- 30 Aug 21
Reggae icon Lee 'Scratch' Perry has died, aged 85. Paying tribute to the producer and singer, Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness described him as a "music pioneer" and "one of the founding fathers of Reggae". Here, we revisit one of our classic interviews with Perry – originally published in Hot Press in 2001.
Marley, Merlin, Christ, coke, the mighty wind and extraterrestrial healing - EAMON SWEENEY hears the gospel according to LEE SCRATCH PERRY...
The “interview” begins with reggae legend Lee Scratch Perry dictating the seating arrangements in the room. He gestures towards his own chair and calls it “my own private space”. Perry begins to prepare for the interview by rubbing red dye into his hair and chanting to himself. There is a long awkward silence that seems to go on for hours, so I try to break the ice a little and ask Lee if he enjoyed his last visit to Dublin. “In a couple of seconds I will be ready for you,” he booms in a deep Jamaican accent, and the long pregnant pause returns.
Finally, Perry sits down and gestures to me to begin while fixing me with a scary, penetrating stare. Not sure of what to say, I begin by yet again by asking him about his recent Dublin concert in Vicar St.
“In Dublin everything is magical for me,” he booms. “People are magical. It’s fun. You keep the people waiting and then you keep them entertained. They want something special. What the people love is magic. We all love magic. They want to walk on the air and teach themselves how to walk on the air. They imagine that they are flying and they see themselves flying.”
Obviously, you believe music is a form of magic.
“If we didn’t have magic music, we would have never been born on this planet Earth. We wouldn’t have a chance of survival. Stress and distress happens when we have no entertainment. It would be too sad for the human without music. So we should give thanks to God or whoever it is who creates music. Even if we don’t know his name, he is a holy priest. Invisible wind. So why don’t we give thanks to the invisible wind?
How should we give thanks to this “invisible wind”?
“Say ‘Oh, great faceless one! Master of the wind if my mighty mind could speak. You are our teacher, one with no shape. Oh mighty shapeless one’.”
So, is music like a wind?
“You are writing a book and Merlin that is in the book he don’t have any wings. So you say ‘Oh mighty invisible wind, be my wings to fly and cover me with pleasure’. You then have made yourself a door. This is an open door here (points to an area above his head) This is like the cover. When I open the door, enter my book. Tell you about the future and the past and everything. My book comes from the past and this book represent the present. The present is the key to the future and this invisible door. That almighty whirlwind is an invisible door. If you see my face, you might look like him maybe. But maybe you think that I am not he, then I am not.”
Do you think you might be?
“I am not righteous. I don’t want to be righteous.”
On the subject of your music Lee, there have been three different record labels releasing Lee Scratch Perry compilations in this year alone. Where do you recommend your fans to begin?
“That is the only sacrifice I had to make. I did not come here as a businessman. I am not a part of businessmen. Businessmen stink. They stink a lot. But if I did think about them, then the music would not be in me. Then I would not have a happy birthday and the human race would not have a happy birthday. If I was selling the music I would never reach anywhere. Because if I keep thinking about those things like why did Bob Marley steal my music and sell it to Chris Blackwell and why did Bob Marley steal my music and think he was God when he is not God. So then I would throw my clothes out the window. And there would be nothing for the children to buy the book.
“Chris Blackwell came to me in a revelation. That I was the only one who could save Babylon and live in Babylon for eternity and not destroy it. How can a man be so wicked and live in this country because he steal my money back. All my American dollars, they try and steal that back.”
Is it true that you have built a new studio in your house in Zurich?
“Studio! I don’t have any more studio! The only studio I had was a bad church.”
There were rumours that you had built a ‘White Ark’.
“When you have a studio you have too much parasites and too much friends. Everybody want to be a star. You have a choice and you have to be holy. You have to be holy to be righteous or else you are a criminal. A super criminal star. You know Betty? If you don’t know Betty you don’t know who I am.”
