Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the reggae legend and master of dub, has died aged 85.
According to the Jamaica Observer, Perry (real name Rainford Hugh Perry) died at the Noel Holmes Hospital in Western Jamaica after battling illness. No cause of death has yet been revealed.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, confirmed the dub pioneer’s passing. “My deep condolences to the family, friends, and fans of legendary record producer and singer, Rainford Hugh Perry OD, affectionately known as ‘Lee Scratch’ Perry”, Holness said in tweet.
He added: “Undoubtedly, Lee Scratch Perry will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music fraternity. May his soul Rest In Peace.”
My deep condolences to the family, friends, and fans of legendary record producer and singer, Rainford Hugh Perry OD, affectionately known as "Lee Scratch" Perry. pic.twitter.com/Eec2MEd6yC
— Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) August 29, 2021
Born in rural Jamaica in 1936, Perry – also known as The Upsetter – moved to Kingston in the early 1960s. He described his upbringing in an interview with NME in 1984: “My father worked on the road, my mother in the fields. We were very poor. I went to school… I learned nothing at all. Everything I have learned has come from nature.”
“When I left school there was nothing to do except field work. Hard, hard labour. I didn’t fancy that. So I started playing dominoes. Through dominoes I practiced my mind and learned to read the minds of others. This has proved eternally useful to me.”
His career in music started in the late 1950s when he was hired by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, head of reggae studio and label Studio One, as an assistant. He later became a talent scout, DJ, store manager and eventually a recording artist for the label. He earned his “Scratch” nickname from an early recording, ‘The Chicken Scratch’, in 1965.
He left Studio One in the mid-’60s, following a fall out with Dodd. “Coxsone never wanted to give a country boy a chance. No way. He took my songs and gave them to people like Delroy Wilson. I got no credit, certainly no money. I was being screwed,” he said in the same NME interview.
From there, Perry joined Joe Gibbs’ rival label Amalgamated Records, where he continued to produce in addition to building on his own recording career. Disagreements between Perry and Gibbs resulted in ‘Scratch’ finally founding his own label Upsetter Records – a nod to Perry’s proclamation “I am the Upsetter” – in 1968.
Things began to take off for Perry after he built his own recording studio, the renowned Black Ark. Here, he pushed boundaries and experimented with drum machines and other studio equipment; he recorded the firing of guns, broken glass and he sampled animal noises. He is also said to have blown marijuana smoke on to master tapes to supposedly enhance the recordings.
He pioneered the technique of dub versions of reggae tracks, with the bass emphasised, vocals sometimes removed, and reverb added to create an eerie, echoing sonic space. Perry and his backing band, The Upsetters, used the dub sound on numerous acclaimed mid-1970s reggae records, including Max Romeo’s ‘War Ina Babylon’, the Heptones’ ‘Party Time’, and Junior Murvin’s ‘Police & Thieves’. The latter, co-written by Perry, was covered by The Clash on their self-titled 1977 debut album. The band also recruited Perry to produce their single ‘Complete Control’.
During the early years of his career, Perry worked on some of Bob Marley And The Wailers’ best early recordings such as the ‘Soul Rebel’ and ‘Soul Revolution’ albums as well as the ‘Small Axe’, ‘Duppy Conqueror’, ‘Jah Live’, ‘Punky Reggae Party’, and ‘Rastaman Live Up’ singles. “Scratch helped my father look deeper into himself … [he] was instrumental in my father’s career,” Ziggy Marley said of Perry’s work with his father.
However, Bunny Wailer was less happy with the working relationship, later saying: “He just sat there in the studio while we played our music, and then he screwed us. We never saw a dime from those albums we did with him … Lee Perry’s ignorance cost us a lot of money, and I never forgave him.”
Following the release of The Upsetters’ acclaimed ‘Return Of The Super Ape’ in 1978, Perry started to work more from his home studio. Black Ark fell into disrepair as Perry lessened his musical output and scrawled all over the studio’s surfaces with a marker. According to legend, a paranoid Perry burned down the Black Ark in 1983, convinced it was possessed by evil spirits.
Perry produced more than 1000 recordings during his career, and he worked with a wide variety of other artists including Beastie Boys, Junior Murvin, the Congos, the Orb, and Max Romeo.
