Trojan
 

The inventive singer, songwriter and record producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry spent much of the late 1960s perfecting an individual take on instrumental sound, mining a distinctive sub-stream of the new reggae style that finally brought him to the attention of audiences outside of his native Jamaica. Always possessed by an urge to experiment and to draw from disparate foreign forms, his subsequent blossoming as a major creative figure came partly from the repeated periods of overseas travel, enabled by his spectacular initial breakthrough.

Following his half-decade of apprenticeship at Studio One at the dawning of the 1960s, and subsequent short-lived partnerships with Prince Buster, WIRL Records, Joe Gibbs and Linford Anderson, Perry launched himself headlong into the independent producer sphere with the establishment of his Upsetter label in late 1968, after the success of the castigating 'People Funny Boy', issued in conjunction with Anderson, delving heartily into the realm of instrumental sound almost immediately thereafter. Though he was still cutting the odd vocal tune with harmony groups such as the Silvertones, the Mellotones, the West Indians and the Inspirations, as well as with solo singers like David Isaacs, his greatest successes in 1969 turned out to be organ and saxophone instrumentals, using stripped-down rhythms from earlier vocal recordings that were turned into wild wordless dance affairs, the focus now being squarely on rhythm, devoid of the clutter of voices to distract dancing feet. This material was crafted with the loyal crowds flocking to Jamaica's sound system events in mind, as well as the island's more intimate and hip nightspots, but ultimately found its greatest success in Britain, both with an expatriate Caribbean-British audience and with the white working class youth that admired the incomparable sounds and style of black Jamaica.

The saxophone instrumental 'Return Of Django' is the track that gave Perry his first significant overseas hit, and can be seen as one of the defining productions during the late 1960s. This chart success brought him and his Upsetters band to the UK and Europe - an unprecedented feat - and gave him a significant chunk of financial stability. Plus, in the best reggae tradition, the song was a mutated failure-made-good, the result of an abortive cover song that was partially shelved. In the process of transformation that is typical of Lee Perry's artistry, the rejected fiasco ultimately brought extraordinary glory.

The instrumental is based on 'Sick And Tired', a complaining slice of New Orleans boogie from the mid-1950s, jointly authored by Fats Domino, Chris Kenner and trumpeter Dave Bartholomew; both Domino and Kenner had hits with it, though Fats' later cut is better-known. The song's enduring appeal is such that Jamaican artists conjured some slow and languorous adaptations of the tune a good decade later in the rock steady era, with the Techniques trying it on for Duke Reid and one Ewen McDermott voicing a duet with Maytals member Jerry Matthias for McDermott's short-lived Jolly label, but when Perry took up the mantel, his approach was totally different.

In late 1968, Perry had cut a rhythm-and-blues influenced track called 'Baby Baby' with Val Bennett, the leader of one of Jamaica's most popular swing jazz bands during the 1950s, who brought a lot of comedy into his performances, and who somehow ended up with the role of Perry's chief chauffeur; the track was one of a handful of songs voiced by the saxophonist and bandleader, but it was not particularly successful. Perry later laid down the bedrock of a Jamaicanised version of 'Sick And Tired' with his resident Upsetters band, otherwise known as the All Stars, featuring bassist Jackie Jackson, drummer Hugh Malcolm, organist Winston Wright and pianist/arranger Gladstone Anderson; on this version, Bennett's searing saxophone solo is very divergent from the break on both Kenner's and Domino's takes on the tune, but it bears some relation to what Bennett had blown on 'Baby Baby'. Keeping the track as an instrumental after failing to muster a credible vocal himself, Perry then re-named the song 'Return Of Django', the title referencing one of a series of violent, Spaghetti Westerns that have retained an enduring cult appeal. The first, 'Django', directed by Sergio Corbucci in 1966 and starring Franco Nero in the title role, was released in the aftermath of the success of 'A Fistful Of Dollars', with a US-Civil War era plotline based around a destructive feud between a gang of Confederate racists and a band of Mexican revolutionaries. Primary sequel 'Django Shoots First', directed by Alberto De Martino, surfaced the same year, with a plotline based on the framing and murder of Django's father by a business associate; with Sir Lord Comic, evidencing how deep the strand ran in his consciousness. Then, the 'Return Of Django', directed by Osvaldo Civiriani in 1967, saw the son of the title character again fighting to avenge his father's death. Perry later explained that he was drawn to the character because of the way he tapped into universal themes of the fight for justice and the appeal of the underdog; as Perry said, "Anyone could be Django", and the fact that Quentin Tarantino revived the figure in 2012 for the hugely popular 'Django Unchained' suggests that many would agree.

