Sonic innovator and pioneer of both roots-reggae and dub music Lee “Scratch” Perry passed away this Sunday at a hospital in Lucea, Jamaica. At this time, no cause of death has been revealed. Born Rainford Hugh Perry in 1936 in Jamaica’s Hanover parish, his experimental use of the recording studio as an instrument, as well as the prevalence of space, delay and repetition in his work, has impacted generations of artists across all genres.
Perry first gained experience in the music industry in the ‘50s, working various jobs (including DJ, talent scout and eventually recording artist) with Clement “Coxsone” Dodd at his renowned reggae studio/label Studio One. During this period, he garnered a reputation as an innovator early on due to famous collaborations with Bob Marley and The Wailers, as well as early single “The Chicken Scratch,” which gave him his nickname.
After an acrimonious split from Dodd, Perry started Upsetter Records and established his own backyard recording space, Black Ark Studios, where he’d continue experimenting with techniques like remixing, sample modulation, and using alternative and non-tonal objects as instruments. “The studio must be like a living thing,” said Perry in 1990, “the machine must be live and intelligent. Then I put my mind into the machine by sending it through the controls and the knobs.” It was at Black Ark that Perry would record some of his most acclaimed work with The Congos, Max Romeo, The Heptones and Perry’s own band The Upsetters.
Perry would eventually burn down Black Ark in 1983, claiming it was possessed by evil spirits, but continued to work steadily as a producer and artist until his death. He’ll be remembered for his countless contributions to the music world, as well as his eclectic and inimitable personal style.