Lee “Scratch” Perry’s productions were amongst the first to feature and popularize the reggae sound, including Bob Marley’s pivotal early singles and first album – after Perry threatened to kill Marley for stealing his best musicians. All told, he produced hundreds of songs by various artists spread over multiple labels, many at his Black Ark studio. (Later bad vibes at the studio caused Perry to burn it down, according to his own claim at least.) He also wrote and recorded his own songs, and along with King Tubby pioneered the dub genre. A genius, and perhaps a bit of a madman, Perry’s importance to the development of reggae music cannot be overstated.
This interview was for a preview article for Perry’s concert on 6/19/16 at Discovery Ventura. It was done by phone on 6/9/16. (Thanks to Arnold Smith for heroic assistance in transcribing this interview. L. Paul Mann photo)
Jeff Moehlis: Do you enjoy visiting California?
Lee “Scratch” Perry: I really love California. I’m in love with Cali. Collie-donia. Collie-uppa. So love California. Is ganja doing well in California?
LSP: I inherited King David’s harp, mellow mellow Melchizedek, I inherit God’s crown and I sit on God’s throne. I inherited the rock stone, and I inherit Stonehenge and I inherit London, England, Great Britain, United States of America and Kingston, Jamaica, Europe and Africa. Just like that.
I am PNP [People’s National Party] man, and I am the man who went to Jamaica and conquered PNP party and change Jamaica government from PNP to JLP [Jamaica Labour Party] party. I am the man who just push to all things change. I push to all other things change. I push stone, you know what I mean? I push my stone back, and everything change. I push my telephone, and everything change. I push my flesh and flesh, sweat push my bone and the whole world change. The globe change. Faith change. Hope change. Love change, and love change into immortality [laughs].
Out of immortality comes immortal love, immortal music, immortal dub, immortal love, immortal reggae, immortal meggae, immortal beggae [laughs]. Immortal word, immortal sound, immortal crown and immortal throne. Immortal flesh and immortal bone [laughs].
JM Some people have claimed that you invented reggae. Do you agree?
LSP: Well, so they say, so it go. So say, so done. Regarding what the people say, is how it really goes. So say, so done. Then I’m glad. I am over-glad to know that I have keep moving reggae [laughs].
Reggae comes from streggae and reggae now is in full control of the International Monetary Foundation. Reggae now in full control of London, England, Great Britain. Over the Queen government, over the Queen police, over the Queen soldiers and sitting on the Queen’s shoulder, and not getting older. Reggae became so young, and reggae have super powers. Reggae loves Superman, and love Superbanaban and town and country and town and city. Next year is all gritty, all about reggae.
But not the dancehall reggae, I have no part in dancehall reggae. I have no lot and part with bottleneck dancehall reggae and dancehall sexing, dancehall juking and dancehall whining and dancehall grinding, and dancehall juking and dancehall muking and dancehall bruking. I have no lot or part in that.
My reggae is righteous reggae, older reggae, Godly reggae, Christian reggae, Jesus Christ reggae, Selassie I reggae, Marcus Garvey reggae, Paul Bogle reggae, and Sam Sharpe reggae, unto reggae and onto anti-dancehall reggae. So always been in America presenting anti-bottleneck reggae, anti-evil reggae, anti-evil-making reggae, anti-evil streggae, anti-suffering reggae. I come with righteous reggae, rich reggae, million reggae, billion reggae, trillion reggae, centillion reggae, over-rich reggae, and good looking reggae [laughs]. Good looking reggae dub. Good looking reggae love.
So when I say anti-dancehall reggae, I mean it and don’t feel no bad luck about it. Because I have no lot and part in dancehall vampire. I have no lot and part in dancehall. I have no lot and part with dancehall rudy. I have no lot and part with dancehall bad boy. I have no lot and part with dancehall gunmen. And I have no lot and part with dancehall bumpers and dancehall jumpers.
I have lot and part with God Almighty reggae, Jesus Christ Almighty, God Almighty, Jehovah Love Almighty, Globe Almighty reggae love. I have no part in anti-Christ ragga, anti-Christ raggamuffin, anti-Christ robber, anti-Christ grabba, and anti-Christ grabba fucking, and anti-Christ grabba mucking, and I have no lot and part in anti-Christ rub and anti-Christ rum, anti-Christ rump-shaking. No lot and part with steel pan reggae and something like that.
JM How was your approach to producing different from other producers like Coxsone Dodd?
LSP: He was OK. But I called him and he did not respond. He thought I was not a human being. But I was a human being. I went to him as an angel and he did not understand me. I am the angel called Gabriel, God-umbrella. Sent from heaven to collect all the riches, all the wealth, all the fortune, all the fame, all the aim, all the game, in the name of lightning and thunder. He said I couldn’t sing because he saw me squinting, he thought I was a Martian, whenever I’m like, “I’m the conquering lion, the conquering lion that’s breaking all these chains.”
