Trojan
 

Lee 'Scratch' Perry's influence on the sound f Reggae has been nothing short of profound. During the sixties and seventies, his unique and unconventional approach to the art of music making resulted in the creation of some of the most memorable and enduring recordings ever to have emanated from Jamaica's shores. This anthology brings together 44 of his greatest recordings from this period and by doing so not only provides an opportunity to hear some of the best Reggae ever made, but also gives a fascinating over-view of the developing styles created by a man widely regarded to be the greatest Jamaican producer of his time.

It is widely believed Rainford Hugh Lee Perry was born in the small town of Kendal in the parish of Hanover, a rural area in the north-west of Jamaica, although this and the precise date of his birth - probably March 20th 1936 - remains uncertain. Of his childhood and teenage years, he has related little, other than proudly claiming to have been both a local dominos and dance champion.

Scratch's interest in music from an early age is less uncertain and after leaving school and gaining employment as a labourer in Negril he made his way to Kingston around 1961. Before long he found work for leading sound system operator Arthur 'Duke' Reid who operated the 'Trojan' sound system and had recently turned his hand to producing local talent. But his relationship with Reid soon soured following a dispute concerning a song released by singer Stranger Cole that Perry claimed had been used without his consent. The argument led to Perry walking out on his employer, although he wasted little time resuming full-time employment, securing a job for Reid's biggest rival, Clement Seymour Dodd.

Dodd ran the 'Sir Coxsone's Downbeat' set and Scratch's initial work for the operation involved little more than running errands and helping out at dances, but as his employer became increasingly involved in Kingston's fast developing recording industry, so his responsibilities increased. Among the various tasks initially entrusted to Scratch was the job of delivering and collecting the latest releases from the Federal pressing plant then selling the records to retailers, but as time progressed he began overseeing auditions held every Sunday at Dodd's store in Orange Street and contributing self-penned songs for release by artists on the producer's roster. Among those who recorded Scratch's compositions at this time were Delroy Wilson, Chenley Duffus and eventually, himself - his recording debut being 'Old For New', cut around the close of 1962. Other early efforts included 'Chicken Scratch', 'Bad Minded People', 'Mad Head' and 'Prince And Duke'.

As the years went by, Dodd increasingly relied upon Scratch's creative abilities, but by the mid-sixties, their relationship had become strained and around the close of 1966, it finally came to an abrupt end. After leaving Dodd's Studio One set-up, Scratch engineered sessions for Karl 'JJ' Johnson and Prince Buster, before being installed as the resident producer for George Benson & Garnet Hargreaves' WIRL Records. Surprisingly, his sojourn with WIRL proved short-lived, the company terminating his contract after a matter of months during which he had failed to produce a single hit of note. The company's loss proved to be Joe Gibbs gain. Gibbs was still a novice to the industry, but was canny enough to recognise talent when he saw it and promptly employed Scratch as his in-house producer. Over the ensuing months, Gibbs' Amalgamated label became a hugely successful enterprise, with Errol Dunkley, the Mellotones, the Versatiles and the Pioneers among those to enjoy hit singles supervised by the diminutive Mr Perry.

Aside from Scratch's undoubted skill as a producer, he also put his talents as a performer to good use, voicing a number of his own songs - most notably, 'The Upsetter'. The song took an acerbic swipe at his former employer, Coxsone Dodd and its popularity led Scratch to adopt its title for his own moniker. After a year or so, Scratch's successful sojourn with Gibbs ended acrimoniously following a dispute over money, an experience that provided the final proof that fulfilling his creative and financial potential as a producer would require complete independence.

After a brief spell working alongside Clancy Eccles, Scratch produced a handful of sides for Deltone Records, before uniting with fellow engineers, Lynford 'Andy Capp' Anderson and Barry Lambert to launch Upsetter Records. The first single issued on the new imprint was a Rocksteady version of the Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters' R&B hit, 'Honey love' performed by local singer Burt Walters, issued in the summer of 1968. The record proved moderately successful and was subsequently licensed to Trojan in the UK, but soon after its release, Anderson and Lambert pulled out of the project, leaving Scratch to continue alone. Undaunted, he soon made the duo realise the error of their ways, scoring almost immediately with a hugely popular 'People Funny Boy', a song that echoed the sentiments of 'The Upsetter', with Joe Gibbs now the target for his attack. It's unusual, jumpy feel and over-dubbed crying effects contributed significantly to its success, the disc selling around 60.000 copies locally according to Scratch's own estimates.

