Rainford Hugh Perry aka Little Perry aka Jah Lion, aka Super Ape aka Pipecock Jakxon aka the Upsetter is a songwriter/producer. He was born in St. Mary's Jamaica on March 28th, 1936.
While many will say that it was King Tubby that originated that bomb heavy dub sound and production style of sixties and seventies Jamaica you will be hard pressed to find someone who does not also credit Lee Scratch Perry with elevating it to whole other levels. Many things make Perry a stellar and original producer that was way ahead of his time, I will list a few here. First off is the fact that he played his mixing board as if it were an instrument, which probably came from his years as a DJ at sound clashes and the influence of Tubby on his music. The band would play and he would record the tracks and then play them back through his mixing board and would bring tracks in and out of the mix smoothly and sometimes quite suddenly. He would play the band. This style of production, mixed with the amazing homemade delay and reverb boxes that were used, made the music seem to slip in and out of the void as it passed through your ears. The other thing he did (I heard some say he and/or Tubby invented this but I’m not sure some euro concrete sound collage person didn’t do it first) is create tape loops for his tracks from his recordings (as in he would take the tape and figure out the loop points and then cut it with scissors, or the heater on his fat cannon as the case may be, and taped it back together and then record that loop onto another tape.) This was way before the idea of sampling let alone loop based music came into being1. The other element that Perry brought that helped him stand out was the fact that he wasn't just technical he was also an excellent song writer and musician.
He came to Kingston from Hanover, Jamaica and started selling records for Clement "Coxsone" Dodd of the famous Studio One. After this he became a talent scout and a Ska DJ for the studio. He moved his way up the ranks and began producing Ska in the late fifties with Prince Buster (the man who claimed to have invented ska and who recorded Oh Carolina the first time he tried his hands at production) and then left in 1966 to work with Joe Gibbs. It was with Gibbs that some of Perry's most amazing stuff can be heard as Perry gets a chance to work with many legends including Clancy Eccles and legendary production and Drum and Bass (though they mostly played keyboards then) duo Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare. Here the stuff gets more uplifting and reggaeish (he produced the track by the Pioneers called "Long Shot” which people say was the first reggae song) and there was more money behind him now so the recordings have lasted better. The first track he released with Gibbs was called “I’m the Upsetter”, a nickname that would stick with him.
In 1968 he leaves Gibbs and forms the even more bomb label, Upsetter. He turns the band Hippy Boys into The Upsetters and creates the in-house band he will use to release hundreds of singles. The Upsetters will go on to become apart of the Wailers, as in Bob Marley and the Wailers. In the years they all worked together the best reggae the world has ever heard and will ever hear was produced (Small Axe, Duppy Conqueror and Soul Rebel). In 1971 the whole thing falls apart over money, Perry supposedly ripping everybody off. There is a CD out now called Lee Scratch Perry vs Bob Marley and the Wailers which has some the best dub reggae I have ever heard.
With all his money Perry forms Black Arc Studio in 1974. This studio finds Perry veering off his increasingly mainstream path and starting to make the eclectic weird shit that he is famous for. In 1975 Chris Blackwell signs him to Island Records and Perry becomes their in-house producer. It is in Black Arc that the many legends are founded, the black crosses all over the studio, the blowing large amounts of ganga smoke on the tapes, keeping jars of his own pee in the studio, his babbling insanity about his origins and mission and then the mysterious burning down of the Black Arc over either a. Trying to fake his own death so a woman would stop bugging him b. Insurance c. Because of debts to gangsters d. The blast from his spaceship burned the studio down.
Perry is still very much alive and making music but for many it's the 15 years between 1960 and 1975 that are so important and amazing. Most of music now is just plain fucked and annoying with him talking about god and aliens and it is just not enjoyable. However I was lucky enough to hear Mad Professor play the tracks he and Perry had made together since 1989 and it was a pure madness experience, but unfortunately most of these tracks are live/not released for mass consumption with only Mad Professor playing them when he tours. They are pure magic, and definitely another step forward.
If you want to hear Perry the best thing you can buy is the 3 CD set Arkology.
"Some people are only here to collect property. I am here with my suitcase to collect only the good brains."
1 see minimalist music for why what I said about tape loops and loop based music is wrong. What he was doing was still innovative in that department though and who knows from whence the ideas sprang forth.
I got most of this from the book in the box set, looking around the web and just like loving and reading about the guy all the time.
Editor's note: Lee "Scratch" Perry died August 29, 2021, in Lucea, Jamaica, aged 85.