01. People Funny Boy (Lee Perry Single A Side 1968)
02. Duppy Conqueror (Bob Marley & The Wailers Single A Side 1970)
03. Earthquake (Hugh Roy Single A Side 1971)
04. Beat Down Babylon (Junior Byles Single A Side 1971)
05. Bucky Skank (The Upsetters Single A Side 1973)
06. Black Panta (The Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle LP 1973)
07. Justice To The People (Lee Perry Single A Side 1973)
08. Rejoice Jah Jah Children (The Silvertones Single A Side 1973)
09. Three Blind Mice (Max Romeo Single A Side 1974)
10. Best Dressed Chicken In Town (Dr Alimantado Single A Side 1974)
11. Kojak (Lee Perry & The Upsetters Revolution Dub LP 1975)
12. Sufferer’s Time (The Heptones Single A Side 1976)
13. War Ina Babylon (Max Romeo Single A Side 1976)
14. Police & Thieves (Junior Murvin Single A Side 1976)
15. Croaking Lizard (The Upsetters Super Ape LP 1976)
16. Children Crying (The Congos Heart Of The Congos LP 1977)
17. Disco Devil (Lee Perry & Full Experience Single A Side 1977)
18. Vibrate Onn (Augustus Pablo Single A Side 1977)
19. Roast Fish & Corn Bread (Lee Perry Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Corn Bread LP 1978)
20. Bird In Hand (The Upsetters Return Of The Super Ape LP 1978)
I’ll be honest, over the past four decades I’ve barely given Lee Perry a thought, and if I have it was only to wonder whether the once great sonic wizard was still alive. But when the news came through on 29th August that he had finally departed this earth for good it immediately got me thinking about the last time I heard anything he’d been involved with, which I’m fairly sure was back in 2009 on Austrian dub fiends Dubblestandart’s Return From Planet Dub album.
While that project sounded like it was a lot more thrilling to make than it was to listen to, Lee Perry’s ground breaking work as a producer, facilitator and record maker in the late sixties and throughout the seventies was anything but. I mean, how many record producers with can boast of wielding such influence and playing such an intrinsic role in the construction of not one but two new musical genres. Reggae's origins may have been in ska and rocksteady, and dubs may have emerged from roots reggae, but it was Perry’s ‘People Funny Boy’ and his Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle album that marked their transitions in 1968 and 1973 respectively.
If you’ve ever listened to a reggae album or anything from the vast worlds of hip hop or electronica, you’ve listened to music that’s been touched, influenced or shaped in some way by Lee Perry. Whether it was his formative early cuts with Bob Marley &The Wailers, Junior Byles, U Roy or his own Upsetters or through the production work at his legendary Black Ark studio, Lee Perry changed the shape of Jamaican music and the way me and my punk generation thought about reggae.
Completed in 1974, Black Ark was built at Perry’s home in Washington Gardens, one of Kingston’s more upmarket suburbs. Having escaped the employ of studio owners Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd and Joe Gibb and fully in control of his own destiny, he got to work laying down the ‘Ten commandments of Reggae’ in an incredibly fertile period that produced classic, dub drenched albums like The Heptones Party Time, Max Romeo’s War Ina Babylon, Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves, The Upsetters Super Ape, The Congos Heart Of The Congos and literally hundreds of singles.
Viewed through the long lens of history, Black Ark has achieved mythical status, the site of a lengthy list of recordings given the necessary dose of magic by Lee Perry’s unconventional and shamanic techniques. Utilising a basic TEAC four track set up in a way that few others could, he created layer after layer of sound to give his recordings an instantly recognizable, impenetrable, sonic density.
Twenty years before the term ‘alternative music’ was even considered, he recorded the sound of guns firing, glass breaking, babies crying and rain falling, ran tapes backwards while blowing ganja on them to infuse his own brand of magic and on one infamous occasion requested The Congos Watty Burnett to ‘moo’ into a cardboard tube wrapped in tin foil. Playing the mixing board like an instrument, Lee Perry was the most creative dubmaster of them all and at the absolute peak of his powers.
Then, one morning in 1979, suffering a severe mental collapse after the breakdown of his marriage, he burnt Black Ark to the ground, so ending one of the most creative and innovative periods in reggae history. And that in an instant is where my interest in Lee Perry ended. While he would make plenty more albums in London and Switzerland, after his mind shredded he was never the same again and would soon turn into a kind of sad, loveable self-parody of his former self, a highly eccentric, reggae deity getting away with it because of his brilliant past and subsequent madness.
Not that it really mattered, certainly not to me. I may not have known it at the time but the roots and dub released in the most formative decade of my youth has stuck with me. Whenever I’m feeling depressed or just a little fucked off, I can click on one of the tracks I know and love and within no time at all my mood has shifted. That’s what reggae continues to do for me. And most of it was made by the hands of Lee Perry!
Chris Green. 30th August 2021.