Lee "Scratch" Perry

Lee "Scratch" Perry OD (born Rainford Hugh Perry; 20 March 1936)[2] is a Jamaican music producer and singer noted for his innovative studio techniques and production style. Perry was a pioneer in the 1970s development of dub music with his early adoption of remixing and studio effects to create new instrumental or vocal versions of existing reggae tracks.[3] He has worked with and produced for a wide variety of artists, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, the Congos, Max Romeo, Adrian Sherwood, the Beastie Boys, Ari Up, The Clash, The Orb and many others.

Lee "Scratch" Perry
Lee Perry performing in Munich, 2016
Background information
Birth nameRainford Hugh Perry
Also known asPipecock Jackson
The Upsetter
Born (1936-03-20) 20 March 1936
Kendal, Jamaica
GenresDub reggae, ska, rocksteady, jungle, electronic
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, producer
Years active1958–present
LabelsUpsetter, Black Art, Trojan, Goldenlane Records, a subsidiary of Cleopatra Records[1]
Associated actsThe Upsetters, Beastie Boys Mr. Green

Early life

Perry was born in Kendal in the parish of Hanover, the third child of Ina Davis and Henry Perry.[4] His mother had strong African traditions originating from her Yoruba ancestry that she passed on to her son.[4] He later moved to Kingston where he apprenticed at Studio One.[5]

Early career

Perry's musical career began in the late 1950s as a record seller for Clement Coxsone Dodd's sound system. As his sometimes turbulent relationship with Dodd developed, he found himself performing a variety of important tasks at Dodd's Studio One hit factory, going on to record nearly thirty songs for the label.[2] Disagreements between the pair due to personality and financial conflicts led him to leave the studio and seek new musical outlets. He soon found a new home at Joe Gibbs's Amalgamated Records.[2]

Working with Gibbs, Perry continued his recording career but, once again, financial problems caused conflict. Perry broke ranks with Gibbs and formed his own label, Upsetter Records, in 1968. His first major single "People Funny Boy", which was an insult directed at Gibbs, sold well with 60,000 copies sold in Jamaica alone. It is notable for its innovative use of a sample (a crying baby) as well as a fast, chugging beat that would soon become identifiable as "reggae" (the new kind of sound which was given the name "Steppers"). Similarly his acrimonious 1967 single as Lee "King" Perry, "Run for Cover", was likewise aimed at Sir Coxsone. From 1968 until 1972 he worked with his studio band The Upsetters. During the 1970s Perry released numerous recordings on a variety of record labels that he controlled, and many of his songs were popular in both Jamaica and the United Kingdom. He soon became known for his innovative production techniques as well as his eccentric character.[2] In 1970 Perry produced and released The Wailers track "Mr Brown" (1970) with its unusual use of studio effects and eerie opening highlighting his unique approach to production.

The Black Ark

In 1973, Perry built a studio in his back yard, the Black Ark, to have more control over his productions and continued to produce notable musicians such as Bob Marley & the Wailers, Junior Byles, Junior Murvin, the Heptones, the Congos and Max Romeo. He also started the Black Art label, on which many of the productions from the studio appeared.[6] With his own studio at his disposal, Perry's productions became more lavish, as the energetic producer was able to spend as much time as he wanted on the music he produced. Virtually everything Perry recorded in The Black Ark was done using basic recording equipment; through sonic sleight-of-hand, Perry made it sound unique. Paul Douglas mentions:

Scratch had a particular sound and everybody was fascinated by his sound. He had this way of putting things together; it was just his sound and it influenced a lot of people. I’ve even gone to the Black Ark with Eric Gale for that Negril album; I remember myself and Val Douglas, we laid some tracks there, Eric Gale overdubbed stuff on there, but I honestly don’t remember what happened to it.[7]

Perry remained behind the mixing desk for many years, producing songs and albums that stand out as a high point in reggae history.

By 1978, stress and unwanted outside influences began to take their toll: both Perry and The Black Ark quickly fell into a state of disrepair. Eventually, the studio burned to the ground. Perry has constantly insisted that he burned the Black Ark himself in a fit of rage.

