Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, reggae and dub wizard dies at 85
NEW YORK – Lee “Scratch” Perry, the wildly influential Jamaican singer and producer who pushed the boundaries of reggae and shepherded dub, has died. He was 85 years old. “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,” tweeted Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness. The Jamaica Observer reported the visionary died Sunday morning at a hospital in Lucea. No cause of death has been given. A producer for a wide array of artists including Bob Marley, Perry’s mastery traversed time and genre, his impact evident from hip hop to post-punk, from The Beastie Boys to The Clash.
Born March 20, 1936 in the rural Jamaican town of Kendal, Rainford Hugh “Lee” Perry left school at age 15, moving to Kingston in the 1960s. “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,” Perry told the British music outlet NME in 1984. “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.” He began selling records for Clement Coxsone Dodd’s sound system in the late 1950s, while also cultivating his own recording career.
Perry broke ranks with Dodds over personal and financial conflicts, moving to Joe Gibbs’s Amalgamated Records before also falling out with Gibbs. In 1968, he formed his own label, “Upsetter Records.” His first major single, “People Funny Boy” — a jibe at Gibbs — was praised for its innovative use of a crying baby recording, an early use of a sample.
He gained fame both in Jamaica and abroad, especially in Britain, drawing acclaim for his inventive production, studio wizardry and eccentric persona.
In 1973, Perry built a backyard studio in Kingston, naming it the “Black Ark,” which would birth countless reggae and dub classics.
Adept at layering rhythm and repetition, Perry became a sampling grandmaster whose work created new courses for music’s future.
The producer for a number of landmark dub records — along with Marley, he worked with Max Romeo, Junior Murvin and The Congos — Perry was key in taking Jamaican music to the international stage, crafting sounds that would endure for decades.