So he give it to Delroy [Wilson] to sing. So Delroy sing and now Delroy’s dead. And him [Coxsone] dead after. And that’s how I know about it [laughs]. I don’t know what to say about it, but something’s funny, you understand? And I still alive. And Coxsone not alive. I alive but ska not alive. I am alive, rocksteady not alive. I am alive and Stonehenge, rock stone is alive, and I’m alive King Selassie and King David Israel is alive. I am alive King Solomon, the imperial majesty, the God-given rock of rock, the rock of my soul in the bosom of Abraham. Abraham is alive. But the goat is not alive [goat noises, laughs]. I’m coming to cut off the goat’s neck. Set the seed free, set the lamb free, set my land free, set my sheep free, and set my life free. But [goat noise] government, [goat noise] soldiers, [goat noise] police, and [goat noise] sheriff. [breaks into song]
They have the old government coming in, theocratic government, Africa Ethiopia-first government theocracy, personality, theocracy first. It hasn’t been more than one time sitting there with Bob Marley. It’s not theocracy nyahbinghi anymore, it’s theocracy black supremecy. Black Lord, Black God, Black Africa, Black Ethiopia, Black Addis Ababa, Blackboard Jungle and Black Ark Studio, Black Moses, Black Aaron, and Black apron [laughs]. White sheet and white silver sand, Silver Surfer coming in on the white ice, kicking the United States of America, in the name of Jesus Christ Almighty God. Right, man?
My lawyer is Jesus Christ, the one they refused. The one now that became anti-Christ is now my judge and my lawyer. [sings:] He give me the power. He gave me the power to devour. The devil was the witch, devour the bitch, and devour the power. To deliver the judge to devour the court, and then they kiss. When all the power and all the power and the space.
God give me the power to do everything. Disgrace some, bankrupt some, bank-up some and bank-down some, crank-up some and crank-down some, slip out some and wipe out some, keep in some and keep out some, peeky peeky sheeky sheeky. God give me the power, and God give the Sun and give me the Sun power. God give me the moon and give me the moon power, and God give me the stars and give me star power. God give me the clouds and give me the cloud power. God give me the rainclouds and the raincloud power. God give me thunder power lightning power, and God give me earthquake power, and all the power that is really bad and terrible. God give me all the terrible power. All that was known to Israel. How they choose to use them and how they misuse them in the name of love [laughs].
LSP: That was like good grace, good luck, practicing Godly intention and Godly invention. The Clash was tumbling down, nowhere to go, so they’ll keep on clashing. But God send them to me, to slap Clash and slash watch. After we got new watchtower and make them my watchmen, they watched the tower and watched the power. And play the power, and tour the power, and put the power down. [sings:] “Send some more Elijah to pray the power down … I would love to hear Elijah pray again”. [riffing on the Lord’s Prayer, then story of Elijah]
JM What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
LSP: They have to love my spirit. Love my words, love my sound, love my vision, love my words, love my sound, and strive that they would like to wear my crown, and will have to sit on my throne with me, to play my music.
There’s nothing that my music cannot do. My music can turn fish turned up, turn that into musicians, turn nothing into musicians. And turn love, love, love into God and love into the King of Kings. There’s nothing that my magic music cannot do. My music is written with magic, living logic, living in silence, living in finance, living income and living outcome and living up-come [laughs]. Income tax, and anti-tax. My music is anti-tax. Are you a natty?
JM No, I’m not.
LSP: Well, my music is anti-locks. Anti-natty. Anti-plait and anti-dread. My music is anti-dead. My music is life. You’re living life on locks, undead, and I am dread. Nothing kills my music. My music is a life-giver. And my music is life-giver for all time. Mind giver, mind thinker, life giver, life giver. Rain giver, thunderstorm giver, lightning storm giver, Shazam giver and pazam giver…
JM Your Black Ark studio had technology that wasn’t state of the art. How did this influence the recordings? Do you think it helped you to be more creative to get the sounds that you wanted?
LSP: Well man, machine is good actually for everyone who want me back then. You have to have a techno mind, a techno brain. You think about what else you could add and while using the machine, you think you want to set the machine, that the machine can do something else that nobody ever do before. Then you communicate machine to machine, then you do something that nobody else ever done before. Then the machine said “yes”, that’s technological, techno, right?
So if you want to do a real strong back, you better used to buy Japanese equipment, because Japanese equipment are more sensitive. With great logic and great magic. Find a sexy girl, with a sexy Pum Pum, then find a bass player who love Pum Pum who can play a Pum Pum bassline. Pum pum pum pum. Then they love me. Pum-pa-pum-pa pum pum. They need me. Then you put the logical part of it. You want to put a little drum, you put a little crash, you put an echo on the drum, a rain sound like rain come like that. You can add like kic-kic-kic-kic, or something foolish like that. Technological magic, technological style. Then the technological rain come after, because we make the technological rain.
JM Do you have a secret for longevity?
LSP: I am proud to be a messenger of my shit. I create my shit. I used to eat meat. I stopped eating meat. I used to love beef, I stopped eating beef. I used to love pork, I stopped eating pork. I loved to eat cow foot and eat cow tripe, but I stopped. So I make my insides a living clean temple. And I don’t scorn my shit like the rest of people, I love my shit. I don’t eat shit, but I love it, because of the food that I eat is vegetable. And I make sure that my shit is anti-devil. You understand?
Say hello to California for me! Give California happy love!