy hip, and my holy trip, and my holy tip, and my holy monkeys. I control the monkey generation. Holy monkey, holy monkeys, and holy drum and if they don’t do it the drum, they drunkies. I put a curse on cocaine. (Laughs) I put cocaine on my train by my student, Bob Marley, die! Guy was taking cocaine and he couldn’t stop the pain so he went all the locks missing, “True Master, praise rain, again, and save me from cocaine! Reign, oh mighty God, reign again and save my holy brain! And save my holy brain from my holy cocaine, in Lee Scratch Perry name, amen!” (Laughs)
“Soul Rebel” – Bob Marley & Lee “Scratch” Perry
Scratch first met Bob Marley during his time at Studio One when he was responsible for promoting The Wailers and their debut single “Simmer Down.” The Wailers also sang backup on Scratch’s spiritual song “Hand to Hand” and his James Bond-themed track “Pussy Galore.”
Bob Marley left The Wailers in 1966 and relocated to the US, where he stayed with his mother in Delaware for about nine months. Bob re-teamed with Peter and Bunny and began a fruitful 8-month collaboration with Scratch and The Upsetters [neé The Hippy Boys] in 1970 after a stagnant career period marked by Bunny Wailer’s 14-month prison sentence for marijuana possession and JAD Records’ attempts to Americanize the group’s sound. Scratch’s work with The Wailers yielded such hits as “My Cup,” “Duppy Conqueror,” “Soul Rebel,” “Mr. Brown,” “Sun Is Shining,” and “Small Axe” and culminated in the albums Soul Rebels and Soul Revolution.
I keep you hypnotize forever and ever. In this outer-view, not interview
According to David Katz, “What Lee Perry did was to transform the Wailers’ sound by paring it down and gearing it more towards Jamaican ears as opposed to simply aping the styles of their American vocal heroes.” Tensions between Scratch, Bunny Wailer, and to a lesser degree, Peter Tosh, as well as disputes over The Wailers’ royalty percentages, prompted The Wailers to sever ties with Scratch and take his rhythm section. Marley, however, admired Perry and resumed their collaborations after Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh left The Wailers by 1974.
“Small Axe” –Bob Marley & Lee “Scratch” Perry
Lee Scratch Perry: I hypnotize you (Laughs) I keep you hypnotize forever and ever. In this outer-view, not interview, I call it outerview. This is my outerview for Heavy Rain for Rain Hugh Perry. This is my outerview for heavy, Heavy Rain for you, Lee Scratch Perry and Adrian and the rain. And have, have mercy on you and my crazy train (Laughs) and Adrian and make sure that he get no locks. Locks kill Bob Marley, my best student. Locks kill my best student. So, don’t do locks!
In 1977, Bob Marley’s doctors found melanoma in his big toe upon treating him for a soccer injury. Bob’s toe healed after a successful skin graft procedure, and he continued to tour and play soccer without incident until 1980 when The Wailers and then-producer/promoter Danny Sims rushed Bob to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center following his collapse in Central Park during a soccer game. Doctors discovered melanomas in Bob’s lungs and brain. He died on May 11, 1981.
“Police & Thieves” – Junior Murvin
PKM: Can we talk a little about “Police and Thieves”?
Lee Scratch Perry: “Police and Thieves” when we talk about police and thieves, we talk about the same person. They’re not different. They are grudgeful, they are greedy, they are speedy, they are miserable, they are grudgeful, they are hateful for money. They holy police they do anything for money. For money they thief, they thief anything for money and for money they aren’t free. They aren’t people, aren’t free, love money. I love my god, I love my rain, and its freedom, in Jesus name. And the people who love money, and the police and thief who love money, give them to Baphomet, give them to Satan, give them to baiter, waiter, and getter. I don’t pay their rent, I don’t lend them no money, I don’t bless them. And I bless them with piss name in the name of holy shit.
Locks kill Bob Marley, my best student. Locks kill my best student. So, don’t do locks!
En route to Nigeria to produce an album for Island Records with Ghanian trumpeter Eddie Quansah, Scratch ran into trouble obtaining a visa. While in London attempting to resolve his visa issues, Scratch was approached by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes to produce their single, “Complete Control.” Scratch felt a kinship with The Clash for their cover of “Police and Thieves” despite having told the group that they ruined it and agreed to produce the group’s single at SARM East Studios with engineer, Mickey Foote. Scratch is said to have had Mick Jones and Joe Strummer turn down their guitars presumably to make room for Topper Headon’s drums and Paul Simonon’s bass and is also said to have told Mick Jones that he “played guitar with an iron fist.” The Clash later invited Scratch to open for two of their shows at Bond’s International Casino in 1981 and even joined the group for a duet on “Police and Thieves.”
