Lee Perry – The Upsetter aka Scratch aka Pipecock Jackson (March 1936 – August 29, 2021)

by Aug 29, 2021Obituary

Another reggae icon has gone to Zion. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry OD reportedly died this Sunday morning at the Noel Holmes Hospital in Western Jamaica.

Born Rainford Hugh Perry in 28 March 1936 in Kendal, a small town in Hanover Parish in western Jamaica, originally called ‘Little’ Lee Perry in reference to his height of 5’6″ (1.68m), started out working in Jamaica’s burgeoning music business for Prince Buster and then producer Clement Coxsone Dodd in the late ’50s and early ’60s. He acted as a record seller for Dodd’s Downbeat sound system, organized recording sessions, and later supervised auditions at the producer’s record shop in Orange Street, Kingston. By 1963, as well as handling production and songwriting for a young Delroy Wilson and The Maytals, he released the first of his own vocal records through Coxsone Dodd. Early singles include Prince in The Pack, Give Me Justice, Chicken Scratch, and Doctor Dick. Also during his sojourn with Dodd, he began an association with the Wailers that had repercussions later in the decade.


Disagreements between Dodd and Perry due to personality and financial conflicts led him to leave Studio One in 1966 and seek new musical outlets. He began working with other producers including J.J. Johnson, Clancy Eccles, and in 1968, Joe Gibbs for whom he wrote songs and produced artists. With Gibbs, he also voiced a bitter snipe directed at Dodd entitled The Upsetter. On parting with Gibbs, due to once again financial problems causing a conflict, he formed his own label, Upsetter Records, with the help of Clancy Eccles, and recorded several fine tunes including the big local hit People Funny Boy on the melody of The Pioneers’ hit Longshot. The song was an insult directed at Joe Gibbs for allegedly ignoring his role in the producer’s success.

Lee Perry @ Muziekgieterij Maastricht

He started to work with his studio band the Upsetters and immediately began having hits with David Isaacs (Place In The Sun) and the Untouchables (Tighten Up). In common with several other early reggae producers, he secured a contract with Trojan Records whereby his records were released under his label in the UK. Perry experienced his first UK success in 1969 with Val Bennett’s instrumental Return Of Django. At the same time, he began producing the Wailers on a series of records including Small Axe, Duppy Conqueror, Mr. Brown, and Soul Rebel. Just over 100 singles were released on his Upsetter label between 1969 and 1974 by artists such as Dave Barker, Dennis Alcapone, the Stingers, the Bleechers, Neville Hinds, Leo Graham, Big Youth, Junior Byles, U Roy, Dillinger, Dr. Alimantado, Charlie Ace, Milton Henry, and the Gatherers.

In 1974, Perry opened his own studio, the Black Ark, in his back yard at Washington Gardens, Kingston, to have more control over his productions. He also started the Black Art label on which many of the productions from the studio appeared. Almost immediately he achieved a big Jamaican hit with Junior Byles’ song Curly Locks followed by Susan Cadogan’s 1975 Hurt So Good, which reached No.4 in the UK charts. With his own studio at his disposal, Perry’s productions became more lavish, as the energetic producer was able to spend as much time as he wanted on the music he produced. Virtually everything Perry recorded in The Black Ark was done using basic recording equipment in his four-track studio. By 1976, Island Records had begun to release the fruits of his latest phase, including music by the Heptones, Max Romeo, Junior Murvin, George Faith, Prince Jazzbo, and The Upsetters. However, Island Records rejected Perry’s own vocal album Roast Fish, Collie Weed, and Corn Bread and missed out on the Congos’ classic Heart Of The Congos. Despite producing wonderful records, commercial success came infrequently and Perry’s frustrations and personal problems began to increase. At the time his style was far removed from the reggae mainstream and thus his records met little success in Jamaica and abroad. Perry’s behaviour became increasingly strange and bewildering. Both Perry and the Black Ark quickly fell into a state of disrepair. Eventually, the studio burned to the ground. Lee Perry has constantly insisted that he burned the Black Ark himself in a fit of rage. He left for Britain where he conducted a number of puzzling interviews that seemed to add credence to reports of his mental decline.

In the late 1980s, Perry began working with British producers Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor, and his career began to get back on solid ground again. In 2003, he won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album with the album Jamaican E.T. In 2008, Perry reunited with Adrian Sherwood on The Mighty Upsetter. Between 2007 and 2010, Perry recorded three albums with British producer, Steve Marshall who he met at Pyramid Arts Development in Hackney. In 2010, Perry had his first-ever solo art exhibition at Dem Passwords art gallery in Los Angeles, California. The show, titled Secret Education, featured works on canvas, paper, and a video installation. In 2013, Perry performed at the first Dub Champions Festival in Vienna, a sold-out performance, backed by Dubblestandart with Adrian Sherwood handling the dub mix. In 2015, the documentary Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Vision of Paradise had a worldwide release in cinemas as well as on DVD and VOD after premiering at the East End Film Festival in London. The film gives an insight into the spiritual world of Perry, after director Volker Schaner spent more than 15 years filming with the Upsetter, witnessing the building of Perry’s Secret Laboratory in Switzerland from the beginning until its destruction by fire in 2015 that also destroyed his stage costumes and unreleased recordings.

In recent years, we’ve seen Perry backstage a few times and were impressed to see what the man’s presence did with people who approached him to meet and greet. R.I.E.P.

(Sources: The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae, Wikipedia)

More Lee Perry articles, including interviews and reviews.

Lee 'Scratch The Upsetter' Perry - Cloak & Dagger
Lee 'Scratch' Perry Interview In Bed
Lee Perry & Mad Professor
Black Ark Players - Black Ark In Dub
Junior Byles - Beat Down Babylon The Upsetter Years
Jah Lion - Colombia Colly
Lee "Scratch" Perry (Photo: Stephen Cooper)
Lee Perry & The Upsetters - Ape-ology
JA Pay
Native Meets Lee Perry - Black Ark Showcase 1977
George Faith - To Be A Lover
The Upsetters - Scratch The Upsetter Again