After the Black Ark (1980s and 1990s)

After the demise of the Black Ark in the early 1980s, Perry spent time in England and the United States, performing live and making erratic records with a variety of collaborators.[2] His career took a new path in 1985 when he met Mark Downie (Marcus Downbeat) with whom he worked on the 1986 album "Battle of Armagideon" for Trojan. It was not until the late 1980s, when he began working with British producers Adrian Sherwood and Neil Fraser (who is better known as Mad Professor), that Perry's career began to get back on solid ground again. Perry also has attributed the recent resurgence of his creative muse to his deciding to quit drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis. In his earlier days, the act of producing for Perry was a frenzied and ritualistic one where he stated that "he blew smoke into the microphone so that the weed would get into the song."[8] Perry stated in an interview that he wanted to see if "it was the smoke making the music or Lee Perry making the music. I found out it was me and that I don't need to smoke."[9]

In 1998 Perry reached a wider global audience as vocalist on the track "Dr. Lee, PhD" from the Beastie Boys' album Hello Nasty.[10]

Later career

In 2003, Perry won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album with the album Jamaican E.T.. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Perry #100 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[11] More recently, he teamed up with a group of Swiss musicians and performed under the name Lee Perry and the White Belly Rats, and toured the United States in 2006 and 2007 using the New York City-based group Dub Is A Weapon as his backing band. Currently there are two films made about his life and work: Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise by Volker Schaner and The Upsetter by film-makers Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough.

After meeting Andrew W.K. at SXSW in 2006, Perry invited him to co-produce his album Repentance. The album, released on 19 August 2008, on Narnack Records, featured several guest artists including Moby, Ari Up, producer Don Fleming, drummer Brian Chippendale and bassist Josh Werner.

In 2007, Perry's song "Enter the Dragon" was sampled on the track "Carrots" by Panda Bear of Animal Collective. As well, Perry was selected by Animal Collective in 2011 to perform at All Tomorrow's Parties, which the band curated in May 2011.[12] That same year, he recorded Rise Again with bassist and producer Bill Laswell; the album featured contributions from Tunde Adebimpe, Sly Dunbar and Bernie Worrell, and was released on Laswell's M.O.D. Technologies label.[13]

In 2008, Perry reunited with Adrian Sherwood on The Mighty Upsetter. Between 2007 and 2010, Perry recorded three albums with British producer, Steve Marshall. The albums featured performances by Keith Richards, and George Clinton. Two of these albums, End Of An American Dream (2008) and Revelation (2010), received Grammy nominations in the category Best Reggae Album.

In 2009, Perry collaborated with Dubblestandart, on their Return from Planet Dub double album, revisiting some of his material from the 1970s and 1980s, as well as collaborating on new material with Dubblestandart, some of which also included Ari Up of the Slits. In 2008 leading up to this release, Perry's first foray into the dubstep genre was released on 12" vinyl, a collaboration with Dubblestandart and New York City's Subatomic Sound System called "Iron Devil".[14] That record was followed by several more reggae-oriented dubstep collaborations with Dubblestandart and Subatomic Sound System on digital and vinyl, first Blackboard Jungle Vols. 1 & 2 (2009) featuring dancehall vocalist Jahdan Blakkamoore, then Chrome Optimism (2010)[15] which also featured American filmmaker David Lynch. Following that, in 2010, Scratch and Ari Up of The Slits collaborated on a limited edition Subatomic Sound System 7" called "Hello, Hell Is Very Low", a rootical dubstep release that would turn out to be one of Ari Up's last recordings and the final release during her lifetime.

In 2010, Perry had his first ever solo art exhibition at Dem Passwords art gallery in Los Angeles, California.[16] The show, titled "Secret Education," featured works on canvas, paper, and a video installation.

In 2011, The Upsetter, a documentary film about Perry narrated by Benicio Del Toro,[17] was released worldwide in theaters after its premiere at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival.[18] The film was directed and produced by the American film makers Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough and opened in Los Angeles in March 2011.[19] It continued to screen worldwide into 2012, with the DVD, ITUNES and Video On Demand release soon following.[20][21]

In 2012, Perry teamed with The Orb to produce The Orbserver in the Star House, which was recorded in Berlin over a period of several months.[22] The album earned critical acclaim,[23][24] and featured the single "Golden Clouds", named after the historic property located near Perry's hometown in Jamaica. The recording sessions were filmed by Volker Schaner and were part of the documentary Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise.

In August 2012 it was announced that Perry would receive Jamaica's sixth highest honour, the Order of Distinction, Commander class.[25]

In 2013, Perry performed at the first Dub Champions Festival in Vienna, a sold-out performance, backed by Dubblestandart with Adrian Sherwood handling the dub mix. Perry also performed at the first two Dub Champions Festivals in New York City in 2011 and 2012, backed by Subatomic Sound System. Perry performed at the 2013 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California.

