The man, the legend, Lee “Scratch” Perry, makes his way to the Alley
A legend of Jamaican roots reggae culture and an astronaut pioneer of the echoing spaces and rhythms of dub music, Lee “Scratch” Perry continues to wow audiences worldwide at the tender age of 75. Originally a sound engineer and producer, Perry created an inimitable sound in the studio of full bass and drum-locked rhythms, and well-interwoven soaring vocal harmonies that would mark some of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ best music, and take reggae to another place entirely.
Perry came up in a time when one of the world’s most-loved musical forms was just an embryo in the womb of a highly infectious Jamaican jazz styling called ska. It is said that summer in Jamaica during the mid-’60s was so immeasurably hot that the quick rhythm drives of ska slowed way down and turned the bass volume way up, creating both the predecessor style, rocksteady, and soon after, reggae music.
Enter Perry from the Jamaican countryside to make sure the music and culture of reggae was here to stay. After gaining recognition behind the sound board, Perry went on to create Black Ark studio in his own backyard and founded Upsetter label in the early 1970s. There, he would record classic roots artists like Junior Murvin, Max Romeo, the Heptones, and the Wailers. Perry could instinctively bring out the flourishes of a river and the haunting echoes of a night in the countryside.
At that time, his use of sound effects was totally unprecedented, and his use of manual control over sound engineering was unlike any other producer’s to date. Perry created a profound artistic relationship with those he recorded. The music he recorded for Bob Marley, brought out a playful, fresh, and unique sound in some of his greatest tunes, including “Small Axe,” “Duppy Conqueror,” and “Sun is Shining.”
He remains a wizard at the soundboard today. After a number of labels and a re-entrance into the realm of musical performance, Perry continues to shine. He has collaborated with dozens of high-grade artists around the world, including DJ Spooky, and explored the infinite realms of dub with artists such as Dubblestandart and Sub Atomic Soundsystem.
In 2003, he received a Grammy for his album Jamaica E.T. The next year, Rolling Stone put Perry in its list of the 100 greatest artists of the century. In his life the roots of ska have evolved to ska-punk bands like Death Cab for Cutie, while his use of sampling, bass, and drums laid the foundation for hip-hop in Queens. Similarly, his production of dub has heavily influenced electronic music and dubstep today. And—believe it or not—at 76, his shows still get rave reviews. Perry touches down this Sunday at Moe’s Alley for a show that’s bound to be out of this world.
Lee “Scratch” Perry plays at 9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25/adv, $30/door. For more information, call 479-1854.