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Lee “Scratch” Perry

The man who invented reggae

Lee “Scratch” Perry in 1980. David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Lee “Scratch” Perry was the strangest man I’ve ever met, says Neil McCormick in The Daily Telegraph. I interviewed the Jamaican music producer, who died this week aged 85, in 1997. He arrived in head-to-toe jewellery, wearing a gold crown and carrying a suitcase bursting with multicoloured feathers. He plopped himself down, “lit up a joint so improbably enormous it seemed to defy physics” and spoke largely in rhyming couplets. “Perry was a genius, and I don’t bandy that word about lightly.”

He as good as invented reggae, says The Times. In fact, he once claimed he gave Bob Marley reggae as “a present”. The singer never denied it. They met in the late 1960s: Perry supplied backing musicians, encouraged Marley to embrace new sounds and produced what aficionados consider some of his best work. But the relationship was rocky. After a squabble about money, Perry threatened to kill Marley. Promptly, Marley stormed the producer’s house in Kingston, “delivered a beating, smashed the crockery and departed with a fistful of cash”. The next day, both men claimed to be “blood brothers” again.

Perry’s creative methods were eccentric. He buried microphones under palm trees, thumping the trees to record their sounds. He routinely blew smoke into the recording console “so that the weed would get into the song”. “He’s the Salvador Dalí of music,” said Rolling Stone Keith Richards in 2010. “The world is his instrument. You just have to listen.”

Watch a video of Perry at work here 👎