Trojan
 

As a freewheeling and untethered force of perpetual musical creativity, Lee 'Scratch' Perry had too many individual ideas to remain under someone else's command. Since arriving in the capital city of Kingston from his hometown of Kendal in Hanover, deep in the Jamaican countryside, Perry had toiled for five years at Studio One, helping Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd to become ska's leading producer, and after breaking away from Dodd in 1966, Perry forged a series of short-lived partnerships in the rock steady era, briefly working as an in-house engineer at the West Indies Records Limited or WIRL studio (until being ceremonially unseated there by Bunny Lee), and cutting key discs for Prince Buster, including the landmark rude-boy tune, 'Judge Dread', before settling more firmly in the camp of rising upstart producer, Joe Gibbs, for whom he memorably recorded 'The Upsetter' as a vinyl attack on Coxsone, who he felt had abused his service through financial short-changing and artistic downgrading. Thereafter, Perry became 'The Upsetter' in word and deed, an avenging presence that used music to refute the assertions of wrongdoers and to fight against the pervasive forces of evil.

Of course, arrangements with Gibbs proved equally unsatisfactory, leading Perry to shift over to the fledgling stable of his fellow former Studio One ally, Clancy Eccles, for some incredible sides that were prototypes of the new reggae rhythm, and then, in late 1968, pooled resources with WIRL's chief engineer, Linford Anderson, and trainee Barrington Lambert, to upset the predominant beat of Jamaican popular music with the landmark 'People Funny Boy', an incredible recording issued on Anderson's Upset label that ushered in the new reggae style with superior mettle. Introduced by the sounds of a crying baby, lifted from a sound effects record, its beat highly informed by the music of the African-Jamaican Pocomania church, 'People Funny Boy' indelibly changed the shape of Jamaican music, kick-starting the reggae craze in its initial frenetic form. And when Lambert subsequently said he did not want to continue with the partnership, Perry then officially launched his Upsetter label as a truly independent production force.

Now operating as The Upsetter, whose original releases served to upset Jamaica's musical foundations, Perry took over Prince Buster's former record shop at 36 Charles Street in downtown Kingston, harnessing a set of session musicians as his Upsetters band, initially using the popular group of players known as the All Stars, with bassist Jackie Jackson, drummer Hugh Malcolm, guitarist Hux Brown, pianist Gladdy Anderson and organist Winston Wright, along with occasional variations from time to time that might find the presence of drummer Winston Grennan, various lesser-known guitarists and Lloyd Charmers on keyboards, for example. And for Jamaican music archivists, completists and nit-pickers, it should be noted that saxophonist Roland Alphonso had earlier led an unrelated group called the Upsetters, most likely named in deference to Little Richard's southern US touring band, and to confuse matters further, unrelated vocal group Ossie and the Upsetters also recorded earlier for Studio One. Yet Lee Perry's Upsetters proved the most important and long-lasting Jamaican outfit to use the name, soon strongly impacting outside of the island through Perry's dynamic command.

With this Upsetters backing band now under his direction, Perry recorded material with the Ethiopians (led by Leonard Dillon), the Inspirations (featuring Jimmy London), the Righteous Flames (featuring Winston Jarrett), the West Indians (led by Eric Donaldson), the Bleechers (with Leo Graham) and the Mellotones (with a chap called Winston Francis, but not the Studio One vocalist), along with solo singers such as David Isaacs, Busty Brown, and an adenoidal covers artist, Burt Walters; although the Inspirations 'Tighten Up' (credited overseas to the Untouchables) and David Isaacs' reggae rendition of Stevie Wonder's 'Place In The Sun' were popular, Perry swiftly established his reputation with instrumental music, the organ overdubs of previously-recorded vocal material rapidly becoming his primary focus.

