Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: New Book & CDs

Title: Revelation

Label: Megawave Records

Format: CD, MP3

Catalog No.: MEGW 0342

Release date: August 10, 2010


Title: Sound System Scratch (Lee Perry’s dub plate mixes 1973 to 1979)

Label: Pressure Sounds

Format: CD

Catalog No.:  PSCD68

Release date: August 31, 2010


Title: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: Kiss Me Neck : The Scratch Story in Words, Pictures and Records

Author: Jeremy Collingwood

Publisher: Cherry Red Books

ISBN: 9781901447965

Release date: August 2010*


Seventy-four-year-old Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry hasn’t slowed down much. Since 2007 eight albums of new material have been issued under his name and re-packagings of his back catalog continue to appear, too, with the contents of many compilations overlapping each other even when the competing compilations emanate from the same record company. An important difference between the material released lately and that of the past is that now Scratch gets paid for most of his work after years of being relentlessly bootlegged and ripped off by various and sundry music industry participants. Two 2010 releases are of particular interest.

Revelation is a collection of new songs and finds Scratch sounding more involved than he has with some recent releases on which his voicings occasionally seemed perfunctory or poorly edited. Over the years a lot of marginal performances by Scratch have been marketed, and many fans eschew certain works or whole periods of his career. But with Revelation Scratch comes close to the beyond-reggae electronic world music highlights of his Time Boom X de Devil Dead (1987; re-issued in 1994 and 2001 with extra tracks). Keith Richards and George Clinton appear on one song each, Clinton sharing vocals and composing credit with Perry on Scary Politicians, a dubbed-up skank with self-explanatory lyrics; and Richards contributes a signature guitar part to “Books of Moses.” But the highlight of the album, both lyrically and sonically, is a jazz-tinged disquisition on the late Michael Jackson titled “Freaky Michael.” The smoky sax part (played by Tim Hill) snakes in and out of the mix as Scratch’s vocals chide Jackson for apparently turning his back on his black heritage. The tone is gentle, if pointed, and the music evokes memories of earlier horn-infused Scratch collaborations with the likes of Tommy McCook and Vin Gordon. The set list is:

1. Revelation, Revolution, and Evolution
2. Used to Drive a Tractor in Negrille
3. Firepower
4. Holy Angels
5. Scary Politicians
6. Let There Be Light
7. Books of Moses
8. Money Come and Money go
9. Psalm
10. Run for Cover
11. Freaky Michael
12. Weatherman
13. An Eye For an Eye

Whereas Revelation benefits from the crystal clear sounds of modern digital music production capabilities, Sound System Scratch arguably benefits from the crude, jerry-rigged equipment on which it was recorded. The songs here are dub plate selections that Scratch cut at the Black Ark, his legendary home studio that he built himself in the early 1970s. To say these recordings are bass-heavy is to grossly understate the situation. Dub plates were aluminum discs with a thin coat of vinyl on which the music was cut. They were not intended to be played more than a few dozen times and the recording quality quickly degraded, so the fact that these cuts survived is something of a blessing. They were intended to be played outdoors, and they were intended to be heard—or felt—at great distances, the better to draw a crowd to a sound system show. As usual with ’70s-era Scratch productions, precise personnel assignments are not available in the discographical information, but the notes indicate all of the bass parts were played by Boris Gardiner or Robbie Shakespeare, two of the very best reggae bassists.

The mixes are rough and robust: percussion parts proliferate and disappear, echo and distortion fade in and out, and occasional snippets of other instruments drop in and out of the mix. Found sounds compete with ghostly voices in a complex dub stew that creates an amazing soundscape attained without anything like a digital sampler. This is Scratch at the height of his powers, and one of the finest examples of the full-blown swampy Black Ark sound, but with even more bass than usual! Highlights include an Augustus Pablo melodica workout titled “Lama Lava Mix One;”  “The Rightful Organiser,” an even more heavily dubbed version of one of Scratch’s signature songs, “Dub Organiser;” “Roots Train Number Two;” and “Locks in the Dublight” and “Moonlight Version,” two heavily dubbed versions of “Dreadlocks in Moonlight.”  “Zeal of the Lord” and “Dub of the Lord” are smoky paeans to Jah, and “Groovy Dub” and “Living Dub” recast Keith Rowe’s “Groovy Situation” into moody sonic voyages. The set list is:

1. Dread Dub Plate – Lee Perry
2. Lama Lava Mix One – Augustus Pablo & The Upsetters
3. Groove Dubber – The Upsetters
4. Groove Rider – The Upsetters
5. Jucky Skank – The Upsetters
6. Chim Cherie – The Upsetters
7. The Rightful Organiser – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
8. Stagger – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
9. Big Neck Cut – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
10. Zeal Of The Lord – The Upsetters
11. Dub Of The Lord – The Upsetters
12. Returning Wax – The Upsetters
13. Bush Dub Corntrash – Winston Wright & The Upsetters
14. From Dub Four – Clive Hylton & The Upsetters
15. Roots Train Number Two – Junior Murvin & The Upsetters
16. Locks In The Dublight – Lee Perry & The Upsetters
17. Moonlight Version – The Upsetters
18. Dub History – Carlton Jackson & The Upsetters
19. Living Dub – Keith Rowe & The Upsetters

The “content and sleevenotes” for Sound System Scratch are by Jeremy Collingwood who is also the author of the forthcoming bio-disco-bibliography of Scratch, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry : Kiss Me Neck : the Scratch Story in Words, Pictures and Records. Collingwood is one of the few reggae writers on a par in Scratchology with David Katz (author of the Scratch bio, People Funny Boy), and his insight into the intricacies of the Jamaican music scene provide excellent and vital information about Scratch and his career. As to just who Scratch is, Collingwood writes: “Perry is one of the few reggae stars that continue to have an interest shown in him from the mainstream. He fits into the musical-genius-gone-to-madness-and-back paradigm so beloved of the media {snip} Conversely, in Jamaica Lee Perry is no star of the music business; he’s just one of many producers who had hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 2005, when a UK radio show went to JA to interview people about Perry, there was surprise that the journalist was making a program about Lee Perry. After all, Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee—’The Hit Maker’—was more successful in both mainstream and sound system terms, Bob Marley was a bigger star and King Tubby is often critically more acclaimed. But, uniquely, Perry had an unrivaled period of innovation and creativity that seems to have spoken to and inspired people of many countries, classes and colours around the world.” [p. [11]] The book presents the most comprehensive compilation of Perry’s output to date, but as Collingwood observes, “no list can ever keep pace with the escalating number of records with purported Lee Perry/Upsetter connections,” [p. 247] what with all the bootlegs and bogus collections that have flooded the market, especially on eBay.

The book itself, like dubplate mixes, is a little rough in places and the illustrations are in black and white only. But the number of original record labels, handbills, and esoterica from Scratch’s career displayed here are a treasure trove for the Scratch or reggae enthusiast. The sprawling discography section of the book is divided among Jamaican singles 1963-2009, Albums 1969-2000 (which actually covers vinyl and CD album releases through 2008), UK singles 1963-1983, UK & European discos 1977-1981, US & Canadian singles 1969-1979, US discos 1976-1987, plus a very helpful users guide. As far as being comprehensive, Collingwood even presents a listing of and identifying attributes for the many Scratch recordings released in Jamaica on vinyl with blank labels. His insightful commentary and flair for detail make Collingwood’s work a natural acquisition for library collections with an interest in reggae and individual reggae fans alike.

*Note: Amazon currently lists an April 2011 pub date; however, the book was briefly available in September 2010 (when I purchased my copy) and copies are still available on the Amazon UK site.  Presumably the book will be released again in the US next spring, with the same ISBN. The publishing process of books about Jamaican music, like Jamaican music releases, seems to hew to the spirit of the Jamaican expression “soon come.”

Reviewed by Mike Tribby