The contribution of Jamaican music to world culture is an unquestionable accomplishment and has been celebrated in both professional and academic circles around the world. The influence of Jamaican music production to the global pop music techniques can largely be credited to Lee 'Scratch' Perry's pioneering studio work, which not only impacted Jamaican music, but also the international pop cultural aesthetics.
Born March 20, 1936, in Kendal, Manchester, as Rainford Hugh Perry, the reputed dance champion, moved to Kingston in the early 1960's - right into the heated rivalry between the two competing sounds system giants of the era, Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd.
His contributions as songwriter, producer and talent scout to Dodd's Studio One, heavily influenced the studio's distinctive sound. Perry co-wrote many songs for the infamous verbal jousting between Studio One and its rival, Prince Buster. By 1968, endowed with recording technology, Perry formed his own record label, the Upsetter.
Backed by his band, the Upsetters, Perry recorded his own hit songs, including Drugs and Poison, The Vampire, Dig Your Grave, and the instrumental arrangement that first ignited their popularity in England, Return of Django. One experiment produced during this period, People Funny Boy, would be reputed as one of the earliest articulations of reggae.
Tempted by Perry's production prowess and the rhythm section of his band, reggae legend, Bob Marley asked Perry to produce the Wailer's next record. It was Perry, who honed the skills of the young Wailers and gave them their distinct sound, which, at the time, was not consistent with the popular style in reggae.
"When the people hear what I man do, them hear a different beat," described Perry about his new direction for the Wailers. "A slower beat, a waxy beat - like stepping in glue. Them hear a different bass, a rebel bass, coming at you like sticking a gun."
The group's partnership with Perry produced such hits as 400 Years, Duppy Conqueror, and Small Axe. Their work together would go on to transform the structure and sound of Jamaican popular music.
By 1973, Perry's solo experiments on his reggae rhythm eventually developed into the first murmurings of the dub genre. He began recording at the studio of fellow music engineer and producer, Osbourne 'King Tubby' Ruddock in 1972. They began to strip the rhythm track down to drums, bass and piano, dropping in and out different instruments during the mixing.
These experiments led to Perry's release Blackboard Jungle Dub in 1973, which is arguably the first dub LP. Perry also founded his independent studio, the Black Ark, in 1973, which provided him with the necessary studio time for his abstract experimentation with the dub genre.
Perry's techniques allowed for the manipulation of musical notes and rhythmic patterns, which were distorted, delayed, contorted and sustained to create a new soundscape in reggae, a sonic dimension not previously explored in the music. The Black Ark label itself developed a unique ambience, which attracted many of the era's popular musicians.
The Heptones came to Black Ark to revive their career with Party Time. Bob Marley also returned often throughout the 1970s to record new rhythms at Black Ark, including an alternative version of Smile Jamaica, and the original rhythm for Natural Mystic.
After an esoteric period of creative expression, Perry released two albums in 1986, Battle of Armageddon and Time Boon X the Devil Dead, which represented an artistic rebirth. The critical success of these two albums ignited renewed appreciation among a new generation of musicians and music lovers.
Perry's dub innovations heralded the current remix culture, which became an enduring facet of disco, hip hop, techno, house, trance, trip hop, drum and bass, jungle and electronica.
Lee 'Scratch' Perry created the contemporary, kaleidoscopic soundtrack of sonic booms, polyrhythmic drum patterns, low frequency vibrations, psychedelic tripping and ambient sounds - simultaneously reminiscent of the African heartland and the concrete jungles of Trench Town and Kingston 13 - that as Lee Perry puts it, "mak[es] the impossible possible."
The Institute of Jamaica will honour Rainford Lee 'Scratch' Perry with the Gold Musgrave Medal, for his distinguished eminence in the field of Music, at the Annual Musgrave Awards ceremony on October 16.
n Article courtesy of the Institute of Jamaica.