Reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry Dead at 85

Lee “scratch” Perry

Tributes have been paid to the legendary Jamaican singer and music producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, who has died at the age of 85.

He died in hospital in Lucea, north-west Jamaica, local media reported.

Perry is known for his pioneering experiments in dub, which revolutionised not only reggae, but also hip hop, dance and other genres.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness called him “unforgettable” and praised his “sterling contribution” to music.

The Beastie Boys, who first worked with Perry when he opened for them in Japan in 1996 before they joined forces on the track Dr Lee PhD as party of 1998’s Hello Nasty album, hailed the musician’s “pioneering spirit”.

“We are truly grateful to have been inspired by and collaborated with this true legend,” the group said in a tweet.

Flying Lotus, whose real name is Steven Ellison, wrote on Twitter: “Blessed journey into the infinite. RIP Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.”

Rapper Lupe Fiasco also remembered Perry, tweeting: “African blood is flowing through I veins so I and I shall never fade away.”

Glastonbury Festival’s Emily Eavis hailed the singer as a “musical genius”.

Perry was born in rural Jamaica in 1936 and moved to the capital Kingston in the early 1960s.

In a 1984 interview with NME magazine, he said: “My father worked on the road, my mother in the fields. We were very poor. I went to school… I learned nothing at all. Everything I have learned has come from nature.”

Lee “scratch” Perry

He started his music career in the 1950s as an assistant at a reggae music label, before moving up to become a recording artist with the same label.

Over the next seven decades Perry went on to work with a number of fellow music legends, including Bob Marley and the Beastie Boys.

He also won a Grammy in 2002, was nominated four other times – in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2014 – and received a Jamaican national honour, the Order of Distinction.

In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Keith Richards described Perry as “the Salvador Dali of music”.

“He’s a mystery. The world is his instrument. You just have to listen,” Richards said. “More than a producer, he knows how to inspire the artist’s soul.”

American indie rock group the The Mountain Goats said there were “few more important figures in the music of the 20th Century” than Perry.

If Bob Marley was the face and voice of reggae, Lee “Scratch” Perry was its soul.

He was a towering figure despite his diminutive stature and eccentric appearance, but his influence was much deeper than most reggae fans realise. Much like Nile Rodgers, he was the producer and brains behind many songs more famously sung by other people.

And it was his spirit that converted Marley’s band – The Wailers – from a rocksteady and ska trio to a much more bass-fuelled, political and spiritual group, a process later accelerated by Chris Blackwell.

Shamanistic and reliably stoned, “Scratch” nevertheless had a remarkable work ethic. He fell out with many of his collaborators, including the great Studio One boss Coxsone Dodd, and indeed The Wailers, though he and Marley would later reconcile.

But by coming to the height of his powers in late 1960s and 1970s Jamaica, he was a charismatic engineer and catalyst for the group of artists who produced much of the best music of the 20th Century.