Suddenly Lee points to his PR assistant.
“Blondie. You have blonde hair. (Points to me) You have red hair.”
And so do you Scratch.
“Ha ha ha! You red like Rudolf! He is a reindeer. The last time I had too much in the world, the studio was too much for me. That is why I had to burn the Ark. It was too much and it stinked. I was a white man but I turned myself white. People who want to kill me, they will always die. They tell you that Christ is white but that is not true. He is black. There is no man who walks on this planet who walks with a white shadow. All shadows are black. You know that. All shadows are black. Then there are different shadows and different colours to match the native race.”
How did you begin collaborating with the Mad Professor?
“Anybody imitate me and want to be me then I accept it. I make myself the Mad Scientist and solve all the problems that are wrong. I didn’t want to be a businessman. I wanted to be an extra-terrestrial healer. And all the people who are evil and think themselves extra-terrestrial I burn them all.
“The children know that Lee Scratch Perry music is special and is from Jah. The old people, they don’t believe and they will die. That is why Bob Marley said that many men will die. And that is why he have dreadlocks. That and coke. That make men die. They die of self-destruction. If you take coke, you don’t deliver the message of God. The devil uses the same body. The body is made up of negative and positive. This negative part of the body is evil and the positive part of the body is what I choose. But some people yield to temptation and the negative part of the body takes over the brain.
“I am negative and I am positive. Out of jealousy come grudge and greed. They want to make money and make more. Out of Marley came greed. What do I do to get more than him? When you in trouble you call 666. Call 666 and he’ll be there… and I take coke.”
Are you saying you take coke?
“Do I look like one who make joke? If you take coke you take death. If you take life that is eternal. Life is eternal and life is immortal. Forever. And if the whirlwind Merlin chooses to take other place then that is rotten. Whirlwind Merlin is in holy place and if it think rotten it die. If you understand what I’m saying kid. Because I cover myself with the open space.”
I am told to wrap it up and ask my final question.
What are your future plans Scratch?
“Plans? The only plan I have is to be a teacher forever. And I have a plan to change that.”
Thank you very much for your time Scratch.
“No problem. Thank you.”
Take a look at some of the tributes to Lee 'Scratch' Perry below:
My deep condolences to the family, friends, and fans of legendary record producer and singer, Rainford Hugh Perry OD, affectionately known as "Lee Scratch" Perry. pic.twitter.com/Eec2MEd6yC
— Andrew Holness (@AndrewHolnessJM) August 29, 2021
Legend. I love that he was still an ould lad in the 70s too. Forever emanating ould lad energy. God rest him https://t.co/eEspZeP6Bx
— The Blindboy Podcast (@Rubberbandits) August 29, 2021
Oh man. Just yesterday Lee was posting plans for his new community in Jamaica - he seemed indestructible. I was so happy to meet him on last year’s Outlaw Cruise, the most creative, innovative renegade of them all. Play the music, one love ❤️💛💚 #leescratchperry pic.twitter.com/nGk0pmew2X
— Cáit O'Riordan (@rockyoriordan) August 29, 2021
We lost another phenom friend & pioneer, Mr. Lee "Scratch" Perry /28 Mar 1936 – 29 Aug 2021) was a Jamaican record producer and singer noted for his innovative studio techniques and production style. (Send out ur prayer's to his family & friends) R.I.P. Brother.🙏Bootsy baby!!!😎 pic.twitter.com/rr6QIfkTYo
— Bootsy Collins (@Bootsy_Collins) August 30, 2021
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry has left us and the world of music has lost one if it’s most enigmatic creators; an amazing, incomparable phenomenon who’s sonic sound waves transformed our lives; the ‘Blackboard Jungle’ album alone stands as a beacon of his genius. pic.twitter.com/WgYZ106UNR
— David Rodigan (@DavidRodigan) August 29, 2021
— The Prodigy (@the_prodigy) August 29, 2021