The first official Upsetter production to appear on the Trojan label in the UK was an instrumental adaptation of Ben E. King's 'Spanish Harlem' featuring the veteran Jamaican saxophonist and big-band leader, Val Bennett, issued shortly after the British reggae label broadened its remit to issue product by any producer rather than that solely of Duke Reid, who ran the Trojan label in Jamaica, famously named in reference to the truck he used to transport his massive sound system. Around twenty or so Perry-produced sides surfaced on 45s on the Trojan and Duke imprints in Britain before the company established the UK branch of the Upsetter label to house Perry's product alone, with a high volume of 45s then surfacing from March 1969. Perry's debut album as an independent producer is the subject of the first half of the joint reissue; appropriately titled 'The Upsetter', it was scheduled to be issued in November, the album being issued entirely in monophonic format.

The front cover shows Perry in both dapper and macho man modes, wearing an outlandishly stylish green velveteen jacket and flanked by a pair of voluptuous beauties, the woodland setting adding to the intrigue. Scant liner notes emphasised Perry's status as a multifaceted trendsetter in Jamaica.

Since organ instrumentals were now his forte, most of the LP is delivered in that format, and as Perry was always tuning in to inspiring sounds from overseas, some of the material was based on reconfigured foreign tunes, adapted in various ways for the reggae public. Opening track 'Tidal Wave' is an upbeat organ take on Jim Reeves' broken-hearted country favourite 'He'll Have To Go', which Davis Isaacs had covered first for Perry; 'Heat Proof' is a bright organ re-working of Otis Redding's 'Too Hot To Handle', which Carl Dawkins had tackled in soulful style; the Bee Gees' 'To Love Somebody' here is taken on by popular crooner and dancer Busty Brown, who delivered his rendition in the manner of Al Green's soulful cover version.

Then, the situation of 'Night Doctor' is somewhat confusing; the original instrumental, featuring the organ of Ansel Collins and the inaugural drumming of Sly Dunbar, was actually produced by Collins and licensed to Perry, since Collins lacked the means to release the record himself - and that turned out to be a good move from Collins' perspective, since the song became a massive success and the revenue generated was shared equitably, according to the keyboardist. Winston wright's organ melody on 'Soulful I' is truly irresistible too, so much so that Augustus Pablo would later emulate it on a melodica rendition; David Isaacs' 'Since You Are Gone' was Perry's original vocal production, and the rhythm was also used for Pat Kelly's 'Give Love A Try', released by Bunny Lee. 'Big Noise' features the whimsical blues saxophone of Val Bennett, while 'Man From MI5' sounds like New Orleans session group the Meters were weighing heavily on Perry's mind, and this organ groover was also a considerable hit in Britain. 'Dread Luck' is another of those goofy Upsetter instrumentals, here led by rapid organ chords and a piano line seemingly influenced by ragtime. The rocking rhythm and blues star Brook Benton's cheerful love song 'Kiddy-O' is then rendered in reggae by harmony trio the Silvertones (credited as the Muskyteers on the sleeve), with lead singer Delroy Denton a standout figure; 'Wolf Man' sounds like a keyboard cut of the Bleechers' 'Everything For Fun', and 'Crying About You' is Busty Brown in a picture of soul dejection. Finally, 'Thunderball' is an alternative Val Bennett sax cut of 'Night doctor', instrumentally transformed by Perry for different emphasis, with a further organ melody grafted on top to boot.

'The Upsetter' was ultimately Lee Perry's first fully self-contained long-playing album, aimed specifically at Britain's growing community of reggae fans. When the saxophone instrumental 'Return Of Django' became a spectacular hit late in 1969, helped along by its inclusion in a Cadbury's fruit and nut television advert, an album of the same name was hastily assembled, duplicating some of the tracks on 'The Upsetter'. Nevertheless, the hit brought Perry and his band to Britain for their first overseas tour, though the musicians featured were a newer set of Upsetters that had earlier been known as the Hippy Boys, featuring bassist Aston 'Family Man' Barrett, his brother Carlton on drums, organist Glen Adams and guitarist Alva 'Reggie' Lewis, rather than the actual players that featured on the hit itself. The success of this single and the overseas touring allowed Perry to move his family out of the Kingston slums and into the relative spaciousness of Washington Gardens, a lower-middle class suburb on the western edge of the city.