The single's Jamaican blank pre-release sold poorly, and its initial pressing as the second 45 to surface on the UK branch od Perry's Upsetter label, established by Trojan Records, fared little better until the autumn of 1969, when it blasted into the British pop charts, helped along in no small part by its use in a Cadbury's Fruit and Nut advert, directed by the Monty Python animator, Terry Gilliam. Perry was quickly summoned to Britain for a nationwide tour as the song scaled the charts but was blown off course prior to departure when his common-law wife stabbed him in the arm, due to his promiscuous nature; the hospitalisation possibly stalled the track at the number five position. In any case, Perry intended to bring the All Stars to tour as the Upsetters, since they had actually played on the track, but financial disputes saw him opt for the younger set of musicians known chiefly as the Hippy Boys, comprised of bassist Aston 'Familyman' Barrett, his drumming brother Carlton, keyboardist Glen 'Capo' Adams and guitarist Alva 'Reggie' Lewis; Val Bennett was left behind due to budgetary constraints. The tour covered over 30 dates and lasted a full six weeks, then an incredible achievement for a Jamaican performing unit.

Naturally, to make the most of the spectacular 'Return Of Django' hit, Trojan quickly put together an album of the same name, the first item of this double-reissue package. The title track was an obvious choice of starting number, followed by 'Touch Of Fire', another honking Bennett sax track with shades of rhythm and blues behind it, but here dominated by a strange keyboard melody. the thrilling organ workout 'Cold Sweat', with Perry's enigmatic vocal introduction, is Glen Adams' powerhouse take of his self-produced 'Ba Ba' (credited to the Reggae Boys, which was the vocal permutation of the Hippy Boys), while 'Drugs And Poison', another sax-and-organ stomper with Bennett at the fore, is one of the first recordings of the uniquely expressive drummer Lloyd 'Tin Legs' Adams, who would join the group, Inner Circle. The lovely organ melody that drives 'Soulful I' uses the rhythm and vocal pattern of David Isaacs' 'Since You're Gone', which was alternately used for Pat Kelly's 'Give Love A Try'; the song would later be adapted on melodica by Augustus Pablo. Next, the popular 'Night Doctor' - an organ instrumental put together by keyboardist Ansel Collins, and later licensed to Perry; drummer Sly Dunbar makes his recording debut here. The off-kilter 'One Punch' has a faltering organ lead, clickety-clack percussive sticks and a ghostly vocal in the background, while the melodic organ scorcher 'Eight For Eight' is based on the oft-versioned 'Skokian', a South African penny-whistle tune. Another British chart success is the organ mania of 'Live Injection', which uses the rhythm of the lesser-known 'Badam Bam' (credited to the otherwise unknown Ravers), and 'Man From MI5', another track popular with the skinhead crowd, placed a vibrant organ line atop a funky backing with shades of the Meters, which contrasts with the Tin-Pan Alley adaptation 'By The Light Of The Silv'ry Moon', here recast in reggae as 'Ten To Twelve' in celebration of 'the bewitching hour'. Finally, 'Medical Operation', is another organ-led hit with a hot funk backing, this time a reggae take on the Meters' 'Sophisticated Sissy'.

As 1969 gave way to 1970, Perry says that once he returned to Jamaica he avoided working with singers because of their greed and grudgeful natures (or, as he put it, "because they were behaving so rude and so stink"), though he would make exceptions for those with special talents, most especially evident in Bob Marley and the Wailers, who he would soon help groom for international stardom, and peers such as Dave Barker, who worked closely with Perry at the same time. Nevertheless, the instrumental remained an ongoing passion of Perry's, both in terms of his single B-sides, and with exceptional album works.

