"From Genesis to Revelation - Here I come - Here I come to dub the nation!" - Lee "Scratch" Perry
RETURN OF DJANGO (1969)
Return Of Django/Touch Of Fire/Cold Sweat/Drugs And Poison/Soulful I/Night Doctor/One Punch/Eight For Eight/A Live Injection/Man From MI5/Ten To Twelve/Medical Operation
Before the embryonic roots/Rasta sounds that producer Lee "Scratch" Perry introduced on 1970's Clint Eastwood, and the jaunty organ-driven skinhead skanking of The Many Moods Of The Upsetters from the same year, we had this, one of the first reggae "albums", (although it was more collection of singles). The sound showed a fair few signs of the skinhead sound, although the influence of the previous decades' ska sound is still there in places. Unlike those two albums, this one is all instrumental, with only occasional vocal interjections.
Despite its being recorded in 1969 in no doubt pretty rudimentary studios, the remastered sound on this, although mono, is probably as good as you could expect it to be, and at times is pretty good, better in fact than on the next two albums.
This album laid down the foundations of the skinhead/boss reggae stomping sound that would dominate much of reggae's output between here and 1972, before roots and Rasta consciousness started to fully take over.
Return Of Django is the most obviously ska-influenced cut, full of melodic ska brass and a toe-tapping beat. The organ sound that would become so popular in the early seventies is to the fore on the excellent Touch Of Fire (which has a surprisingly good sound quality) and the lively Cold Sweat, with its expressive organ flourishes. Drugs And Poison is a fine slice of late sixties reggae, full of organ but also saxophone and a solid stomping beat - get those boots on.
Soulful I sounds like something from a late fifties/early sixties British fairground with its Telstar-style keyboard sound. The same applies to Night Doctor. A slightly different sound is found on the mysterious, deeper bassy tones of One Punch although it is punctuated by some swirling, trilling organ breaks. Eight For Eight features some absolutely killer organ and some growling early "toasting" from Perry. A Live Injection features the best of keyboardist Glen Adams, who is given free rein to swirl and swoop. He certainly does that, too, with much dexterity.
Man From MI5 was an introduction to a slightly deeper, bassier sound complete with sonorous, menacing vocal intro. It features some excellent guitar and a lovely big, rumbling bass sound. That big, booming sound system bass groove started on tracks like this. Ten To Twelve is almost rock 'n' roll in its lively beat. Perry also uses cock crowing noises, something he would do a lot over the years. Medical Operation is another enthusiastic skinhead stomp. You simply can't beat the sheer vitality of these early reggae recordings, can you? As I said, nice remastering on this too, some the best I have heard from the period.
Also, check out the new extended release of the album for some really early dub rhythms on Love Me Baby (Take 1).
CLINT EASTWOOD/MANY MOODS OF THE UPSETTERS (1970)
Both these albums were released in 1970 and are now being issued together as one package which is understandable as they are, to an extent, indistinguishable from each other, it would seem. Actually there are clear differences, however, that are more than worthy of mention as we progress. What is for sure is that they both contain fast-paced, largely instrumental, organ-driven "skinhead" or "boss" reggae - stomping drum beats behind trilling, parping fairground organ sounds and often punchy brass. Vocals appear occasionally on the odd fully-fledged song, but more often than not, when vocals are added they are improvised "huhs", "haaahs, "pick it ups" and "work its" thrown in to provide almost an extra instrument. To a certain extent, that organ sound was "cheesy", but also it was so very representative of reggae at the time and has an important chronological and developmental status. It is the sound of 1969-1972 reggae. The organ was king and was the essence of the skinhead sound.
The sound is mono and, as most of these tracks were cut in rudimentary studios it is certainly not audiophile. The recordings have been cleaned up as much as possible but there are still variations in quality in the recordings. However, in this lo-fi sound lies much of the music's home-grown, raw appeal.