As the 1970s came in with such an auspicious start, Jamaican music began to slow as the frantic beat of the dance-based early reggae gave way to more contemplative sounds. The Upsetter sound system, which based at the Upsetter record shop at 36 Charles Street, allowed Perry to test his creations prior to release, and his weekly radio show on JBC helped him spread awareness of the hit-bound material; links with sound systems like Merritone and Emperor Faith helped him reach his maximum audience at home.

Then, shortly after the birth of Perry's daughter Marsha in February 1970, Trojan released 'Scratch The Upsetter Again', the second half of this current reissue package. The front cover shows Perry in live performance action, whacking a cowbell in bellbottom trousers on stage; again a largely instrumental affair, the album has a notably slower pace and generally more mellow countenance, with dreamy reverb regularly applied to keyboards and other elements.

The producer's ongoing dental problems are evidenced by the album's opening numbers, starting with a processed keyboard take of 'Return Of The Ugly', here titled 'Bad Tooth', followed by the equally down-tempo number 'The Dentist' (which sounds suspiciously like it is based on a cover tune of something American). Then, Busty Brown's 'Tribute To A King', voiced in reference to Don Drummond's tragic passing, is here beamed into 'Outer Space' courtesy of more inter-galactic keyboard noodling that is very much at odds with the rhythmic bedrock beneath, while the recycling of older single track 'One Punch' gets its outstanding features from upfront organ trills and clicks of percussive woodblock. Dave Barker then steps up to the plate to deliver a soul-reggae riff of the Shirelles' 'Will You Still Love Me', before Perry bounces us back to the instru-dub territory with a new organ-less take of 'Medical Operation' called 'Take One', which brings to the fore choppy rhythm guitar patterns, funky percussion and shifting piano chords. The dreamy keyboard is back on 'Soul Walk', hovering above Perry's percussive wooden fish and minimal guitar, bass and drums, the vibe continued with the similarly stripped-down 'I Want To Thank You', this time with the organ given prominence above bubbling bass and percolating drums, which burst up every time the organ fades. Novelty toaster and reliable MC Count Prince Miller made his name with 'Mule Train', so much so that he recorded several versions of it throughout his career, yet this Perry-produced cut has the bonus of a preposterous amount of elephantine mule noises. Revived 45 side 'Touch Of Fire' is another track with Val Bennett's saxophone doing battle with wacky keyboard riffs, which makes a real contrast to the final vocal ballad, 'She Is Gone Again', delivered with heart-wrenching emotion by Alva 'Reggie' Lewis. Then, closing track 'The Result' is a ghostly slowed-down keyboard cut of the 'Selassie' rhythm, its title referencing the ceaseless competition of the cutthroat Kingston music scene, the inference being that Perry is the winner, with those exceptional and inimitable sounds.

'Scratch The Upsetter Again' is the sound of Lee 'Scratch' Perry, as the Upsetter, taking a further dive into the limits of recorded sound. Leaps and bounds beyond the sound of 'The Upsetter', yet still in accord with the predecessor, it gives a sense of where he would be headed with future releases, as the instrumental is ultimately shifted to dub.

David Katz

TIDAL WAVE
HEAT PROOF
TO LOVE SOMEBODY
NIGHT DOCTOR
SOULFUL I
BIG NOISE
MAN FROM MI5
DREAD LUCK
KIDDY-O
WOLF MAN
CRYING ABOUT YOU
THUNDERBALL

BAD TOOTH
THE DENTIS’
OUTER SPACE
ONE PUNCH
WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME
TAKE ONE
SOUL WALK
I WANT TO THANK YOU
MULE TRAIN
TOUCH OF FIRE
SHE IS GONE AGAIN
THE RESULT

Trojan
© Doctor Bird Records