Lee "Scratch" Perry is featured as the DJ on the dub and reggae radio station The Blue Ark in Grand Theft Auto V. The station includes a number of dubs by Perry and the Upsetters including "Disco Devil" and "Grumblin' Dub".[26]

In October 2013 it was announced that he was to be awarded a Gold Musgrave Medal later that month by the Institute of Jamaica.[27]

Perry has recorded an album with Daniel Boyle in London, released in May 2014 as Lee "Scratch" Perry – Back on the Controls.[28] The album received a Grammy nomination later that year.[29]

Perry remixed the "Thor's Stone" single by UK producer Forest Swords in November 2013.[30]

In 2015, the documentary Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise had a worldwide release in the cinema as well as on DVD and VOD after premiering at the East End Film Festival in London. The movie gives an insight into the spiritual world of Lee Perry, after director Volker Schaner spent more than 15 years filming with the Upsetter, witnessing the building of the Secret Laboratory in Switzerland from the beginning until its destruction by fire in 2015. The movie contains animated scenes painted by Maria Sargarodschi and animated by Norman Petkau and achieved wide critical acclaim (New York Times, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Guardian, etc.). Produced by Volker Schaner and Daniela Schmid, it shows appearances of Mad Professor, Adrian Sherwood, Irmin Schmid, Martin “Youth” Glover, The Orb, Thomas Lautenbacher of “The White Belly Rats”, David Katz, Nick Manasseh and Dennis Bowell who witness the immense importance of the man. Shot in Switzerland, Jamaica, London, and Berlin, the movie also shows scenes from Aksum and Lalibela, Ethiopia to provide necessary background information. Over the years, Schaner collected over 100 hours of unique scenes and the both still continue the work, planning to release a sequel. More info about the movie – and the movie itself – can be found at www.visionofparadise.de

Perry currently resides in Switzerland, with his wife Mireille and two children. In 2015 his new studio there, the Secret Laboratory, was damaged by a fire that also destroyed his stage costumes and unreleased recordings.[31][32]

In 2015 Perry worked together with Belgium-based band Pura Vida & released The Super Ape Strikes Again, which was mixed at The Last Ark Studio in Belgium using a combination of vintage gear and modern recording techniques.

In September 2015, Lee "Scratch" Perry & Subatomic Sound System launched a 40th anniversary tour for Perry's 1976 album Super Ape. The tour began as part of Dub Champions Festival and continued over the next two years with over 50 dates in North America and some isolated dates in Europe. Nearly every show was sold out on the 2015 & 2016 tours. It culminated with the release of the Super Ape Returns to Conquer album in September 2017 which debuted at #2 on iTunes US reggae chart behind Bob Marley's remastered Legend album & on #3 on the Billboard reggae chart. Larry McDonald performed as part of the band and on the recorded album. A Kickstarter campaign was organized in 2015 by Emch of Subatomic Sound System to raise funds to build a custom 15 foot tall gorilla similar to the one on the original album cover art.[33] The Kickstarter campaign reached its goal and the ape appeared on stage during 2015 and 2016 tour dates.[34]

In October 2018, Lee “Scratch” Perry & Subatomic Sound System launched a 45th anniversary tour for the 1973 album Blackboard Jungle Dub produced by Perry. The tour began in North America and tour posters includes the tag line "World's 1st dub album, Live for the first time". Rolling Stone published a preview of the tour.[35]

2019 saw the release of 'The Revelation of Lee "Scratch" Perry' a film about the making of his 2010 album 'Revelation', directed by Steve Marshall for State of Emergency. The film features intimate behind the scenes footage of Perry at work in his home studio in the Swiss alps and an in depth interview.

In April 2019 legendary hip hop producer Mr. Green announced that he would be doing a record made out of Lee Scratch's famous audio stems. In July 2019 Lee announced that the record is entitled “Super Ape vs. 緑: Open Door” and that it would release on Tuff Kong Records 19 August 2019. The record combines over 20 different genres of music [36]and was critically acclaimed. Hypebeast said it was “Perry’s best work in years” and that it “pushes boundaries of various genres. The record reached the top ten on the iTunes reggae charts and the top 100 on the billboard reggae charts. [37]



  • Lee "Scratch" Perry and Mr. Green Super Ape vs. 緑: Open Door' (August 2019)
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry - Life Of Plants (October 2019)
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry - Heavy Rain (December 2019)

Compilation albums

  • DIP Presents the Upsetter (1975)
  • Scratch on the Wire (1979)
  • The Upsetter Collection (1981)
  • Megaton Dub (1983)
  • Arkology (1997)
  • Ape-ology (2007)
  • Note: Lee Perry has had numerous compilations come out under his name, with many being illegitimate. This list tries to round up a few more "essential" compilations.