The hits continued throughout the remainder of '68, with the producer releasing popular singles by the Mellotones, David Isaacs, the Inspirations and Val Bennett on his newly established Upsetter label. Although Trojan issued many of these sides in the UK, it was not until the beginning of 1969 that the company finally launched their own version of the Upsetter label and for the next three years, the imprint provided the most consistent vehicle for Perry's productions outside Jamaica.

One of the earliest releases on the British imprint was an instrumental version of the Fats Domino hit, 'Sick And Tired', recorded around the close of 1968 by veteran saxophonist, Val Bennett and noted session crew, Gladdy's All Stars. Coupled with another of the group's sides, 'Dollar In The Teeth', the single soon began to pick up airplay on a number of independent radio stations and on the 4th October finally breached the UK charts. After making steady progress up the Pop listings, the record peaked at number five, spending a total of 15 weeks on the chart.

To promote the single, Scratch was invited to tour the UK with the Upsetters, but due to their heavy workload, Bennett and Gladdy's All Stars declined the offer, resulting in the producer approaching another instrumental outfit, the Hippy Boys as replacements. Consisting of organist Glen Adams, guitarist Alva 'Reggie' Lewis and brothers Carlton and Aston 'Family Man' Barrett, on drums and bass respectively, the group went on to perform on the bulk of Perry's productions following their return to Kingston up until their break-up in 1971.

Meanwhile, the international success of 'Return To Django' helped finance the opening of the Upsetter Record shop, established by Scratch at 36 Charles Street, in the heart of downtown Kingston. The outlet quickly became established in the area, its locality enabling the producer his ear to the ground regarding local tastes and trends, which allied to his irrepressible talent, gave him an edge over many of his rivals. Over the next few months, record sales both locally and across the Atlantic in Britain remained healthy, with the Bleechers, Busty Brown and Dave Barker among the small circle of artists to benefit from Scratch's considerable talents as a producer. In 1970, his roster was further bolstered by a group who over the next year or so would provide him with a series of major Jamaican hits: Bob Marley & the Wailers.

The trio of Marley, Peter Tosh and Neville 'Bunny' Livingstone had approached Perry after experiencing a period of declining fortunes, following the demise of their own Wail 'N' Soul 'M' label in 1968 and a number of poorly received singles for Leslie Kong. Their subsequent collaborations with Perry over the next year or so not only revived the group's recording career, but also led to what is generally considered to be among their finest work. Among other performers who collaborated with the producer during the early seventies were such celebrated figures as Keith 'Junior' Byles, Dennis Alcapone, Little Roy, the Melodians, Carlton & the Shoes, Leo Graham, I-Roy, Hortense Ellis and the Gatherers, all of whom have recordings featured on this collection.

By 1973, Scratch was comfortably established as one of Jamaica's leading players, having produced a series of sizeable hits, issued on his Upsetter, Spinning Wheel and, most recently, Justice League labels. But his continued frustration at being restricted by the limited studio time had long since led to the realisation that to fulfill his creative potential he would require a studio of his own. Construction work had already begun on an area, backing on to the house in Cardiff Crescent in Washington Gardens that Scratch shared with his new wife, Pauline, and after its completion he began installing the best affordable recording equipment on which he could lay his hands. By the close of the year, the studio had been furnished with a four-track quarter-inch TEAC 3340 tape machine, a silver Alice board mixing desk, a Grantham spring reverb and tape echo unit, a Marantz amplifier and a collection of assorted instruments, and over the ensuing months, all were put to good use as Scratch began his crusade to push the boundaries of Reggae way beyond their previously conceived limits.

The first major hit produced in the studio was Leo Graham's 'Black Candle', which sold an impressive 15,000 copies locally after being issued in Jamaica on the newly launched 'Judgement' label. Soon after the release of the disc, the rhythm track was again utilised for 'Keep On skanking' by Bob Marley. who had remained on good terms with scratch since leaving his roster in 1971. Delroy Denton of the Silvertones vocal group was another singer to frequent the studio soon after it became operational, cutting 'Give Thanks', which was also versioned around the same time by noted session drummer, Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace, who later made his mark as an actor in the film 'Rockers'. Among the other notable recordings produced during 1974 was 'Public Jestering', a track based on the 'Skylarking' rhythm that featured sound system operator Winston 'Merritone' Blake in the role of Judge Winchester. But by far the biggest commercial hit of the year was provided by Alison Anne 'Susan' Cadogan, who had made her recording debut for the producer that summer with 'Love My Life'. the popularity of the disc had prompted Scratch to arrange another session for the young singer and backed by top session crew, the Boris Gardiner Happening, Cadogan cut an impressive rendering of Millie Jackson's R&B hit, 'Hurt So good'. Promptly issued on the new 'Perries' imprint, the record initially failed to sell locally, but quickly found favour with Britain's West Indian community and steadily began receiving airplay in the UK. By April of the following year, the record had broken into the British Pop charts, where it eventually climbed to the number four spot, giving Scratch his biggest UK hit to date.