CLINT EASTWOOD - (by The Upsetters unless stated)/Return Of The Ugly/For A Few Dollars More/Prisoner Of Love - Dave Barker/Dry Acid/Rightful Ruler/Clint Eastwood/Taste Of Killing/Selassie/What It This (Ba Ba) - The Reggae Boys/Ain't No Love - Jimmy & The Inspirations/My Mob/I've Caught You
Now for those differences. Clint Eastwood is by far the earthier of the two albums, though. We get embryonic "toasting" on For A Few Dollars More, Perry growls vocals over a frantic skank and Return Of The Ugly also has a quirky, upbeat appeal. Its organ breaks are almost rock 'n' roll in places. Dry Acid is an excellent early toaster with croaked vocals demanding "mercy" and "pick it up, pick it up" over a full-on organ and drum-driven stomp. It is one of the album's most important cuts, its vocal enhancements providing a sign of the future. Actually, equally important, if not more, is Rightful Ruler, when we hear Rastafarian conciousness expressed for one of the first times on a reggae record, with U-Roy making an early appearance rapping righteousness and praise of Haile Selassie over a Rasta drum backing. Make no mistake this one of the very first roots reggae records.
On Clint Eastwood, the track, Perry gruffly informs us that "Clint Eastwood tougher than Lee Van Cleef..". This cowboy/gunslinger fixation was extremely popular in reggae at the time. Taste Of Killing is an instrumental, but it is much less "cheesy" than some of those on Many Moods Of The Upsetters. Selassie sees the Rasta devotion return on a classic early slice of blood and fire piety. There is certainly nothing like this on the album's sibling release, nothing at all. This is the birth of roots reggae.
Prisoner Of Love is a classic full; vocal skinhead stomp, with Dave (Dave & Ansil Collins) Barker on convincing lead vocals. What Is This (Ba Ba) is also is fine serving of skinhead fare. Ain't No Love is a fast track with an almost soulful groove and vocal. Both My Mob and the initially slightly rootsier I've Caught You are organ-powered, infectious instrumentals in the style of the material on its partner album.
MANY MOODS OF THE UPSETTERS - (by The Upsetters unless stated)/Exray Vision/Can't Take It Anymore - David Isaacs/Soul Stew/Low Lights/Cloud Nine - Carl Dawkins/Beware/Serious Joke/Goosy - Pat Satchmo/Prove It/Boss Society - Pat Satchmo/Mean And Dangerous/Games People Play
Many Moods Of The Upsetters features a vocal track in the melodic Can't Take It Anymore with (I think) David Isaacs on lead vocals. It is one of the album's catchiest numbers. Another full vocal is found on their grainy, muffled cover of The Temptations' Cloud Nine, this time wth Carl Dawkins singing. Pat Satchmo provides gruff, growling vocals on the catchy, saxophone-driven Goosy and Boss Society.
The rest of the album is instrumental, with a positively sixties, almost easy listening sound on Low Lights and some prototype seventies skanking in Beware, the cookin' groove of Exray Vision and Soul Stew. Serious Joke has a fine, clear organ sound, I must say, while Prove It gets almost funky in places. The album ends with a couple of gems in the appealing saxophone sounds of Mean And Dangerous and the joyous, carnival steel band skank of the soul song Games People Play.
Overall, the cuts on this album sound earlier than on Clint Eastwood. There is no early roots vibe and certainly no Rasta references or grooves. It makes this a far more inessential album than its partner. Also, the sound is better on Eastwood too.
AFRICA'S BLOOD (1972)
(all by The Upsetters unless stated)/Do Your Thing - Dave Barker/Dream Land/Long Sentence/Not Guilty/Cool And Easy/Well Dread Version 3 - Addis Ababa Children/My Girl/Saw Dust/Place Called Africa Version 3 - Winston Prince/Isn't It Wrong - The Hurricanes/Go Slow/Bad Luck/Move Me/Surplus
From the end of the sixties into the early seventies, slowly but surely, reggae artists started releasing proper albums, as opposed to merely a procession of singles. The now legendary Upsetter Lee "Scratch" Perry had released a few before this one, but they were now coming thick and fast. The unmistakable dub sound that Perry made his own in his iconic Black Ark Studios in Kingston, Jamaica had not quite started to fully take shape as yet and the sound is still very much in that Dave & Ansil Collins-style organ-driven skanking vein, all trilling organ bleeps over a fast, steady beat. In fact Dave Barker ("Dave") features on the first track. Each track has that typical Upsetter sound that gets the feet moving. Most of the tracks are instrumentals with only incidental vocals. Most of the music still bore the influence of ska and the deep, reverberating dub of the mid-seventies and beyond is still a few years away.
The sound quality is surprisingly good, although it seems to be in mono, it is a good, solid, warm and bass mono with no distortion.
