Lee Scratch Perry’s influence on the modern music scene cannot be underestimated. Innovator in the studio, founder of dub and the man who made the drastic move to put drums and bass in the center stage of music production. Modern music and especially within techno and house have taken immense influence from his ways in the studio, so it is with great sadness we’ve learned that maestro has left us. A man who should have received the Polar music prize a long time ago.
He died in hospital in Lucea, north-west Jamaica, local media reported Perry is known for his pioneering experiments in dub, which revolutionised not only reggae, but also hip hop, dance and other genres. Perry was born in rural Jamaica in 1936 and moved to the capital Kingston in the early 1960s.
Few musicians can be said to have patented a sound but the ambient echo and spacious reverb of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s work was one of them. The dub sound that came out of Black Ark studios would wash over popular music of all kinds in the ensuing decades after it was founded in 1973, including hip-hop, pop and dance music. His genius ran up against the limits of technology at the time and developed creative work-arounds that shocked professional engineers but delighted listeners and musicians who traveled across the world to learn his mysteries or at least share his vibe.
It is in Perry’s Black Ark sound – a distinctive, murky mass of echo, phasing and off-the-wall effects (like the mooing cow that graces several memorable ‘70s tracks) — where Perry’s most enduring impact is heard. His atmospheric style was adapted by acts working in electronica, trip-hop, dubstep, and modern reggae, dub and dancehall. His catalog was heavily sampled by such rap artists as Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Jay Z and Busta Rhymes; the Beastie Boys, avowed fans, featured him on “Dr. Lee PhD,” a track on their 1998 album “Hello Nasty.” Even his own latter-day albums have sometimes featured samples from his earlier work.
Perry himself — the cosmic artist seated at a celestial, extraterrestrial jukebox — was a singular figure in the history of music. He was one of the prototypes of a new kind of figure: the producer as creator rather than collector of connections or repository of technical knowledge.
In a 1984 interview with NME magazine, he said: “My father worked on the road, my mother in the fields. We were very poor. I went to school… I learned nothing at all. Everything I have learned has come from nature.”He started his music career in the 1950s as an assistant at a reggae music label, before moving up to becoming a recording artist with the same label. Over the next seven decades Perry went on to work with a number of fellow music legends, including Bob Marley and the Beastie Boys. He also won a Grammy in 2002, was nominated four other times – in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2014 – and received a Jamaican national honour, the Order of Distinction.
In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Keith Richards described Perry as “the Salvador Dali of music”.