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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Influential artist brings reggae beat to local audiences

In reggae music, one man stands out as the genre’s founding father. One man shaped the recognizable sound that would spread across the world and live for generations, providing the soundtrack for everything from Caribbean political uprisings to your last pool party. No, it’s not Bob Marley – it’s Lee “Scratch” Perry, legendary 73-year-old Jamaican producer and artist and the man essentially responsible for the creation of reggae.

Perry started his career in Jamaica in the late 1950s as a seller for a local record label, Studio One. This gave him his first experience in the recording studio. Eventually he split to form his own label, Upsetter, in 1968.
Around this time, a local ska and rocksteady group named the Wailers, featuring a young Bob Marley, approached Perry to help them produce a record. Perry taught the group the sound of reggae, a newly developing Jamaican music form, and the rest is history. The Wailers would split with Perry before their major-label debut Catch a Fire in 1973, but his influence carried on with them as they climbed to international success and spread reggae and the Rastafarian movement to the entire world.
Through the 1970s, Perry produced albums for countless reggae musicians, including artists like The Heptones, Junior Byles and The Congos, and continued to shape the genre as it further developed. He built his own recording studio in Jamaica named the Black Ark, which was legendary for the quality and quantity of music produced there.
Perry is well-known for turning music production into an art, or an instrument of its own.

On many classic reggae albums, his effects are regarded as equally important to the music as the songwriting itself.

However, in the early 1980s, Perry became stressed and increasingly paranoid about the spiritual effects of his music, and burned his studio to the ground in a fit of rage.

Aside from his work as a producer, Perry has been extremely prolific as a performer. He has more than 50 albums under his name, with his band The Upsetters or under the pseudonym “Pipecock Jackxon.” Many of these albums, especially his 1970s work such as Super Ape and Roast Fish Collie Weed and Corn Bread are themselves among reggae’s best.

Beyond reggae, Perry’s influence has spread far and wide — his recording techniques are considered to be a vital contribution to all modern music production, cited by artists such as Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead as vital to their sound.
He may be old, but his presence is still powerful, as he proved in his last stop in Austin during South by Southwest in 2008. Lee “Scratch” Perry performs tonight at Flamingo Cantina on Sixth Street.


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