Reggae pioneer and production innovator Lee “Scratch” Perry has died, according to a report from The Guardian. Perry was at Noel Holmes Hospital in Lucea, Jamaica at the time of his death, though the cause has not yet been revealed. He was 85.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted a tribute to the reggae legend, saying “Perry was a pioneer in the 1970s’ development of dub music with his early adoption of studio effects to create new instrumentals of existing reggae tracks…. Undoubtedly, Lee Scratch Perry will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music fraternity. May his soul Rest In Peace.”
Perry began his career in music in the ’50s, selling records for Clement Coxsone Dodd’s Sound System, which eventually led to him doing work at Studio One, and after parting ways with Dodd over disagreements, he moved over to Joe Gibbs’ Amalgamated Records. In 1968, he established Upsetter Records, where he released the early single “People Funny Boy,” which sold 60,000 copies in Jamaica alone. The single’s unconventional and innovative production techniques helped to establish the template for dub music, and in 1973, with 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle, his group The Upsetters released one of the earliest full-length dub albums.
Throughout his prolific and storied career, Lee “Scratch” Perry worked with a long list of artists, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Heptones, Junior Murvin, Max Romeo, The Congos, King Tubby, Mad Professor, The Orb, Brian Eno and The Clash. His studio, Black Ark, became ground zero for a number of innovative recordings in reggae music and pop music on a larger scale, incorporating peculiar sounds and effects and dense, often psychedelic layers of sound.
“I see the studio must be like a living thing, a life itself,” Perry said. “The machine must be live and intelligent. Then I put my mind into the machine and the machine perform reality.”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.