by Howard Campbell
[KINGSTON, Jamaica] – As news circulated on social media that reggae shaman Lee “Scratch” Perry had passed away on August 29, tributes to one of the music industry’s most talented and unpredictable figures were all the rage .
Perry, a Grammy winner known for his work as producer with Bob Marley, The Wailers, Max Romeo and Junior Byles, were 85 years old. He died of an unspecified illness in his home parish of Hanover, western Jamaica.
British broadcaster, sound system operator and reggae historian David Rodigan said: “The music world has lost one if these are the most enigmatic creators; an astonishing and incomparable phenomenon whose sound waves have transformed our lives.
He added that “The Blackboard Jungle album alone is a beacon of sheer brilliance. “
Tributes have come from the Beastie Boys, The Clash, and Lupe Fiasco, all of whom recognized Perry’s vision and genius.
Rodigan first met Perry in 1979 at the producer’s infamous Black Ark studio in Kingston. This is where the eccentric producer has made magic with artists and musicians captivated by his unconventional approach to music.
Prior to building the “Ark” in the early 1970s, Perry came of age as a producer directing The Wailers on songs like Duppy Conqueror and Mr. Brown. Next come Beat Down Babylon and A Place Called Africa by Junior Byles; War in Babylon by Max Romeo, Police And Thieves by Junior Murvin and Fisherman from The Congos.
Bob Marley reportedly ranked Perry as the best producer he has worked with. They collaborated on the songs Smile Jamaica and Punky Reggae Party.
Punk reggae party
The bassist for Punky Reggae Party was Boris Gardiner, who was one of little Perry’s must-have musicians. He also places Scratch in the top drawer.
“He liked to use professional musicians, he never liked amateurs. People like Ernie Ranglin (guitar), Mikey ‘Boo’ Richards (drums), (keyboardists) Robbie Lyn and Keith Sterling… he could relate to them, ”Gardiner said. “But if he didn’t like what he heard, he got very angry.”
The Dark Ark mysteriously burned down in the late 1970s and Perry moved to Europe where he already had high profile admirers such as The Clash and Robert Palmer.
He married Mireille, of Swiss nationality, and settled in his country. Perry did more work as an artist in the latter stage of his career, recording a number of avant-garde albums. One of them, Jamaican ET, won a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2003.