He also won a Grammy (Best Reggae Album) in 2002 for his album, ‘Jamaican E.T.’. He was nominated on four other occasions: in 2014 for ‘Back On The Controls’; ‘Revelation’ in 2010; ‘Repentance’ in 2008; and ‘The End Of An American Dream’ in 2007.
Perry was also the recipient of a Jamaican national honour, the Order of Distinction at the rank of Officer.
Tributes have begun to pour in for the late reggae legend, including one from Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, who posted a picture of the late reggae icon and wrote: “His adventure continues beyond this realm”
His adventure continues beyond this realm pic.twitter.com/Ta3JWsXI7w
— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) August 29, 2021
Blessed journey into the infinite.
RIP Lee “Scratch” Perry pic.twitter.com/CBAoMTnfd0
— YASUKE (@flyinglotus) August 29, 2021
AFRICAN BLOOD IS FLOWING THROUGH I VEINS SO I AND I SHALL NEVER FADE AWAY!!!!
LEE SCRATCH PERRY 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/Mv1xZyyRjp
— TAPE TAPE & HOUSE EP NOW PLAYING (@LupeFiasco) August 29, 2021
See more tributes to Perry below:
RIP lee scratch perry too good for this earth
— Ryley walker (@ryleywalker) August 29, 2021
R.I.P. LEE 💙 pic.twitter.com/PT6Jc0Dm64
— Speedy Wunderground (@SpeedyWunder) August 29, 2021
R.I.P. to Lee "Scratch" Perry, reggae icon, dub pioneer, and visionary genius 🇯🇲 pic.twitter.com/BbCIxfTcot
— Spotify (@Spotify) August 29, 2021
Yet another legend takes his leave. R.I.P. Lee “Scratch” Perry. pic.twitter.com/YOyf3vWnsB
— Paul McLoone (@PMcLoone) August 29, 2021
Lee “Scratch” Perry forever pic.twitter.com/7mUvoCjcBg
— Light In The Attic (@lightintheattic) August 29, 2021
“The bass is the brain, and the drum is the heart” RIP Lee “Scratch” Perry. The absolute greatest. Thank you for all the inspiration. Godspeed. 🖤 pic.twitter.com/6Hcv0Ki7JX
— R.A. Irisarri (@blackknoll) August 29, 2021
“Got to be a conscious man when you fall in love.” RIP to one of the greatest musical innovators of our time on this plant: Lee Scratch Perry. pic.twitter.com/xix64WTvV1
— Hiss Golden Messenger (@hissgldnmssr) August 29, 2021
R.I.P to the Legendary 🕊 the great Lee scratch perry pic.twitter.com/KxjkzhHDDT
— Kranium (@therealkranium) August 29, 2021
Rest in Power lee scratch Perry damn https://t.co/i8Wqldh6Dx bless
— anton newcombe (@antonnewcombe) August 29, 2021
RIP to the originator, Lee “Scratch” Perry pic.twitter.com/Ndf6Z3HkZ3
— Jesse Hawken (@jessehawken) August 29, 2021
Lee Scratch Perry RIP…the innovator and righteous Upsetter…wizard of Jamaican music…that drum n bass was LOUD boy.. brilliant man.. Thanx for the songs pal.
— Low Cut Connie (@LowCutConnie) August 29, 2021
Rest in peace Lee Scratch Perry. You will be missed by everyone at dublab
Thank you for the infinite inspiration you've given us
— dublab (@dublab) August 29, 2021
Rest In Peace Lee “Scratch” Perry. All time genius. pic.twitter.com/NRvLxnpkgr
— LAMBOLAMBO (@LAMBOLAMBO) August 29, 2021
RIP Lee Scratch Perry. One of one ♥️
— Melé (@ukmele) August 29, 2021
Lee “Scratch” Perry in his Black Ark studio, Jamaica, 1978. 🙏🏼💜 pic.twitter.com/EE3m1MRUNM
— Mark Farina (@djmarkfarina) August 29, 2021
RIP Lee Scratch Perry, a visionary with such far reaching influence https://t.co/dhl44YmgEE
— Dreadzone (@dreadzonemusic) August 29, 2021
RIP Mr. Lee “Scratch” Perry https://t.co/rc5hsRn7yw
— Damian Abraham (@leftfordamian) August 29, 2021
This is a a developing news story…