Lee Scratch Perry turns 85
Lockdowns are not good for him, says wife
At 85 years old, Lee Scratch Perry has outlived many of his rivals and experienced several generations of reggae and its transformers - him being one of the eccentric characters to reshape the genre, too.
Waiting on the music producer and artiste to speak, his wife Mireille Perry (formerly Ruegg), said, “He is just having a cup of tea. Usually he isn’t awake earlier.” These days he is taking things at snail’s pace. It’s not because of any physical deficits, the Having A Party lyricist is dispirited.
The reggae icon has been on the island soaking up the sun, which is a change from the cold he is used to in Switzerland where he has made a home. However, not one to keep still, Mireille explained, “He has been trying to keep busy by working on many projects at one time.”
She continued, “What is really bad is the current situation we returned home to. Lockdowns are not good for him. Remember, he is a man that used to doing 21 shows back-to-back, no days off; it’s something not much of the younger people can do.”
He is revered across Europe, where he is constantly booked for tours, but has had to reschedule several since the pandemic making ‘The Upsetter’ the one who is upset. “We had a European tour to do, but it has been put off more than three times. Livestream is nothing like a live show with Lee, he needs the audience right there with him. So, he is suddenly not happy,” his wife shared.
Mireille is hoping to bring a little sunshine into the gloom for his birthday, she said.
“We’re still under gathering restrictions so I am doing the best I can to have a celebratory dinner, here in Negril, with some of our closest family and friends and maybe a few special guests,” Mireille told The Gleaner.
Perry, one of the founding fathers of reggae, the pioneer of dub and reputedly the ‘baddest’ of the rude boys, is known to have a temperamental side. Over the years, he began earning aliases such as ‘Pipecock Jackxon’, ‘Super Ape’, ‘The Rockstone’ and ‘Mad Scientist’, but across the world the man who was given the name Rainford Hugh Perry at birth, became known more popularly as ‘The Upsetter’, of which his label and band were christened after scoring an instrumental hit (with that title) in the late 1960s.
His eccentricities were signature to his recordings: backmasking, the technique of using backward instrumentation, breaking glass during studio sessions for sound effects, buried microphones to create distortion and echoes, blowing smoke over tapes and recording all types of sounds, from a baby’s cry to animal calls, all in the name of love and reggae. It put him under the world’s microscope, with many critics questioning the sanity of this creative mind and yet, it has opened the right doors for Perry, whose face has branded major fashion marques such as Gucci and Adidas for their ‘Don’t Assume’ campaign. And if you are a Grand Theft Auto fan, then there is no missing the musical maverick on The Blue Ark FM dub and reggae in-game radio station.
There is a lot more in the pipeline for Perry, with the requests coming in for documentaries and films and his agricultural project on the hypothetical vision board, which his wife says they are working together to obtain a piece of land in the Westend parish. In November the two flames will celebrate 30 years of marriage, but Mireille jokingly said, “I don’t wish that for anybody.”
“It is very had work should you find someone, it should be someone that is calm, but Lee is not, that’s why he is called ‘The Upsetter’. Still, he is very wise and artistic and we can’t take that away from him,” she continued.
Frank Spinelli, award-winning fine art and travel photographer and neighbour to the Perrys, told The Gleaner, “ Lee Scratch Perry is such an inspiration to me; over the past six years which we came to know one another has been incredible. I have been doing photography for a long time and you don’t meet very many people that inspire you. I just want to thank him for being himself.”
The photographer has been here since November, and has used the time to capture some moments with Perry, but is scheduled to leave for the US next week, so he expressed that he was ecstatic to still be in Jamaica to celebrate the milestone with the reggae icon.
“I would say that he got a perspective, and it’s always hard as an artist to keep a perspective that is fresh. If anything, he has taught me to keep my perspective fresh,” Spinelli said.