Imagination, razor blades and ganja: How Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry changed the sound of popular music | Los Angeles Times


Lee “Scratch” Perry performing in 2013.(Tim Goode / PA Wire / Press Association Images)

Lee “Scratch” Perry, who produced landmark recordings for Bob Marley and helped invent dub music at his famed Black Ark studios, died Sunday at age 85.


Asked about the revolutionary rhythms and songs created at his Black Ark studios in Kingston, Jamaica, reggae producer, dub innovator and studio icon Lee “Scratch” Perry described a cosmic process occurring deep within his early four-track studio tape recorder.

Although the machine afforded only use of four tracks during production, “I was picking up 20 from the extraterrestrial squad,” he said, adding matter-of-factly, “I am the dub shepherd.”

Lee "Scratch" Perry standing in front of Black Ark studios.

Lee “Scratch” Perry in front of Black Ark studios.(Echoes/Redferns)

With his colorfully dyed hair, jangly jewelry, bedazzled hats and neon outfits, Perry, who died Sunday in Lucea, Jamaica, at age 85, presented himself as an eccentric island mystic. The sounds he shepherded across a lifetime behind the mixing board, though, were sophisticated and driven by a laser-like intent that helped change the course of popular music.

Although half a decade prior, George Martin and the Beatles had made grand, studio-built experiments in world-class rooms, Perry in the early 1970s constructed technological workarounds that multiplied the potential at a fraction of the price. Listing his many influential productions for Max Romeo, the Congos, Augustus Pablo, the Meditations and hundreds more might help quantify his contributions, but Perry’s influence extends far beyond reggae and dub.

Among the most innovative producers of the analog recording era, Perry built a ragtag four-track studio centered on a TEAC reel-to-reel, a Soundcraft mixing board, an Echoplex delay box and a Mu-Tron phaser. Seemingly duct-taped together, his gear generated stoned-immaculate sounds and ideas that served as the building blocks of remix culture. […]

Continue reading: Imagination, razor blades and ganja: How Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry changed the sound of popular music

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