The Prime Minister of Jamaica has offered his “deep condolences” to the family of Lee “Scratch” Perry, dub visionary and music pioneer, who was earlier reported to have died at Noel Holmes Hospital in Lucea, Jamaica. The legendary producer was 85.

Few musicians can be said to have patented a sound but the ambient echo and spacious reverb of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s work was one of them. The dub sound that came out of Black Ark studios would wash over popular music of all kinds in the ensuing decades after it was founded in 1973, including hip-hop, pop and dance music. His genius ran up against the limits of technology at the time and developed creative work-arounds that shocked professional engineers but delighted listeners and musicians who traveled across the world to learn his mysteries or at least share his vibe.

Perry himself — the cosmic artist seated at a celestial, extraterrestrial jukebox — was a singular figure in the history of music. He was one of the prototypes of a new kind of figure: the producer as creator rather than collector of connections or repository of technical knowledge. Lloyd Bradley in the Guardian describes Perry at Black Ark, nestled in a 12 foot square room filled with stringed instruments, amps and toys and musicians he sometimes quite literally pulled in off the street:

Conventional instrumentation shared space with his children’s toys – the moo box on the Congos album being the most famous example. On his own time he could experiment and work to realise the sounds he heard in his head, to move the music forward rather than repeat what had been done. Frequently this meant running out of tracks to record on as more and more sounds were to be added. He’d have to “bounce them down”, meaning superimposing one track on another to free up space, and the resultant sound would be fuzzy and more than a little bit woozy – his famous soft and gentle vibe.


In that studio he played a crucial role in developing now common production techniques involved in remixing, but Perry, exhausted and “always deeply eccentric but now increasingly unhinged” from drink and ganja, allegedly set Black Ark on fire and walked away (he was arrested for it but released). Another fire damaged his studio in Switzerland six years ago, where Perry had moved with his wife. From 1980 forward Perry averaged more than an album every year, winning the Grammy Award for the 2002 release Jamaican E.T.

Every bedroom producer figuring things out and nodding in front of their laptop is one of the progeny of Lee “Scratch” Perry. May he rest in peace.

Photo: Album artwork from I Got The Groove.


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