Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry
– Godfather of dub

He’s produced for Bob Marley, co-wrote a track covered by the Clash and appeared in Guinness ads. Who is the real Lee Scratch Perry?

When you think of artists performing beyond what you’d consider their most productive and credible years, you’ll likely come up with a pretty sad bunch, well past their prime. Indeed, if they ever truly had what one might refer to as a prime.

Names like Cliff Richard and Barry Manilow, for instance, might spring to mind. It’s rare then that an artist, due in Liverpool later this month, one who by then will be just shy of his 77th birthday, could generate such excitement – awe in some cases – as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

Unlike those names mentioned above, Perry is not somebody you could accuse of lacking either credibility or justifiable career longevity; arguably the key to this is reaching and entertaining new audiences enough to hold on to them.

This is something Perry obviously understands and embraces: we saw him live for the first time in 2011, at the Animal Collective-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Minehead. Traditionally the haven of everyone from fan-boys to hipsters (with some nice normal folk in-between), while it wasn’t wholly remarkable to see the 70-odd year old ‘Godfather of Dub’ on stage, Lee Scratch Perry is hardly the first name that would spring to mind when you think of acts playing ATP, either.

Our first experience of Perry pre-dated that festival appearance by more than a decade, when he guested on the Beastie Boys’ 1998 album, Hello Nasty, in the guise of Dr. Lee, PhD. An appearance which piqued our interest in somebody we’d never really heard the like of before (blame that on a sheltered musical upbringing).

But for Perry, it’s kind of par for the course: while carving out a career that stretches from the 50s to the present day, broadly taking in what you could call reggae in the early days and more latterly dub, he’s a singer who’s constantly progressed and challenged the boundaries of his art, one whose achievements have been recognised by critics and industry insiders, as well as his fans. As such, he’s someone that almost defies definition, even in his own words: “I’m an artist, a musician, a magician, a writer, a singer; I’m everything.”

So, in lieu of a neat little pigeon hole in which to force him (surely a good thing), some facts. He was born Rainford Hugh Perry, on March 20, 1936, in Kendal, Jamaica; he was Bob Marley’s producer; his career began selling records for Clement Coxsone Dodd’s sound system; along with Junior Murvin, he Co-wrote Police and Thieves; in 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Perry 100 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and is a Grammy Award winner.

So, there you have it, the low-down on a true survivor, more than worthy of the title of innovator and a genuinely towering figure in both reggae and dub. Bet he never envisioned himself appearing alongside the likes of Cliff Richard or Barry Manilow in an article though eh?

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry plays Eric’s Sunday the 17th February £25

Posted on 04/02/2013 by thedoublenegative