Lee “Scratch” Perry, the revolutionary Jamaican producer, songwriter and performer whose influence is historic role in the development of reggae music, died Sunday in Lucea, Jamaica at age 85.
The news was confirmed in a tweet from Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness.
“My deep condolences to the family, friends, and fans of legendary record producer and singer, Rainford Hugh Perry OD, affectionately known as ‘Lee Scratch’ Perry,” Holness wrote. “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. He has worked with and produced for various artistes, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Congos, Adrian Sherwood, the Beastie Boys, and many others. Undoubtedly, Lee Scratch Perry will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music fraternity. May his soul Rest In Peace.”
He broke into the international market with a series of ska-influenced instrumentals under the Upsetters handle. The biggest of these was “The Return of Django,” which climbed the British charts.
Perry’s most productive creative alliance came with the Wailers, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer hardened their sound, and became one of the first Jamaican groups to champion Rastafarian beliefs.
The Wailers’ recordings for Perry included “Small Axe,” “Keep On Moving,” “Trenchtown Rock,” “Concrete Jungle,” “400 Years” and “Kaya,” all of which would be re-recorded by Island Records.
Marley and Perry collaborated on later songs like “Jah Live” and “Punky Reggae Party.”
Perry racked up U.K. hits with Junior Byles (“Beat Down Babylon,” “A Place Called Africa,” “Curley Locks”) and Susan Cadogan (a chart-topping cover of Millie Jackson’s “Hurt So Good”).
A crucial figure in the development of the homegrown art form of dub, which involved the stripping of vocals from previously released recordings and treating the instrumental beds with a variety of otherworldly effects. Perry's “Upsetter 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle,” a 1973 collaboration with King Tubby, was one of the first stand-alone dub LPs that ignited a sub-genre of its own.
In the late 70's Perry produced some of the most original reggae albums ever cut: Max Romeo’s “War Ina Babylon,” the Heptones’ “Party Time,” Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves”, George Faith’s “To Be a Lover” and Perry’s own “Super Ape.”