Dub and reggae music icon Lee “Scratch” Perry died on Sunday at a hospital in Lucea, Jamaica, at the age of 85.
Though a cause of death has yet to be confirmed Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness shared the sad news in a series of tweets on Sunday, writing:
My deep condolences to the family, friends, and fans of legendary record producer and singer, Rainford Hugh Perry OD, affectionately known as “Lee Scratch” Perry. Perry was a pioneer in the 1970s’ development of dub music with his early adoption of studio effects to create new instrumentals of existing reggae tracks. He has worked with and produced for various artists, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Congos, Adrian Sherwood, the Beastie Boys, and many others. Undoubtedly, Lee Scratch Perry will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music fraternity. May his soul Rest In Peace.”
Rainford Hugh Perry, also known as Lee Perry, was born on March 20, 1936, in Kendal, Hanover Parish, in northwestern Jamaica. Years after dropping out of school in his teens, Perry left for Kingston in 1960 where he would begin his ascent to musical stardom. Largely thought of as pioneer of reggae music and originator of dub, Perry’s band the Upsetters and innovation Black Ark studio sound helped usher the Jamaican sound and rastafarian lifestyle into the mainstream.
More on his career, per Variety:
Active professionally from 1961 to the end of his days, Perry was known internationally by his nicknames “Scratch” (drawn from “Chicken Scratch,” the title of an early song cut for Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One label) and “the Upsetter” (springing off the 1967 single “I Am the Upsetter,” a stinging slap at his former boss Dodd).
After a long apprenticeship working for Dodd and the prominent producer Joe Gibbs, Perry stepped out on his own in 1968. One of the first releases on his fledgling label Upset (later Upsetter) was “People Funny Boy.” The song, a sharp put-down of Gibbs, rode a slow, heavily accented rhythm (sparked by music Perry heard at a local “Pocomania” church) that was new to the island’s popular music, then still dominated by the up-tempo sounds of ska and rocksteady. A local sensation that reached the charts in England after its release there by Trojan Records, it is considered one of the very first reggae recordings.
Perhaps his most influential collaboration, Perry’s recording sessions with Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1970, proved to be paramount in establishing the sounds and styles of reggae music and charted a path to fame and acclaim for himself and Marley. Though their relationship grew rocky at times, Perry maintained a close relationship with Marley until his death in 1981. Ever the innovator, Perry was also one of the early originators of dub, a music style that involved the stripping of vocals from previously released recordings and treating the instrumental with a myriad of effects.
In a tribute shared with the Rolling Stone, Bob Marley’s son Ziggy reflected on his relationship with Perry, writing in part:
“He opened minds with his creativity and his personality. Some people thought it was madness, but I recognized it was genius, uniqueness, courage and freedom. He made no apology for being himself and you had to accept that and figure out the deeper meanings to his words and character.”
He added, “Scratch was a massive personality, he was a creator, a pioneer, a wizard, a shaman, a magician, a philosopher, a musical scientist. A man like him will never come this way again. One of a kind. He will be missed a lot by those of us who had the time to experience him not just through music but through knowing him personally.”