  • Lee Perry: Return Of The Super Ape (BA BA ZEE) – Rick Elgood and Don Letts (UK)
  • Lee Scratch Perry's Vision of Paradise (2015) – director Volker Schaner, producer Daniela Schmid, Official Website: www.visionofparadise.de
  • Scratch in Deutschland (1992) (10mins)
  • Ich sende aus dem All (1995) (30mins) 16mm, director Peter Braatz
  • The Upsetter: The Life and Music of Lee 'Scratch' Perry (90mins) (2011) directed by Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough narrated by Academy Award Winner Benicio Del Toro Official website
  • Tracks: Lee Perry (2005) (ARTE) (France)


  • Jesus Perry Live – Dir. InYourFaceTV (2013) From Humanicity Album Produced by EasyRiddimMaker on YouTube
  • Golden Clouds – Dir. Volker Schaner (2012) Collaboration with The Orb on YouTube
  • Lee Scratch Perry: The Unlimited Destruction, 2002, US
  • Lee Scratch Perry: In Concert – The Ultimate Alien, 2003, US
  • Lee Scratch Perry With Mad Professor, 2004, US
  • Roots Rock Reggae – Inside the Jamaican Music Scene, 1977. Directed by Jeremy Marre.
  • Carrying The Swing;; – Dir. Howard Johnson (1998)
  • Reggae: The Story Of Jamaican Music (Part 2 – Rebel Music) 2002. Mike Connolly
  • Rock & Roll – Punk (10 part series) (PBS) (US) (1995)(Episode 9 only) aka Dancing in the Street: A Rock and Roll History (Episode 8 only) (UK)
  • Tribute To Sister D – The Forum, London 1995 (One Drop – Crazy Baldheads – Roastfish and Cornbread)
  • Portraits Of Jamaican Music – Dir.Pierre Marc Simonin (2003) Video Clip
  • Jools in Jamaica – Dir.Geoff Wonfor, Presenter Jools Holland