“Complete Control” – The Clash
Scratch continued to split his time between London and Jamaica as he tried to sort out his visa issues. Scratch also ran into Bob Marley, who was in town seeing a specialist about his foot. According to close Scratch associate Tony Owens, Scratch wrote the lyrics “Punky Reggae Party” on the plane flying into Heathrow airport and asked Bob Marley to collaborate on it with him while in London. Scratch recorded the rhythm with Aswad drummer Angus “Drummie Zeb” Gaye and Third World bassist Richard Daley. Scratch was unhappy with the London recordings and later re-recorded the rhythm back in Jamaica with drummer Sly Dunbar and Now Generation bassist Val Douglas with backing vocals from Watty Burnet and The Meditations. Scratch re-recorded Bob Marley’s vocals in one take at Criteria Studios in Miami. “Punky Reggae Party” was released on a double A-sided single with “Jamming” in 1977, and it became a UK Top 10 hit.
“Police and Thieves” when we talk about police and thieves, we talk about the same person. They’re not different. They are grudgeful, they are greedy, they are speedy, they are miserable
PKM: It’s been truly an honor to speak with you. I know there’s another album you’re working on.
Lee Scratch Perry: It’s not ready, it’s far from ready. It’s talking about singing, about holiness, righteousness, godliness, reality. Talking about the first, God the First, not God the Second, and talking about God the most. And talking about God the most, can’t plug this one on the wire form. And I believe in miracle, I want to make this sermonly, too. I believe in miracles and godly demons and godly duppies. I believe in miracles and godly demons and godly duppies. I believe in miracles and I believe in God. I believe in water baptism and I believe in fire baptism and I don’t believe in an African. And I don’t believe in Chris Blackwell.
Ah, Chris Blackwell. The founder of Island Records formed the London based Trojan Records in 1967 to issue Duke Reid releases in the UK and partnered up with Lee Gopthal in 1968, who handled the day-to-day operations while he procured various licensing arrangements for the label. Blackwell got into prog-rock and dissolved his partnership at Trojan in the early 1970s to sign acts like Jethro Tull and Traffic to Island but returned to reggae when he signed Bob Marley and The Wailers.
Scratch is said to have had Mick Jones and Joe Strummer turn down their guitars presumably to make room for Topper Headon’s drums and Paul Simonon’s bass and is also said to have told Mick Jones that he “played guitar with an iron fist.”
Bob Marley and The Wailers’ international stardom prompted Blackwell to sign Max Romeo, The Congos, and also Scratch, who have each claimed that Blackwell sidelined their releases to clear the way for Bob Marley’s ascent. Former Wailers Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer even dubbed him “Chris Whiteworst.” Blackwell also refused to release the now-classic Upsetters albums Roast Fish Collie Weed & Cornbread and Return of the Super Ape while Scratch was signed to Island Records. Blackwell had a loose verbal licensing agreement with Scratch and a paternalistic business sense, which Scratch refused to indulge. According to biographer David Katz, Island Records issued Scratch a check for $25,000 that Chris Blackwell hoped Scratch would use “to get his studio back in shape.” Scratch claims he spent the money on an antique silver serving set “for investment purposes, with money related to Marley material he had worked on that Island controlled.” Scratch recounts his trip to Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios in Nassau and expresses resentment for Blackwell’s control over his work and that of other Jamaican artists on “Judgement In a Babylon.” While Blackwell admitted that he had indeed sipped “the blood of a foul from a rum glass” and explained the Jamaican folk custom to David Katz in People Funny Boy, he did not, however, agree with Scratch’s overall assessment of him as a “vampire.”
Lee “Scratch” Perry – “Judgement In a Babylon”
Lee Scratch Perry: And I don’t believe in Christ and I don’t believe in chronicle and I don’t believe in evil. And I don’t believe in weevils. I believe in learners, and I believe internal, and I love Tina Turner. And maybe there be a time where me and Tina Turner make a CD or an LP together. I would love me and Tina Turner to make a CD or an LP and I would love me and Tina Turner to sing. And I would love me and Tina Turner to go to the top number 1 spot. Tina Turner and me, Lee Scratch Perry. Special artists, Lee Scratch Perry and Tina Turner’s LP, CD, DVD and Lee Scratch Perry and the Staple Singers. Lee Scratch Perry and Mavis Staple singing would be really wonderful.
PKM: That would be amazing! I want that album, too!
Lee Scratch Perry: Lee Scratch Perry and Tina Turner?
Lee Scratch Perry: Lee Scratch Perry and Staple Singers?
Lee Scratch Perry: That would be something I hope true. Hope Lee Scratch and Tina Turner go on tour (laughs) And in the end to lend a help, say to the poor people, “I love you!” Because I cannot take poverty, anymore. I probably see too much church to not give poverty for all the monies and take all the money. Me and Tina Turner going on tour with the Staple Singers to make all the Over rich. Because of all our riches make over ditches over stitch, over deep pain and over p chain, over JPL and over PNP, over Jamaica government. Over English government, over Babylon government, I am get over all of it, for this my foundation, start my foundation, all the docks and all the income, and all the outer-come, holy shit name, amen.
I believe in learners, and I believe internal, and I love Tina Turner. And maybe there be a time where me and Tina Turner make a CD or an LP together.
Ms. Tina Turner and Ms. Mavis Staple, if you’re reading this, please record an album and go on tour with Mr. Scratch! The International Monetary Foundation is counting on you!
Heavy Rain is out now online and in record stores.