Dub Reggae pioneer Lee 'Scratch' Perry dies at 85

Dub Reggae pioneer Lee "Scratch" Perry has died today. We remember his life and legacy in music and in a wider culture of creativity and more than a little mischief.

Dub Reggae pioneer Lee 'Scratch' Perry dies at 85

Sad news today as another icon of our era of music production has passed. One of the legends of Jamaican Reggae, and a key figure in the evolution of Dub Reggae techniques, Lee "Scratch" Perry has passed away on Sunday at a hospital in Lucea, Jamaica at the age of 85. The news was confirmed from the Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness via a series of Tweets that honoured the life and legacy of Perry.

He was certainly a character. I had planned on doing a deep dive on him and his career in an upcoming feature on the life and art of Lee "Scratch" Perry (since published), and had already started digging through my music collection to immerse in his long, long, creative output and influences. It was a fun experience and I found myself smiling and shaking my head equally at his strange and creative and curious and starkly independent life. Rest in peace, legend.

Deep in the history of the dubplate

Perry made a name for himself in the late 1960s and into the 1970s by producing a wave of notable reggae artists, with his Upsetter label playing an important role in establishing artists like Bob Marley and the Wailers. Early production hits for Junior Murvin like Police & Thieves would become iconic, later being covered by The Clash, and his own tracks like I Am The Upsetter remain a go-to for Dub Reggae playlists.

Perry's impact extended internationally, with Paul and Linda McCartney, Robert Palmer, and John Martyn recording at his Black Ark studio. His contribution to the development of Dub Reggae, characterized by the stripping of vocals and the treatment of instrumental beds with otherworldly effects, solidified his influence in the nascent genre and wider musical landscape. It's impossible to talk about Dub Reggae as a genre, or as a production technique, or even talk about equipment like the Grampian reverb (or recent Behringer clones) without automatically reference Perry's influence and iconic status.

For many of us his work is synonymous with his studio, which itself had a strange and curious life. Black Ark studio was established in 1974, and would spark the Dub Reggae genre that followed his collaboration with King Tubby on "Upsetter 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle". This era would come to a close by the end of the decade, as Perry burned down the studio amid increasing personal and financial issues. Other career adventures would follow this initial and infamous era, building on the genres he helped invent. His life would also build upon the "mad genius" narrative that attempting to understand, or just acknowledge, just how erratic Perry seemed either by nature or by design. It's hard to avoid this element of his legacy, as producer Steve Albini expressed on Twitter.

"I tire of the trope that genius rides shotgun with madness, but few people were as weird or cast as long a shadow as Lee Perry" - Steve Albini

His memory lives on as a part of a culture and a genre's genesis story, and his music has become timeless, if not always directly referenced. There have been some strange and wonderful performances from the many decades of his creative life that are thankfully recorded and preserved, and present a joyful legacy that we can appreciate. If not always fully understand.