Lee 'Scratch' Perry

Article Bio Works Projects www
politics, religion
Music (reggae)
America, Caribbean
created on:
June 30, 2009
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since July 7, 2009. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
information provided by:
Other languages:
Lee 'Scratch' Perry
Lee Perry. Courtesy of the artist


One of the true originals

Lee ´Scratch´ Perry is one of the true originals. His enormous output – over 58 albums and 23 compilations – assures him a place in the pantheon of music makers/producers. Formerly driven by his enormous consumption of marijuana, he foreswore the drug in the 21st century to see ´whether it was the smoke making the music or Lee Perry making the music´. Discovering that his output was just as prolific and imaginative without extra narcotic input, his releases in this century have been as focussed and ground-breaking as anything from his past. As self-referential as any post-modernist, his lyrical focus in his creations is often on his own character (in a variety of incarnations including Pipecock Jackxon, the Upsetter, Dr. On The Go, the Red Ninja, Inspector Gadget, Super Ape, Ringo, Wonder Man and the Duppy Conqueror), as well as delving into religion, political critique and baffling narrative.
Beginning his long career in music as an errand boy, security guard, talent scout for the Jamaican record company Downbeat Sound System (1959), he edged his way into the studio and wound up behind the desk. It was Perry who defined what came to be known as ´reggae´, a mutation of the earlier ´rock-steady´ and a genre which did not exist when he first began recording. Despite the primitive technology of the day, consisting of little more than a tape recorder and some tape delays, he created some of the most memorable effects of the emerging genre. No doubt he influenced later generations and musicians from all walks of musical life, he even produced tunes for English punk band The Clash in 1977. His never-ending tape delays and extreme filtering of recorded sound created his trademark, which reverberates to the present day. His use of unpredictable sound effects presaged the later fashion of sampling, as did his constant lyrical references to pop culture in the form of cartoon characters and Western films.

Between 1963 and 1966 he recorded 30 songs for the Studio One label before falling out with the owner. Striking up a partnership with Amalgamated Records, it wasn’t long before problems set in once again. Finally Perry set up his own label Upsetter in 1968. Using his house band The Upsetters, he recorded such artists as Max Romeo as well as a plethora of local artists who did not achieve international fame. But soon his band gained a hit in the UK and his vocalists became stars in Jamaica as a result.

And then along came Bob Marley and his Wailers. The first edition of the Wailers was actually a cooperation between the musicians of The Upsetters, who joined Marley’s band and Marley’s vocalists. Perry was not happy that his star musicians had been lured away, and energetic discussions ensued. Finally Lee Perry was cast as the producer of the Wailer’s first album, and honour was satisfied all round.

Perry was adopted by the emerging skinhead scene of the late 60s and later by the nascent punk scene of the mid-70s. He built his own studio in Jamaica in the 70s but the Black Ark, as it was dubbed, burnt down at the end of that decade. Perry insists that he burned it down himself in a fit of rage and frustration, when his business and personal problems seemed insurmountable. His relationship with Island Records, long-time supporters of Perry, was somewhat damaged when he accused record company boss Chris Blackwell of being a vampire responsible for the death of Bob Marley. The 80s were a less productive period, in the aftermath of the destruction of his studio, and it wasn’t until the end of that decade that he began to resume his regular output.

He worked with English producers and musicians in the creation of his ´Jamaican E.T.´ album of 2003, which won him a Grammy award for Best Reggae Album, and his is also listed in the (somewhat grandiosely-named) Rolling Stone ´Greatest Artists of All Time´ (at #100).

He currently lives in Switzerland and still performing and recording despite his relatively advanced age (he is, at the time of writing, 73 years old). He has rebuilt his studio in his Zurich house, dubbing it the White Ark. It is ´a place where no man has entered before´, he notes.
Author: Martin Gordon


Born Rainford Hugh Perry, in 1936, in Kendal, Jamaica.



Published Audio
Chicken Scratch (1963-1966) Reggae Greats: Lee "Scratch" Perry (1984) Open The Gate (1989) Upsetter Collection (1994) Upsetters A Go Go (1995) Introducing Lee Perry (1996) Words Of My Mouth Vol.1 (1996) Voodooism (1996) Arkology (1997) The Upsetter Shop Vol.1: Upsetter In Dub (1997) Dry Acid (1998) Lee Perry Arkive (1998) Produced and Directed By The Upsetter (1998) Lost Treasures of The Ark (1999) Upsetter Shop Vol.2 1969-1973 (1999) Words Of My Mouth Vol.2 (1999) Words Of My Mouth Vol.3 (2000) Scratch Walking (2001) Black Ark In Dub (2002) Divine Madness ... Definitely (2002) Dub Triptych (2000) Trojan Upsetter Box Set (2002) This is Ska and Reggae Roots (2005) The Upsetter Selection - A Lee Perry Jukebox (2007)


Published Audio
The Upsetter (1969) Return of Django (1969) Clint Eastwood (1970) Many Moods of the Upsetters (1970) Scratch the Upsetter Again (1970) The Good, the Bad and the Upsetters (1970) Eastwood Rides Again (1970) Africa´s Blood (1972) Cloak and Dagger (1973) Rhythm Shower (1973) Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle aka Blackboard Jungle Dub (1973) Double Seven (1974) DIP Presents the Upsetter (1975) Musical Bones (1975) Return of Wax (1975) Kung Fu Meets the Dragon aka Heart of the Dragon (1975) Revolution Dub (1975) Super Ape aka Scratch the Super Ape (1976) Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread (1978) Return of the Super Ape (1978) The Return of Pipecock Jackxon (1980) Mystic Miracle Star (with the Majestics) (1982) History, Mystery & Prophecy (1984) Battle Of Armagideon (Millionaire Liquidator) (1986) Time Boom X De Devil Dead (with Dub Syndicate) (1987) On the Wire (1988) Satan Kicked the Bucket (with Bullwackie) (1988) Chicken Scratch (1989) Mystic Warrior (1989) Mystic Warrior Dub (with Mad Professor) (1989) From The Secret Laboratory (with Dub Syndicate) (1990) Message From Yard (with Bullwackie) (1990) Satan´s Dub (with Bullwackie) (1990) Lord God Muzik (1991) Sounds From The Hotline (1991) The Upsetter and The Beat (1992) Excaliburman (1992) Spiritual Healing (1994) Black Ark Experryments (with Mad Professor) (1995) Experryments at the Grass Roots of Dub (with Mad Professor) (1995) Super Ape Inna Jungle (with Mad Professor) (1995) Who Put The Voodoo Pon Reggae (with Mad Professor) (1996) Dub Take The Voodoo Out Of Reggae (Mad Professor with Lee Perry) (1996) Dub Fire (with Mad Professor) (1998) The Original Super Ape (1998) Son of Thunder (2000) Songs to Bring Back the Ark (2000) Jamaican E.T. (2002) Earthman Skanking (2003) Encore (2003) Alien Starman (2003) Panic in Babylon (2004) Alive, more than ever (2006) End of an American Dream (2007) The Mighty Upsetter (2008) Repentance (2008) Scratch Came Scratch Saw Scratch Conquered (2008) The Mighty Upsetter (2008)


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.


(09 July 09 - 25 July 09)


Official homepage of the artist