In an industry filled with boundary-breaking visionaries and spectacularly accomplished eccentrics, Lee “Scratch” Perry stood out. The legendary producer of reggae and dub music has died at the age of 85. No cause of death was given; Jamaican media reported that Perry died in a hospital in Lucea, in the northwestern part of the country. His passing today was confirmed in a series of tweets from from Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness.
Although he dropped out of school as a youngster, Perry would become a global repository of knowledge about music. (His memorable nickname derives from a 1965 song, “Chicken Scratch.”) At Perry’s storied Black Ark studio in Kingston, located behind his family’s home, Perry worked with Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Heptones, Junior Murvin, and many more, crafting some of their most well-known songs. But Perry fell out with nearly as many people as he promoted and made famous.
“It was clear early on that he was best off as his own boss,” reported Christopher Johnson in an NPR profile from 2006 that looked back on the producer’s career and is well worth listening to in its entirety. “He created a record label and formed a band called The Upsetters. He wrote songs that dissed his old mentors, and those tunes became hits in Jamaica.”
Perry translated his aural innovations into rock and rap in his work with Clash, Paul McCartney and the Beastie Boys. More than anything, though, Perry helped synthesize some of the most fundamental musical building blocks many of us listen to today, said the Chicago-area DJ Rikshaw.