In the past 18 months Jamaica has witnessed the passing of numerous giants from the golden age of Jamaican music (1960s-1980s). Those that have left us include Bunny Wailer, Bunny Lee, Toots Hibbert, Bob Andy and Dobby Dobson.
Yet this week we lost probably the most influential musical figure of that golden period in the virtuoso music arranger, writer, singer, pioneer and producer Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Perry’s work was like a musical commentary of his life and observations of society. His productions were fearless, uncompromising and at times uncomfortable for many. His development of dub play with the likes of King Tubby took reggae to its pinnacle that drew global attention and appreciation.
Perry’s music would cover the issues of the day in Jamaica and the wider society such as romance, raw sex, political corruption and violence, film releases, state sponsored murders, religion, culture, education, coliweed, African history, Babylon, local economy and Rastafari.
Some of his productions was friendly banter and sometimes vicious musical attacks against his rivals in the business including Chris Blackwell, Niney the Observer and Coxsone Dodd. But when Scratch attacked producer Joe Gibbs with the song “People Funny Boy” his career really took off and influenced generations to come.
Perry’s wit was unpredictably sharp. He just had a way with words that defied what most of us would call logic because he was stretching the vocabulary to infinite levels.
We will never see the likes of Scratch again. But how fortunate we are to enjoy his talent for years to come.
Perry’s innovative work continued up to the very end and he was constantly on tour. He would draw huge crowds to his gigs. I was fortunate to see him play live in North London during the 1980s-2000s.
Perry was revered as music royalty in the UK and the tributes on numerous programmes was testament to the impact he had on British culture.
Evidence of Perry’s global influence and appreciation can be heard from below 2 clips this week from Canadian and Australian radio
- Reggae icon Lee (Scratch) Perry was ‘a genius in the true sense of the word,’ says Max Romeo – CBC Radio, Canada
- Rick Howe joined Jacinta Parsons to remember the man who brought Bob Marley to prominence and was described by Keith Richards as “the Salvador Dali of music.” – ABC Radio – Australia
Sadly in Jamaica Perry was not that well known or appreciated. You would be surprised how little mention he has had in the local media over the years. Even the local evening news report on Perry’s death was less than 2 minutes and did not even feature a photo of the great man. Thankfully, IRIE-FM’s Mutabaruka last night dedicated his weekly 4 hour evening show Cutting Edge to Scratch.
It is hard to find a Jamaican whose contribution to society that matches that of Perry. He is up there with the giants of culture of any genre in the world.
It is hard to pick a favourite or even a top 50 of Perry’s outstanding work, given many of us have listened to hundreds of brilliant tracks from the great man’s repertoire.
In terms of Scratch’s work with The Wailers, I am big fan of Mr Brown (produced with Glen Adams) and of course his interpretation of Richie Havens’ African Herbsman.
Perry’s production of The Congos’ album The Heart of the Congos is definitely one of the great albums in any form of music. We cannot ignore the brilliance he brought out from Junior Byles, Max Romeo, The Meditations, George Faith and numerous others.
TalkSPORT’s Danny Kelly put it right on his UK radio show over the weekend with his assessment of Perry – “genius”.
RNZ Music Pocket Edition: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry Special – New Zealand
Island Music Ep115: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry RIP – ABC Radio