  1. John Dougan "Lee 'Scratch' Perry – Discography" "AllMusic.com" Retrieved 27 October 2017
  2. Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 738–741. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
  3. "The Upsetter: the Life and Music of Lee Scratch Perry". Theupsettermovie.com. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  4. Katz, David (17 November 2009). People Funny Boy – The Genius Of Lee 'Scratch' Perry. Omnibus Press. pp. 1–5. ISBN 978-0-85712-034-2.
  5. Harty, Hilary. "Lee "Scratch" Perry, Reggae Pioneer, Set to Burn the Mother Down". San Antonio Current. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  6. Katz, David (17 November 2009). People Funny Boy – The Genius Of Lee 'Scratch' Perry. Omnibus Press. pp. 175, 181–2. ISBN 978-0-85712-034-2.
  7. Katz, David (17 November 2009). People Funny Boy – The Genius Of Lee 'Scratch' Perry. Omnibus Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-85712-034-2.
  8. Horovitz, Adam (21 April 2005). "Lee "Scratch" Perry". ProQuest. New York: Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  9. Heselgrave, Douglas (December 2006). "Lee Scratch Perry: From the Black Ark to the Skull Cave, the Madman Becomes a Psychiatrist". Music Box Magazine. Retrieved 28 December 2006.
  10. "Beastie Boys' Hot Sauce History: Lee Perry Rides The Subway – Music, Celebrity, Artist News". MTV.com. 3 May 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  11. "The Immortals: The First Fifty". Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone.
  12. "ATP curated by Animal Collective – All Tomorrow's Parties". Atpfestival.com. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  13. "Lee "Scratch" Perry: Rise Again". PopMatters. 1 June 2011.
  14. "Dubblestandart featuring Lee Scratch Perry* & Prince Far-I* – Iron Devil (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  15. "Dubblestandart Meets David Lynch & Lee Scratch Perry* – Chrome Optimism (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  16. Ziegler, Chris (12 November 2010). "Lee "Scratch" Perry's First-Ever Art Show Opens Tomorrow – Interview with Curator Sebastian Demian – Los Angeles – Music – West Coast Sound". Blogs.laweekly.com. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  17. "Benicio Del Toro Narrates Doc on Reggae Legend Lee 'Scratch' Perry (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  18. "'The Upsetter: The Life & Music of Lee "Scratch" Perry' Released On New Self-Distribution Platform | Shadow and Act". Blogs.indiewire.com. 30 September 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  19. Nate Jackson (24 March 2011). "Lee 'Scratch' Perry's life on film in 'The Upsetter' – Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  20. "Doc Channel Blog, Docs on DVD: "The Upsetter"; "Shut Up Little Man!"; "Sarah Palin: You Betcha!"; "Revenge of the Electric Car"; "Queen of the Sun"; "Limelight"; "Hell and Back Again"; "From the Sky Down"". Blog.documentarychannel.com. 24 January 2012. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  21. "New On DVD/Blu-ray/VOD This Week – "13," "The Upsetter: The Life and Music of Lee Scratch Perry," "A Good Man" | Shadow and Act". Blogs.indiewire.com. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  22. "The Orb & Lee 'Scratch' Perry: 'Golden Clouds' Video on JamBase". Jambase.com. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  23. "The Orb's New Album 'The Observer In The Star House' Ft. Lee Scratch Perry Out 8/28 @ Top40-Charts.com – Songs & Videos from 49 Top 20 & Top 40 Music Charts from 30 Countries". Top40-charts.com. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  24. "The Orb Featuring Lee Scratch Perry Debut 'Hold Me Upsetter' As A Free Download". Contactmusic.com. 3 September 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  25. Bonitto, Brian (2012) "Tosh gets OM", Jamaica Observer, 7 August 2012, retrieved 7 August 2012
  26. "Rockstar reveals definitive GTA 5 radio station song list: From Rick James to FIDLAR". Metro. DMG Media. 3 October 2013. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  27. "'Scratch' and 'Chinna' to get Musgrave Medals", Jamaica Observer, 4 October 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013
  28. Gentile, John (2013) "Lee 'Scratch' Perry Is 'Back on the Controls' in Roots Reggae Return", Rolling Stone, 13 November 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2013
  29. Jackson, Kevin (2014) "Six vie for Reggae Grammy album", Jamaica Observer, 5 December 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014
  30. "Listen: Lee "Scratch" Perry Remixes Forest Swords' "Thor's Stone" | News". Pitchfork. 27 November 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  31. "Legendary producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry's studio destroyed", Jamaica Observer, 7 December 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2015
  32. Grizzle, Shereita (2015) "Unreleased Lee 'Scratch' Perry recordings destroyed in fire", Jamaica Gleaner, 11 December 2015. Retrieved 11 December 2015
  33. "Lee "Scratch" Perry Needs Giant Gorilla for Super Ape Tour | News". Afropop Worldwide. 24 July 2015.
  34. "Going bananas for Lee "Scratch" Perry's Super Ape | News". Wax Poetics. 2015.
  35. "Lee 'Scratch' Perry to Perform 'Blackboard Jungle Dub' LP Live This Fall | News". Rolling Stone. 11 October 2018.
  36. "Traffic Ent".
  37. "Hypebeast".
  38. Katz, David (2006) People Funny Boy, Omnibus Press, ISBN 978-1846094439, p. 247, 453
  39. Roots of Innovation: 15 and X Years On-U Sound, On-U Sound, 1996
  40. Beres, Derek (2005) "Zuco 103 – Whaa!", Paste, 23 November 2005. Retrieved 18 September 2015
  41. Hasson, Thomas (2012) "INTERVIEW: Lee Scratch Perry & Orb LP", The Quietus, 4 September 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2015
  42. "Lee Perry en Groove: el loco inmortal", Rolling Stone, 27 May 2011. Retrieved 18 September 2015
  43. Katz, David (2012) "The Orb featuring Lee 'Scratch' Perry The Orbserver in the Star House Review", BBC. Retrieved 18 September 2015

Further reading

  • Collingwood, Jeremy (2010) Lee 'Scratch' Perry: Kiss Me Neck – The Scratch Story in Words, Pictures and Records, Cherry Red Books, ISBN 978-1-901447-96-5
  • Katz, David (2000). People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee Scratch Perry. Payback Press, UK. ISBN 0-86241-854-2.
  • David Katz and Jeremy Collingwood, Give Me Power: A Complete Discography, Trax On Wax
  • Gary Simons, Super Scratch: The Almost Complete Lee Perry Discography, 1999, Secret History Books
  • Caesar, Pogus (2010). Muzik Kinda Sweet. Punch, OOM Gallery Archive, UK. ISBN 978-0-9566741-0-4.

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