The second half of this reissue package is one of the most erratic Lee Perry album releases from 1970, or maybe the one that points in the most obviously divergent directions. Of course, the album's title and front cover image allude to Perry's ongoing love of Spaghetti Westerns, but the most outstanding reference point is the increasing funkification of his Upsetters, with the Barrett Brothers providing a hardcore drum-and-bass bedrock greatly inspired by the gritty funk of James Brown, yet facing squarely towards the proto-dub of the future under Perry's direction. And since some of the tracks are pure Barrett Brothers, while others are older works in more standard reggae mode, courtesy of the All Stars, disjuncture is the order of the day here.

The opening title track fitting picks up where 'Return Of Django' finished, with another ominous spoken Perry introduction warning that Clint Eastwood is on the move with a hail of machinegun bullets in his wake, the sparse number contrasting dual organ chops with Perry's upfront percussive woodblock (and a bit of in-studio direction mid-way through, if you listen hard enough). After that, 'Hit Me' comes as a musical shock, a stripped down dub take of Chuck Josephs' 'Penny Wise' with emphasis on drum, bass and sparsely-picked rhythm guitar (with plenty of ghostly vocal bleed-through). Then, Eddie Floyd's 'Knock On Wood' gets tackled in an instrumental Upsetter fashion (having been voiced earlier for Perry by the Untouchables, aka the Inspirations), with Family Man's deep bass groove impacting most. 'Popcorn' and 'Catch This' each move farther into funky dub reggae's nether regions, battering us with bass, drum and sparse guitar chops, as though the JB's were stranded in a tropical recording studio without their horn section, or if the Meters cut some works melody-free. 'You Are Adorable' and Capsol' both sound tame by comparison, Val Bennett's sax lead being positively dreamy and the rhythms much more in sentimental mode, while the wah-wah musings of 'power Pack' shift us back to funky dub reggae territory as a ghostly instrumental cut of the rhythm of Wailers medley 'Rebel Hop', which was also used for Dave Barker's sublime 'Runaway Child'. But then, we hit another patch of oldies from 1968: the gritty organ, sax and percussive joy of 'Dollar In Teeth' was the B-side of the 'Return Of Django' 45, 'Baby Baby' is the aforementioned Val Bennett vocal track, and 'Django (Shoots First)' id Sir Lord Comic's Spaghetti Western toast, also noted above, based around a reggae recut of 'Ol' Man River'. And once again, 'Red Hot' blasts us back to the funky drum-and-bass minimalism of the present, with more in-studio dialogue at its close, while 'Salt And Pepper' is a shuffling sax salute to Sipreano, another Spaghetti Western antihero, with a spiralling bass pattern beneath. The closing number is an instrumental take of Dave Barker's 'Tight Spot', sounding positively spooky in voiceless form; it would later be revived for the Heptones' 'Revolution', a one-off single from the Tafari Records camp.

Both 'Return Of Django' and 'Eastwood Rides Again' show Lee Perry internationalising his mind as he explores the farthest reaches of the instrumental format. The former sees him just on the cusp of his international stardom, with his experimental tendencies already firmly entrenched, and the latter finds him delving deeper into funk stylings, but doing so on his own terms, drawing from the form to suit his own purposes, rather than opting for mere imitation. By listening to both sets together, we get a sense of his early progression as an independent producer that felt more comfortable reworking earlier vocal recordings in instrumental modes, rather than concentrating on the standard vocal track, as many of his peers did; in years to come, he would further adapt and refine the process to create some of the most individual and otherworldly of Jamaican music.

David Katz

RETURN OF DJANGO
TOUCH OF FIRE
COLD SWEAT
DRUGS AND POISON
SOULFUL I
NIGHT DOCTOR
ONE PUNCH
EIGHT FOR EIGHT
A LIVE INJECTION
MAN FROM M.I.5
TEN TO TWELVE
MEDICAL OPERATION

EASTWOOD RIDES AGAIN
HIT ME
KNOCK ON WOOD
POPCORN
CATCH THIS
YOU ARE ADORABLE
CAPSOL
POWER PACK
DOLLAR IN THE TEETH
BABY BABY
DJANGO (OL’ MAN RIVER)
RED HOT
SALT AND PEPPER
TIGHT SPOT

Trojan
© Doctor Bird Records