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TopFeature ArchivesArtist Hall of FameLee Perry
Featured Artist
Lee PerryText by Jeremy Collingwood
Currently, rightly, seen as a key figure in the development of the form & structure of music, yet alone reggae. In a glorious decade from 1969 to 1979 he produced hundred's of singles, ten's of albums and was right there at the genesis of Dub, Sampling and Remixing. He stands with a alongside the likes of Phil Spector or Atlantic & Stax.
Lee Perry
Real Name Rainford Hugh Perry
Place of Birth Kendal Kingston Jamaica
Related Artist(s)
Like Bob Marley, Perry was born in the rural majority of Jamaica and moved to Kingston to create a career for himself. He started in the music business with Coxsone Dodd(CS Dodd)'s Studio One set up, for whom he cut over thirty sides in the mid 1960's of Ska and cuts of US R'n'B. He collected his first nick name – 'Scratch' – at Studio One after he had a dub plate hit with 'Chicken Scratch' (a dance record).

Leaving Dodd saw Perry launch the first of many musical missiles – this one to Dodd himself proclaimed 'I Am The Upsetter': Perry had a hit and acquired a lasting epithet. This marked the beginning of a career in which he created many news sounds and styles for reggae as he recorded many artists and then honed his creative process by building his own studio and employing new developments in technology in the recording process.

In his golden decade, from 1969 to 1978, Perry released almost 400 singles, in Jamaica, plus some 50 albums in the UK & JA, whilst over 200 further singles were recorded, at least in part, at his Black Ark studio.

What set Perry apart many Reggae producers was that from the mid 1960's he was an experimenter: he issued his first remixed single in 1968, used sampled sounds in U Roy's first recording 'OK Corral'(from a similar time), used samples of his own recordings to build new tracks and used skat and other noises made by the mouth as an instrument. He was always looking at technology and pushing boundaries could develop his music.

Initially his organ driven instrumentals sold to London's Skinheads but he actually achieved a UK Top 5 with 'Return of Django' in 1969; a tune which reflected his passion for Spaghetti Westerns. UK based Trojan records had given Perry his own 'Upsetters' imprint which saw some one hundred releases over a four year period.

By the early 1970's Perry was an upcoming 'rebel' producer who embraced the growing Rastafarian cult and produced Bob Marley, Wailers, with great JA success as well as artist like Dave Barker & Junior Byles. By late 1973 Perry had built his own 'Black Ark' studio in the garden of his Washington Gardens home, that he shared with Trenchtown born Pauline Morrisson and their family. It was, as he said, 'somewhere the sufferer's' could make their music. It would become the birth place of myth & fable as Perry worked ceaselessly over the next five years. The Black Ark was to become the centre of Rasta musical culture in Kingston with the flow of ghetto artists recording at the Ark – either financed by Perry or paying to use the Studio themselves, usually with Perry as engineer.

It was his early partnership with a Sound System operator and erstwhile mixing Studio owner, Osbourne Rudduck aka King Tubby, that would again find Perry pushing back musical barriers. His '14 Upsetters 14 Dub Black Board Jungle' was one of the first ever 'dub' albums. For the rest of the decade he pushed back the barriers of Dub music.

Perry was also working with such producers as Yabby You, Augustus Pablo, Phil Pratt, Clive Hunt and the Tafari set up –as well as a host of lesser known producers. By 1975 Perry stood squarely at the heart of the Kingston reggae music scene that embraced Rebel ideologies, The Rastafarian faith, Black Power and fashion. His music was a hit on the Sound System scene and he was once again attracting interest from abroad and indeed had a UK chart hit with Susan Cadogan's 'Hurt So Good'

1976 saw the start of a deal with Island in the UK that enabled his music to be fully marketed to students and Punks in London that were sensing change in the direction that music would take. His 'Super Ape' album filled the hash filled rooms to students to the world of swirling dub and his ethereal soundscapes, whilst on the Streets of London Junior Murvin's 'Police & Thieves' became the sound track to the Riot hit Notting Hill Carnival. Likewise Perry's production of Max Romeo's 'War in a Babylon' picked up on the major fault lines developing across London's immigrant communities. Once again Perry found himself at the centre of powerful social forces. Perry had developed a highly recognizable sound with a bouncing Bass, lots of reverb and often quite sharp mixing. Like Phil Spector he was creating a trademark sound on which he could place many different artists.

The agreement with Island faltered after George Faith's album failed to sell and also as the quality and content of Perry's new work was variable or going off in its own direction. After albums from The Congos, Candy McKenzie and Perry's blend of African & Reggae music were all rejected, Perry was once again an independent.

Truth was Perry's music was developing in a very particular direction and that was away from what many understood by Reggae. His 'Return of the Super Ape' album largely baffled people, with its Jazz references.

In truth the pressure of endless sessions driven by Rum & Weed, coupled with dealing with the huge numbers of hangers on at his Studio was driving Perry to a place where he found that if he acted mad or strange he could drive people away. He drove Pauline away and then all of the musicians and then continued to act bizarrely: eventually the Black Ark studio was burned out. Later Perry spoke of the power of Fire to cleanse.

Since the demise of the Black Ark Lee Perry has found a new musical vibe through his work with UK producers Adrian Sherwood and The Mad Professor, after a spell of dealing with his personal demons.

In the over 30 years since the demise of the Black Ark the complete story of his music has been slowly revealed through countless compilations. He has inspired the Bessie Boys, been sampled by The Prodigy and has rightly become part of Rocks, not just Reggaes, history.
Date Added: Mar 13, 2020
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