“No matter what your colour is, white or pink, your shadow is always black.” Lee Scratch Perry
In an interview with Bob Marley from the late 1970’s, Bob is challenged to justify owning a BMW and questioned whether this was at odds with being a ‘man of the people’. Tuff Gong’s swift response slayed the hapless correspondent; “BMW is Bob Marley & The Wailers”.
If it weren’t for Lee Scratch Perry’s genius, and no small measure of Tuff Gong determination to encourage LSP to take the Wailers under his wing, it’s perfectly possible the BMW may have ended in the scrapyard.
Genius is a word bestowed upon many within music. It’s a difficult term to pin down; how is it measured? Perhaps one way to model the gift of virtuosity is to consider that genius can often be non-local, a product of individual and collective spontaneity; interactive processing at the level of the subconscious.
Are such fearless quantum relationships the reason some bands nail a killer debut LP in the blink of an eye? Yet, no matter how much the budget increases to work in bigger studios, with famous producers, the same band can never quite capture the freedom which all so easily poured forth the first-time round. In a musical sense, perhaps genius cannot be defined, tied down or placed inside the test tube. It certainly doesn’t respond well to expectation and is neutralised by fear.
Lee Perry is one of the most spontaneous, fearless, natural and inspired artists of the 20th/21st Century
Whether revolutionising the notion of the possible, in terms of what can be put down on ‘tape’ or inspiring others to soar, LSP is a true genius whose lighting strikes the coup of the Chicken Scratch to this very day. It was Lee Perry who ‘felt’ Marley’s similarly natural mystic vibrations the moment Bob entered the Super Ape’s record shack in the late 60’s.
In Lloyd Bradley’s superlative work on the history of Reggae, ‘Bass Culture’, singer Dave Barker, remembers:
“Scratch and The Wailers working together was a wonderful time…. There wasn’t no ifs and buts; it was just magical. We used to go into the studio and the track dem just lay. All the music, the right vibes, the right information just flowed. From Family Man ‘pon the bass to Carlton, his brother on the drums, the man dem just nice and sweet and have an understanding. Not much talking; they jus’ knew. Then the music flowed between them to The Wailers. It was the first time I’ve been amongst a set of guys who didn’t take two cut of anything. Once cut and it done”.
It wasn’t long before Bob Marley swapped one Island for another, disappearing with the songs and the Barrett brothers; the pulse of the Black Ark. LSP’s response? Take a skank scalpel to the scared rights of the studio recording process. (The Upsetter had already pioneered the use of samples-the cry of a baby-heard on ‘People Funny Boy’ from 1968).
Lee Scratch Perry delved deep inside Jamaica’s analogue soundscapes to find the echo boom of Version
A cubist sound-lab scientist with a highly-developed understanding of riddim and the manipulation of frequencies, Lee Perry’s ground-breaking explorations heralded a seismic shift in the history of 20th century music. During an intense period of creativity from the late 60’s to the late 70’s, a relentless stream of dub plates gave human ears new ways of hearing recorded sound.
Possibly the first ever example of a deliberately made Dub album is Lee Perry & King Tubby’s stupendous ‘Blackboard Jungle Dub’ from 1973. Legend tells of them both mixing on separate channels. There’s your fly on the wall moment! If I met an alien and had to explain Dub, I would play them ‘Rubba, Rubba Words’, confident the space chappie would then skank off in deep meditation back to Andromeda.
If Lee Perry’s ‘Vision of Paradise’ is anything to go by, its highly likely our star-seed cousins already tune into the Black Ark. Beg, borrow or steal a copy. It’s a wonderful film that side-steps the clinched format of ‘talking head’ music bio pics. The cinemaphotography and animation is a joy. Here is a film which draws you into the world of a human doing, immersed in the permanent act of creation, rooted in the acknowledgment that everything in this world, from rocks to the clouds, is alive, and should be considered a canvas with which to express and affirm life.
Watch the film. Your soul will rise, your eyes will smile, your heart will become the drum.
Catch you next Friday.
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