NMF Artist Spotlight: Lee “Scratch” Perry

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There are few artists more underappreciated–or as downright bizarre–than reggae/dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry.

With his combination of strange lyrics and solid rhythms, Perry is still in demand, working with such diverse artists as Keith Richards, The Beastie Boys, George Clinton and Andrew W.K.

Recently, he was chosen to perform at the 2011 All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, curated by the band Animal Collective.

Perry’s first years were rather stressful, bopping from one label to another in 1950s Kingston, Jamaica. He originally worked with Clement Coxsone Dodd, the influential record producer who originally auditioned and hired Robert Nesta Marley, before he was known as Bob Marley.

After splitting from Dodd, Lee began working on Joe Gibb’s Amalgamated Records, which he left in 1968 to do things his own way on his own label, Upsetter Records.

Once on his own, Perry recorded “People Funny Boy," arguably one of the most innovative songs of the past century, in which he sampled a baby crying with a thick underlying rhythm that would eventually be known as "rocksteady."

Perry continued to work with his house band, The Upsetters, to release albums like Return of Django, which was massively successful in Europe.

By 1978, Perry had produced the likes of Bob Marley, Junior Byles and Max Romeo. However, by this point in his career, he was under duress. In 1979, torched his Black Ark studio, claiming that it had been tainted by "unclean spirits."

In the mid-80s, a group of English producers, all influenced by Perry’s bizarre and beautiful recordings, worked to re-establish his career. The 76 year-old continues to perform internationally to this day.

Perry is one of the headlining acts of the 2012 Nelsonville Music Festival, performing late in the evening on Saturday, May 19.

For more information on the festival, visit www.nelsonvillefest.org.