Reggae ‘Upsetter’ Perry dies in Jamaica

Lee Scratch Perry
Lee Scratch Perry performs at The Roxy in West Hollywood, CA. on Saturday, Sep 24, 2011. Perry died on Sunday, Aug 29, 2021.
Associated Press/Robert Kenney/File

Viral messages of condolence flooded social media platforms Sunday, Aug. 29 immediately after the Jamaica Gleaner posted five words on their web portal – “Lee Scratch Perry has died.”

Details followed later as the Jamaica Observer, another daily newspaper of the island informed readers that the 85-year-old engineer, producer, singer, producer, dub and reggae legend died in his homeland.

The nation’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness confirmed the news saying, “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.”

“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 artists, 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.”

From then on, a deluge of salutations and sympathy notes dominated Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and news portals.

“If Bob Marley was the face and voice of reggae, Lee “Scratch” Perry was its soul, writer Amol Rajan penned in an obituary that retraced the outstanding accomplishment the founder of Upsetter Records managed.

Guyanese musician Neil Fraser AKA Mad Professor, who collaborated with Perry wrote “What a character! Totally ageless! Extremely creative, with a memory as sharp as a tape machine! A brain as accurate as a computer! We travelled the world together…Japan, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, All over the USA and Canada…and many more places. Never a dull moment! All the Bob Marley stories…all the (Coxsone) Dodd stories!! And many more…”

“A clear understanding of the music and reggae industry…He guided me through the complicated reggae landscape, taught me how to balance a track to create hits… he knew it…I am happy to have learnt from him,” Mad Professor added.

“Sometimes he is the father, other times the son, sometimes, he is the advisor, other times he is seeking advise! I am missing him already, but happy to have known him.”

Regarded as one of the founding fathers of the reggae genre, Perry was born in rural Kendal, Hanover, Jamaica on March 20, 1936.

Early reports claim he disliked manual labor and was not a fan of school.

He abandoned formal education when he was a teenager in order to pursue his passion in Kingston, the music capital of the island.

According to Rahan “Perry made his name in the late 1960s and ’70s for producing some of the most cutting-edge reggae artists, with his Upsetter label helping establish many of the genre’s greats, like the Wailers.”

He firmly believed in eccentricity.

In music and fashion, his style was evident – bold, eclectic and distinctive.

In 1967 he summed it all in a single he titled “I am the Upsetter!”

Perry’s most productive creative alliance came in 1970, when he reunited with the Wailers, the trio he collaborated with during his apprenticeship at Studio One Records in 1968.

He is credited with refining their sound during studio sessions.

Under his tutelage, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer hardened their sound, to emerge one of the “first Jamaican groups to outspokenly champion Rastafarian beliefs.”

Their collaboration yielded “Small Axe,” “Keep On Moving,” “Trenchtown Rock,” “Concrete Jungle,” “400 Years” and “Kaya.”

Together they paid posthumous tribute to Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie by releasing a song titled “Jah Live.”

Perry also earned credibility for his role 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 extraneous effects.

During his studio sessions he was renowned for mixing untraditional audio into his compositions. On occasion he would bury the microphone into dirt to incorporate vibrations from the earth.

His creative practices seemed un-orthodoxed, earning the nickname “Mad Scientist.” He reputedly serviced many unique “dub plates” to Jamaican sound system dancehalls.

His trailblazing productions helped ignite the sub-genre now a staple of deejays.

During the ‘70s, his client list crossed international borders to include England’s Paul and Linda McCartney, Robert Palmer and the Clash.

He received five Grammy nominations winning one in 2003 for his self-produced “Jamaican E.T.”

He issued more than 70 studio and live albums.

In 2019 he released six new albums.

Perry is survived by his Swiss wife, Mereille Ruegge, their two children and five children from previous relationships.

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