Thursday, May 17, 2012

Interview: Lee "Scratch" Perry talks scat

Posted by on Thu, May 17, 2012 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge Lee "Scratch" Perry - SUBMITTED PHOTO

Editor's note: There is a plethora of creatively used curse words in this interview. You might catch more, live, when Perry comes to The Vogue this Sunday. And be sure to stream Kyle's mix of classic Perry cuts while you read.

Lee "Scratch" Perry is one of the most influential and prolific artists in Jamaican music history. The 76-year-old producer has been a central figure during some of the most important musical developments in the country's history. Perry's accomplishments include releasing one of the very first reggae songs (his 1968 debut single "People Funny Boy"), presiding over the first - and some say best - recordings by Bob Marley and the Wailers and pioneering dub music at his Black Ark recording studio in Kingston.

While Perry's surreal, psychedelic Rastafarian creations have influenced several generations of musicians, from punk rockers to dubsteppers, his musical achievements are often overshadowed by his erratic behavior. Perry's psychological condition is frequently a topic of discussion amongst his fans; some insist he's clinically insane while others argue it's all an elaborate act to establish his persona as the mad genius of reggae.

I spoke with Perry via telephone from his hotel room in Poland where it was past 1 a.m. I was hoping Perry would shed some light on his unorthodox musical methods, but he quickly grew bored with my questions and decided to entertain himself by launching into extended monologues on issues of a more scatological nature.

NUVO: You've been working in the music business since the late 1950s. As a young man what attracted you to pursue music as a career?

Lee Perry: I had no other choice. I didn't care much for the Babylon education, so I was a struggler. Music took me up out of the struggle and turned me into a superman and a superstar. From nothing to something, from bottom to top, from nowhere to somewhere. That's how I go, like a flash of lightning.

NUVO: You're a great innovator and the music you've created has no precedent. What inspired you to bring these new sounds into the world?

PERRY: To tell you the truth, and the truth is everything and nothing - my nature represents my god. My nature is my grace. I listen to my shit. I listen to the food I eat. I listen to my piss. I listen to the water I drink. I listen to my poop; it is the bread of life that I breathe.

I listen to my shit because my shit feed me when I'm hungry. My shit is my guiding light and my guiding star. I love my piss because it provide energy for me and water to drink. It provide me water to wash in and water to walk on. My poop supply me with the most information ever. No FBI or CIA can inform you like my poop can inform you. Are you taking in all that?

NUVO: So getting back to music - in 1977 you produced an amazing album by two Congolese musicians named Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo. Also, your solo recordings make frequent reference to Africa. Do you feel there is a strong connection between African music and Jamaican music?

PERRY: Yes, that is the reality. The drums that we play come here from Africa. The drums come from the jungle. Without Africa there wouldn't be a Jamaica. Now we have Jamaica and we have Africa and we mix it together.

The drum comes from Africa and the rhythm comes from your heart - it goes "boof, boof, boo-boof, boof, boof, boo-boof" and your brain goes "tikky-tikky-tikky-tikky" and your piss goes "shhhhhh-shhhhhh-shhhhhh-shhhhh." That's the cymbal. It goes like 'shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh' and the cymbal sounds like your piss (laughs.) Not even the president knows that. I know things the president doesn't know. What the Pope don't know, I know and I know everything that the Pope know.

To tell you the truth, everything is your identification, your I.D. But mine is I.P., I pee. Even the Pope tried to steal my X, steal my G and steal my V and steal my I. The Pope tried to steal my I, but the Pope can't steal my I. My identification is named I.P. You might think I'm crazy, but I am not lazy. But maybe I am crazy. (Sings) 'maybe I'm crazyyyyyyyyyyyyy, but I am not lazyyyyyyyyyyy' (laughs).

I was once a fish and I changed into a man, back when the controller was named Neptune. When you leave the sea, go sleep on the moon and control all the stars. (Sings)"Maybe I'm crazyyyyyyy, but not lazyyyyyyyyy." Are you all right?

NUVO: Yes, I'm all right. Are you?

PERRY: I asked Jesus Christ Almighty God to please help me shit. I said I want to shit. Oooooooh I want to shit. Oooooooh please help me shit. (laughs) This is the revenge of shit. This is the return of shit. This is the judgement of shit. Lord Jesus Christ I want to shit. (Laughs, then sings) "Maybe I'm lazyyyyyyyyyyy." No, I'm not lazy.

NUVO: You've worked with a long list of great artists, including Jamaican performers like Bob Marley, The Congos and Augustus Pablo. You've also been sought out by non-reggae musicians including Paul McCartney, The Clash and the Beastie Boys. Do you have any favorite memories from these collaborations?

PERRY: I want to say this to you and it might sound a little funny. I am the most famous artist I ever worked with. I am The Upsetter. I am the most famous artist anyone could ever meet and there is none like me and there is none that could confuse me. They are all hypocrites and vampires and parasites and bloodsuckers, sucking me dry, sucking all my energy, telling dangerous lies. (Sings)"I'm still crazyyyyyyyyyyyy."

NUVO: Social justice is a major theme in so many classic reggae songs. Do you think musicians can change society through their art?

PERRY: Yes! My music did come to wipe out Babylon and my music did wipe out Babylon. (Sings) "Maybe I'm crazyyyyyyyyyyy."


On the surface Perry's remarks may sound absurd and, well, they are. But it's all part of an elaborate syncretic philosophy Perry has been cobbling together for decades, melding bits of Rastafarian wisdom with various strains of arcane mysticism. Perry also loves playing the role of the joker. At one point during our interview, while roaring with wild laughter, he confessed that he likes "teasing people."

I've followed Perry's career for years and I've always favored theories suggesting the producer is an eccentric genius over claims that he's a certifiable maniac. After speaking with Perry, I'm even more certain that his madness is at least partially calculated. Come decide for yourself on Sunday, May 20 when Lee "Scratch" Perry performs at The Vogue.

Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features songs produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry. [Back to top.]

A Cultural Manifesto mix: Lee Perry productions


1. Max Romeo - One Step Forward
2. Max Romeo - Chase the Devil
3. Augustus Pablo - Vibrate On
4. Lee Perry - Soul Fire
5. Lee Perry - Corn Fish Dub
6. The Congos - Congoman
7. Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo - African Roots

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