Mikey DON’s thirteen-track guide to the incomparable Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

Few artists have made a contribution to Jamaican music quite as significant as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry; the producer and vocalist who has been shaping sound since the 1960’s. As a young man, working in construction, he perceived cosmic vibrations in natural matter and a relationship between music and the industrial sounds of construction – something that would later manifest itself in his unique dub production style.

Most notable among ‘The Upsetters” achievements are helping Bob Marley discover his spirituality, establishing the iconic Black Ark studio (which he later demolished) and creating an extensive body of revolutionary music. His mark is indelible, but as with many artists, it can be difficult to get to the heart of his greatness.

DJ Mikey DON is a veteran selector who has been playing at Band on the Wall for many years and whose reggae knowledge runs deep! His personal relationship with Perry’s music, which he explores in the below playlist, is a perfect introduction to Perry as a producer and vocalist. Catch Mikey DON spinning records throughout the night, when Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry returns to Band on the Wall on 7th March 2017.

Lee Perry – Roast Fish & Cornbread

‘This tune means so much to me. When I first heard this around 1979, it was my personal favourite Lee Perry track. The stepping bassline, the ‘clippity-clappity’ ad-lib, the overall sound just blew me away. I couldn’t get enough as a kid, and I still get excited every time I hear it. I’ve seen him perform this track live numerous times and it sounds magnificent every time. Sheer class.’

Heptones – Sufferers Time

‘This track I first heard when my Dad brought it home from Paul Marsh’s record shop in Moss Side in 1976. Loved it then and still love it today. It brings back so many great memories of seeing and hearing my Dad play it on his Mellow Tone Sound System. This was probably the first time that I became aware of that ‘Lee Perry Sound’ – the dull sounding keyboard chords, the sharp high-end treble of the cymbals, the warm but prominently soft bass guitar sound, the guitar with ‘that’ effect on it – that one-a-way Lee Perry Sound that so many people across the world became to love.’

Lee Perry – Disco Devil

‘A tough as you like vocal and dub piece to Max Romeo’s classic ‘Chase The Devil’. When this got released, 12″ singles were just beginning to surface as a medium, so I am not too sure if the ‘Disco Devil’ reference is something to do with him saying he’s ready to dominate the 12″ singles market with a devilish attitude, or he was saying he wasn’t too much of a fan of Disco music. Either way, this a sure hit!’

Lee Perry – Dum The Pum Pum

‘Love this. Despite the ‘slack’ title, this tune encapsulates and teaches others the true skill of using dub around a vocal. Not many tunes like this were on the market at this time, as those who know will know that Lee was one of the first people to recognise and endorse the originator of Dub, Mr King Tubby, to the masses. Here, you can hear Tubby on one of his earlier vinyl outings.’

The Upsetters – Dread Lion

‘I had to pick a tune from this LP, but as ever its hard to pick just one tune from any of his LPs. This tune was also featured on the classic film ‘Rockers’, but sadly isn’t credited nor did it make the soundtrack. A classy piece if real reggae music with dubby overtones that makes you want to hear more and more dub reggae. His clever engineering skills are once again also shown on here. A killer solid track to say the least.’

The Upsetters – Black Board Jungle Dub (Version 1)

‘Now, I had to pick something from this LP, but there are so many killers on here that it’s simply too hard to pick just one. This riddim. Oh my days!!! This is so monumental that its beyond a joke! His vision as a producer, NOBODY can EVER underrate. Not only did he manage to set himself up with the cream of the crop of musicians, but it takes a genius to be able to constantly keep coming with top notch music. This LP is quite arguably my favourite Dub LP EVER. King Tubby and Lee Perry together is just a combination out of this world. Track for track, it is something else. I need not explain or break it down to you all. Simply put, if you don’t know this LP, then take my recommendation and just buy it blind. You won’t be disappointed in the slightest.’