Providing backing vocals on 'Hurt So Good' were the Mighty Diamonds, whose brief sojourn with the producer also resulted in the impressive 'Talk About It', issued soon after their collaboration with Cadogan. Keith 'Junior' Byles melancholic Rastafarian 'Curly Locks' became Scratch's next big seller, although the single missed out on the UK chart action, despite selling something in the region of 250,000 copies. Another impressive release was 'Enter The Dragon', a semi-Dub instrumental version of 'Lady Lady' by Joy White, while Jimmy Riley, William 'Bunny Ruggs' Clarke, Ricky 'Storme' Grant and Brent Dowe of the Melodians were also among those to enjoy success with the producer in the mid-seventies.

In 1976, with Scratch firmly established as Jamaica's most creative and innovative producer, he received an approach from British based record company, Island and the resulting deal led to work finally reaching a truly global audience. By now, Scratch was approaching his creative peak and over the next year or so he produced a number of celebrated albums, considered by many to be the most challenging Reggae collections ever created: Max Romeo's 'War In A Babylon', 'Super Ape' by the Upsetters, the Congos' 'Heart Of The Congos', 'Party Time' by the Heptones and Junior Murvin's 'Police & Thieves', the title track of which reached number 23 in the UK charts in 1980, some four years after its original release.

But by the close of the decade, pressures of work, allied to an excessive lifestyle had taken its toll and Scratch's behaviour was becoming increasingly erratic and often bizarre. In 1979, Black Ark studio was burnt to the ground and immediately following its mysterious destruction, the producer left Jamaica, spending time in America and Holland before settling in London in 1983.

Scratch's output over the next few years was sporadic. A working relationship with London-based producer, Neil 'Mad Professor' Fraser's Ariwa label resulted in a number of albums issued on Ariwa, while in 1988 he cut the 'Battle Of Armagideon' LP for Trojan before moving to Switzerland the following year with his new business partner and future wife, Mireille Campbell. Much to the frustration of his fans and admirers worldwide, Scratch's musical contributions in the years since have been few and far between. This apparent lack of activity musically, from a man with such an original and creative mind, is widely regarded as a tragedy, but while there is life there is hope and one day he may yet surprise the world with work that is on par with his Black Ark creations. Until then, we can merely speculate as to what might have been and enjoy the magnificent body of work he has already created. It is a legacy few, if any will ever equal.

LAURENCE CANE-HONEYSETT

Lee "Scratch" Perry - People Funny Boy
The Inspirations - Tighten Up
The Upsetters - Return Of Django
The Upsetters - Dollar In The Teeth
The Bleechers - Come Into My Parlour
The Upsetters - A Live Injection
Dave Barker - Shocks Of Mighty
Bob Marley - Duppy Conqueror
Junior Byles - Place Called Africa
Dennis Alcapone - Africa Stand
Little Roy - Don't Cross The Nation
Bob Marley - Small Axe
The Hurricanes - The Walking The Streets
The Bleechers - The Jump And Rale
Carlton & The Shoes - Better Days
Busty Brown - My Girl
Junior Byles - Beat Down Babylon
Lee "Scratch" Perry - French Connection
The Melodians - The Round And Round
Hortense Ellis - Just One Look
I Roy - Space Flight
Neville Grant - Sick And Tired
Lee "Scratch" Perry - Bucky Skank
The Gatherers - Words Of My Mouth
Leo Graham - Black Candle
Bob Marley - Keep On Skanking
Delroy Denton - Give Thanks
Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace - Herb Vendor
Judge Winchester - Public Jestering
Susan Cadogan - Hurt So Good
The Mighty Diamonds - Talk About It
Junior Byles - Curly Locks
The Upsetters - Enter The Dragon
Jimmy Riley - Woman's Gotta Have It
Bunny & Ricky - Bush Weed Corntrash
Lee "Scratch" Perry - Bush Weed
Bunny Rugs - To Love Somebody
Brent Dowe - Down Here In Babylon
Lee "Scratch" Perry - White Belly Rat
Junior Delgado - Sons Of Slaves
Watty Burnett - Rainy Night In Portland
Leo Graham - My Little Sandra
Junior Murvin - Cross Over
Leroy Sibbles - Garden Of Life

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