‘From Lee Perry you can expect anything, anytime’, said Mad Professor of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. During his long life – he was born on 28th March 1936 in Kendal, a backwater in northwest Jamaica – Lee Perry turned his hand to innumerable things. He was a champion dominoes player, a skilled dancer, a construction equipment operator, a labourer, a handyman for Coxsone with whom he held all sorts of positions over the years (roadie, sound-system manager, salesman, chief shouter in charge of testing the mics, talent scout, and a riddims and hits provider) before going off on his own as a producer, a singer, DJ, showman, professional tap dancer, witch doctor disguised as a wizard (or perhaps the other way around) someone who played with words, a pure artist, a hobbyist interior designer, provocateur par excellence, instigator of the most bizarre situations, troublemaker...the list goes on and on.
He collected nicknames like some people jewelry – Little, King, Pipecock Jakxson, Upsetter, Duppy Conqueror, Super Ape, Dub Shepperd, Kojak, Kimble the Nimble, and Scratch – the one that stuck. His sources of inspiration were many and varied, from Spaghetti Westerns to the cosmos, from sex to Kung Fu films. Likewise the range of styles and genres he tried throughout his career – vengeful diatribes against his former friends, romantic music, ghetto chronicles, prophecies, apocalyptic dub, orthodox Rastafarian anthems, odes to getting down and dirty, attacks on Babylon and defences of the oppressed. One thing is certain: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry always managed the impossible.
Over the years, the wildest of rumours circulated about him. It was said, for example, that for several days before he set fire to his studio he was seen walking backwards through the streets of Kingston and hitting the ground with a hammer; or that, in the brand new studio rented for him, he thought nothing could be better than to disconnect all of the electrical installations in order to install a duck incubator. Some said he was crazy, others praised him as a genius, seeing in him an unparalleled visionary, multiple yet singular. But who really was Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry?
‘The best producer for working in the realm of the impossible’, according to Theophilus Beckford, one of the first artists recorded on Studio One. Well, that just about sums it up.