The Upsetters – Black Board Jungle Dub (Version 2)

‘I had to include this too. The way he transfuses and manipulates the original riddim to come with a version like this is simply outstanding work and vision. The trombone just kills it in the best way possible. Get yourself on a good system, and kick back and take in this absolute killer of a mix.’

The Gatherers – Words Of My Mouth

‘This track is stupendously great. It really is. Nowadays when people go into a studio, they like to come out with that ‘polished’ sound. This is so the opposite. The keyboard melodies are fantastic and get you everytime. The mix on the drums are loud but nice. The bassline just makes you appreciate what a ‘screwface’ expression is. The vocals are wicked. The message in the song is heartfelt. An absolute gem of a track that should be in every reggae DJ’s record box.’

Bob Marley – Rainbow Country

‘This track is my favourite Bob Marley track, EVER. I cannot get enough of this. The early use of those pre-programmed drums from that keyboard works a dream. The key chords are smooth and sharp, yet perfect. The muddy bassline is one to shake the plaster from your ceiling. Bob’s vocals are just marvellous. The lyrics once again are brilliant. I actually don’t understand why this track didn’t get a proper general release at the time but by the heck is it worthy of it. Every true Marley fan will know that his best works were when he was working alongside Lee Perry. Tracks like ‘Soul Almighty’, ‘Soul Rebel’, to tracks like ‘Kaya’, ‘Sun Is Shining’ and Don’t Rock My Boat’ (aka ‘Satisfy My Soul’), which he re-recorded and released on the ‘Kaya’ LP is a testament to show how his music was indeed timeless. This tune is not only just that – its sheer perfection.’

Bob Marley – Mr Brown

‘Where do you start with this one? The eerie intro. The way the riddim focuses on the way each instrument falls on the ‘one drop’, the space echo on the first bit of backing vocal that transcends smoothly into the track. The harmonic backing vocal melodies. The intrusive keyboard bassline. WOW!! Only Lee ‘Scratch’ could have come up with this and boy I can safely say for every true fan of real reggae music that we sure are happy that he did. This is just epic. Words fail me.’

Junior Murvin – Crossover

‘Another killer track from the combination that brought you the classic ‘Police And Thieves’, comes this much sought after sound system monster. I was introduced to this tune by my close friend Paul ‘Axis’ when I joined the sound system in 1994. To be honest, it didn’t grip me instantly (mainly due to Junior’s loudly mixed wailing vocal intro) but after hearing it sporadically over a number of years, it grew and grew on me until I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d always recall how it absolutely thumped the hell out of the vast number of 18″ speaker boxes that we’d roll out with. So much so that people would hold onto the boxes and ‘dance’ with them – feeling every punching bass drum followed by the stinging bassline vibrate up their arms into their body. It was only a matter of time…’

Lee Perry – Underground

‘This ‘Super Ape’ LP. Jeeeez. I got this LP early in my life so when i heard this particular track on a TV programme back in the early 80’s, i was like “No Way! They’re playing that track off that LP!” – bearing in mind that reggae music barely ever on television in those days. This is another killer from the vast catalogue of monsters from Sir Scratch. The beautifully placed female harmonies, the almost wah-wah guitar licks, mixed the three note bassline guarantees you to move your head and become encapsulated within the riddim.’

Lee (King) Perry – People Funny Boy

‘This to me sums up a lot of people. People who forget other people once they start to become financially better in life, people who just want to use other people to get up the ladder, people who have no regards or respect for other people’s help that they have so politely given to others to help them get on in this world. The list is endless. This too was experienced by Scratch from early out in his career – so much so he made a song about them. “Why People Funny Bwoyy” is something that we will never get to the end of, but it happens to a hell of a lot of us – myself included. Brilliant track, a brilliant piece of Ska, and also a brilliant dance track to ‘bun out’ those of people and worries in life – if not only for 4 minutes. Fulljoy.’

Pick up tickets for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry + Kioko + DJ Mikey DON on 7th March