Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: life, career and songs of Bob Marley producer remembered - as he dies at 85

Tributes have been paid to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the iconic Jamaican reggae producer who has died aged 85

Lee 'Scratch' Perry performs on stage at the West Coast Blues & Roots Festival at the Esplanade Reserve, Fremantle on March 31, 2007 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The Beastie Boys and Billy Bragg are among many musicians who have paid tribute to Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Local media reported Perry died in hospital in Lucea, northern Jamaica, with the country’s prime minister Andrew Holness tweeting his “deep condolences” to the family and friends of the man born Rainford Hugh Perry.

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Perry played a pivotal role in the early career of Bob Marley, and would pioneer a deeper style of roots reggae and dub throughout a long and idiosyncratic career.

The Beastie Boys, who first worked with Perry when he opened for them in Japan in 1996 before they joined forces on the track Dr Lee PhD as party of 1998’s Hello Nasty album, hailed the musician’s “pioneering spirit”.

“We are truly grateful to have been inspired by and collaborated with this true legend,” the group said in a tweet, which featured a photograph of a smoking Perry alongside them in the studio, signed by rapper Mike D.

Folk singer Bragg called the Jamaican “The Great Upsetter”, while politician Mr Holness noted 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”.

British label Trojan Records worked with Perry on an instrumental version of Fats Domino’s Sick And Tired in 1969 that peaked at number five on the British charts, further growing reggae in the UK and giving the musician the financial freedom to open the Upsetter Record shop in downtown Kingston.

The label said the passing of the “mighty Upsetter” was “dreadfully sad news”, while The Orb’s Alex Paterson tweeted: “The disco devil has left Babylon, Lee will be forever in my heart”.

Electronic group The Prodigy shared a photo of Perry at a mixing desk with the caption: “total rebel, pioneer and inspiration. May ur bass shake systems and souls forever.”

“RIP to the King”, wrote British rapper Ghostpoet, while Lupe Fiasco quoted lyrics from Perry’s group The Upsetters’ song Zion’s Blood: “African blood is flowing through I veins so I and I shall never fade away.”

Perry’s fellow record producer Steve Albini said “few people were as weird or cast as long a shadow as Lee Perry.

Albini added on Twitter: “His records were shocking and became talismans for anybody who ever tried to manifest the sound in their head.”

Brainfeeder label-boss Flying Lotus wished Perry a “blessed journey into the infinite”, and band The Mountain Goats tweeted there were “few more important figures in the music of the 20th century”.

“He expanded the vocabulary of studio sound; lived a long life & leaves a lasting legacy. play his music for your kids, see how instantly they love it. it’s universal.”

Perry, who collaborated with Paul McCartney and Bob Marley, was married twice and had six children.

What were his links to Bob Marley?

In the early 1970s Perry built a studio in his back yard called The Black Ark. It was here that he produced for a number of Jamaican musicians and acts, including Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Marley had achieved a degree of success before he collaborated with Perry, but it was the latter’s influence - which led to Marley taking on a more heartfelt, spiritual approach - that catapulted him to the status of an icon.

While they would part company before Marley really hit the big time, Perry produced a series of songs which would help accelerate the singer’s career, such as Soul Rebel, Duppy Conqueror, Kaya and Small Axe.

Marley’s son Ziggy has said: “Scratch helped my father look deeper into himself … [he] was instrumental in my father’s career.”

Perry would burn down the Black Ark in 1983, after he became convinced it was possessed by evil spirits. But he continued to record throughout the rest of his life.


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