Digging For The Truth About Scratch

Lee "Scratch" Perry's time has finally come.

In light of the huge influence Perry's pioneering production work

has had on techno, punk, dancehall and drum 'n' bass, it is no

surprise that Perry anthologies have been coming down the pike

as of late.

The most impressive of the recent collections is Island Records

three-CD Arkology, which focuses on Perry's work as a

producer for scores of top Jamaican artists in the 1970s, artists who

were stamped with Perry's imprint once he got them into his Black

Arc studios. It is the first collection to truly capture The Mighty

Upsetter in all his musical, maniacal glory.

Since Perry was acquitted on arson charges in 1980, he's made

sporadic

attempts to make more music, and is on the verge of opening a

new studio

(purported to be called the Blue Arc) to be his once and future

personal

base of operations. Shuttling between Switzerland (his new home),

Britain,

and Jamaica, he remains as confident and as outspoken as ever.

And he doesn't seem in the least bit surprised by all the sudden

interest (which came to a breaking point, perhaps, when he was

featured on the "Wheaties cover" issue of the Beastie Boys zine

Grand Royal).

He need not be.

Beginning with his groundbreaking production work in the '70s,

Perry

immediately began to have an influence on punk rockers such as

the Clash (Perry produced "Complete Control" for them and they

covered "Police and Thieves," a song he produced for Junior

Marvin),

Blondie, the Police, and Talking Heads; the grinding, churning,

hard

rhythms coming out of Kingston and the raw obscenities chanted

by pissed,

working-class, British punks were both born out of the rage of

oppression.

While at first they seemed to share little in common musically, Perry

-

ever the (r)evolutionary - immediately recognized the bond

between the two,

and throughout the late-1970s and 1980s, he mixed with perhaps

the

most eclectic, racially and musically diverse group of musicians of

anyone around... and yes, that includes Sting and Peter Gabriel.

Perry's early experiments with mixing, cutting and overdubbing

demonstrate an almost uncanny affinity with today's synth-driven

trip-dub. That is part of what makes Arkology a must for any

techno record collection. Remember, Perry was working with four

tracks and, if lucky, two turntables -- a far cry from the equipment

today's artists are blessed with.

The Phil Spector of Jamaica, he produced an astonishing number

of revolutionary tracks for an astounding number of artists. But his

signature is especially apparent in the Upsetters' (Perry's own

band) versions of

many songs featured on Arkology, a sound that was

ultimately

unique and had an enormous effect on music. It was at Black Arc

that Perry began experimenting with his unique dub versions of

reggae tracks.

Starting with track such as Junior Marvin's (a star in his own right)

"Police and Theives," Perry and the Upsetters would systematically

rework the song by pulling out particularly stunning or jarring riffs

and looping them through the song. Then they would insert the

best bits and pieces throughout the Upsetters new "dub" version.

By pulling out bits of the choruses, repeated high notes, and

trumpet

blasts, he would create what was essentially an entirely new track -

all over-dubbed with whatever else was in the studio at the time, be

it a guitar or two big pieces of wood and a car door.

Arkology demonstrates the power of this groundbreaking

technique by setting the original versions of songs next to Perry

and the Upsetters' dub versions.

Meanwhile, Upsetter in Dub a one-CD set put out by

Rykodisc/Heartbeat

contains a healthy collection of out-takes and rare tracks; but by

itself, doesn't offer as clear a picture of Perry's genius. While it does

offer some damn good dance tunes that sound as fresh today as

they must have

sounded when first released 20 years ago, it's Arkology

that comes closer to getting to the heart of Perry's work -- taking

apart,

upsetting songs and re-working them into a creation all its own.

Arkology also offers a comprehensive history of Perry,

known to be

at least as eccentric as Spector. This in itself is worth some of the

price of admission...nevermind the three CDs and over three-hours

of pure,

blissed-out, deep-down hole-in-your-soul groovy bassed-loops that

Scratch

spun.

His is a story worth noting. Perry began working in the music

industry in his teens, and before long was apprenticing with the

famous producer Coxsone Dobbs, rising from errand and "fu-kung"

muscle boy to sometimes producer in a matter of months. In

Jamaica in the late '60s and '70s, as in America in the

"Doo-Wop" era, music was as often known because it was

associated with a

particular producer and his sound as it was known because of the

performers. Perry, self-proclaimed "center of the universe," felt of

Dobbs that "I was just giving him my service and him give me a

money

sometimes, until I see like maybe him take advantage, and don't

respect

me, so I decide to leave him."

Instead of striking out on his own, in 1967 Perry began work for

well-known producers such as Prince Buster and Joe Gibbs. Still

feeling

constrained, he began working on his own in 1968. By this time,

the

washing, jerky organ lines and backbeat guitar riffs were more

regularly

incorporated into Jamaican music; Perry sites spaghetti westerns

popular

at the time as large influences, and indeed, it is not difficult

to hear artists such as Ennio Morricone (or, perhaps more

accurately,

Booker T. and the M.G.'s version of Morricone's "Hang 'Em High")

in

Perry's late-1960s output. The rest of the '70s were spent at Perry's

own studio - Black Arc - which he, somewhat characteristically,

burnt down in 1979.

Arkology captures the crazy, wild, spirit of these times. While

many of these songs are featured directly before the Perry-dub

version, it is on the dub tracks that you hear Scratch show his shit;

here he is free to cut up, distort, echo, fade out, and pan in with an

ease and a plain rightness of it all that you can't help

grinning along as Perry conducts his perpetual party. "It wasn't my

work," says Perry in an unusually modest statement. "I'm just an

instrument working for the master computer X-I-X," he continues in

a more typical semi-nonsensical tone. "It wasn't I who create the

sound, I was just the engineer. I'm the music dolly -- it's the music

who do it."

However it happened, it was channeled through Perry, and he

made no

mistake when he called himself "the Dub Shepherd." Somehow

making mono

four-track recordings sound like 10, 12, perhaps 24 stereo tracks,

Perry

simply made magic.

Upsetter in Dub is a treat for collectors and diehards, and

even

for those curious about the fuss who don't want to buy a three-disc

set.

Although focusing on (mainly non-Island) B-sides and other more

obscure

songs, it only contains work done while Perry was recording in the

Black

Arc, and his dubs are just as breathtakingly vital here as anywhere

else. Containing 18 songs, it offers up a pretty-good variety and

can be

said to do almost as good a job at presenting some of Perry's most

pioneering '70s work.

But only Arkology really lets you soak it in.

Perhaps the sudden Perry craze can best be summed up by one of

The Mighty Upsetter's own pearls of wisdom during one of his

"outerviews" (needless to say, he won't do "interviews"...): "I am an

alien from the other world, from outer space, I don't have no land,

no estate, no property, no house. Not on this earth. I live in space --

I'm only a visitor here. Some people are only here to collect the

property. I am here with my suitcase to collect only the good

brains."

Certainly Perry knows what he knows, that's for sure. And it's best

not

to cross his path... "When I shit my enemies cry, when I speak they

die."