Dave Barker's Do Your Thing sets the tone for the album - a fine slice of skinhead-style organ-powered stomping, enhanced by lots of "huhs", "haaahs" and "work its". Try keeping still while this is on - classic early seventies reggae skanking. Dream Land slows down the pace to a slow groove, driven along by a fairground-style organ. this stuff is like Booker T & The Mgs with a reggae backing. The material is like a whole set of backing tracks for the hits that populated the Reggae Chartbusters and Tighten Up compilations of the time. Long Sentence skanks along at a faster pace again dominated by the organ, although Not Guilty starts to sound a bit more like the sort of reggae you would expect from 1973-74 with a mid-pace, solid skank whose organ is less "parping" if you know what I mean.
Cool And Easy the introduction of the brass sounds that would feature in so many reggae backing tracks of the period. A very early piece of roots is notably found on Addis Ababa Children's Well Dread Version with an introductory vocal in praise of "Jah Rastafari", something pretty unusual in 1972. The drum sound is pure Rastafarian drumming too. The skank is very similar to the backing of Eric Donaldson's Cherry Oh Baby, though. The Upsetters instrumental take on The Temptations' My Girl speeds the tune up a lot. Saw Dust is a cut typical of the reggae of the time, this time with less of the organ, more of the drum, bass and electric piano. The album's second roots track is Winston Prince's Place Called Africa and on this track we really do get an example of the roots sub-genre in its infancy, complete with "toasting" vocals and the use of the "I and I" pronoun, again this was pretty unusual for the time.
The Hurricanes' Isn't It Wrong is the album's only "proper" song, with full verses and choruses. Go Slow is an example of how it is the bass and guitar, together with piano, which is becoming more important, to an extent, than the fairground organ by the end of this album. The organ is back, however, on the brassy Bad Luck. Move Me is a nice, lively skank, as is the jaunty Surplus.
This is an interesting album in the development of the remarkable talent that is Lee "Scratch" Perry, and of reggae itself, but it is not really an essential one.
SUPER APE (1976)
Zion's Blood/Croaking Lizard/Black Vest/Underground/Curly Dub/Dread Lion/Three In One/Patience/Dub Along/Super Ape
As well as producing Max Romeo's iconic roots reggae album War Ina Babylon in 1976, already legendary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry recycled some of the "riddims" and ones from other productions of his for this solo album, credited to him. It is largely a dub album, the tracks containing only occasional vocals, all sort of sound effects, repeated horn breaks, melodica, infectious, deep bass lines and that archetypal Perry percussion sound. It was, like his other classic recordings from the period, recorded at Black Ark Studios in Jamaica and has that trademark heavy and murky, slightly mysterious sound - check out Underground as a prime example.
As you listen to it, all sorts of other musical refrains from various Perry-produced songs will pop into your head. Some you will recognise, like the bass line to War Ina Babylon that underpins Black Vest. Others will frustrate you, like the beguiling Croaking Lizard does for me. For ages, I could not place it, then I found out it was a re-imagining of Max Romeo's Chase The Devil. Then it all started to fit into place. Max Romeo's vocals are replaced by some DJ-style "toasting". Curly Dub, if you ask me, has echoes of The Beatles' The Things We Said Today in its horn breaks. Maybe that's just how I hear it though.
The album's only really fully vocal track is Zion's Blood, I am not sure who it is on vocals. The track, despite its deep dub riddims has a cool feel of Third World about it in its melodic vocal. Three To One, to be fair has a fair amount of vocals too, and is packed full of roots atmosphere. The instrumental Patience brings to mind another song's backing but I can't place it.
Dread Lion is a marvellous piece of deep, melodica-drenched dub. It positively drips with addictive dub heaviness. Dub Along has some beguiling female vocals giving it an infectious irresistibility. Super Ape has flute lines swirling all around it, highlighting just how inventive Perry could be. This is a short album, only just over half an hour or so, but it is up there as one of the best dub albums, particularly as it is not a compilation, as many dub releases are. This was part of the soundtrack to the "punky reggae crossover" years of 1977-79.
Cricket On The Moon/Run Evil Spirit/Let It Rain/House Of Angels/Makumba Rock/African Starship/Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers/Children Of The Light/Autobiography Of The Upsetter
83 year old legendary dub producer and self-styled “dub shepherd” Lee “Scratch” Perry returns with this remarkably innovative and inventive dub reggae offering. There is a wide variety of instrumentation used on the album and various sound effects as well as the obligatory deep, rumbling dub bass rhythms. It really is a slightly different dub album, full of interesting soundscapes. Perry is not quite as bonkers as his legend (and himself) would often have you believe. He is (and always was) in total control of his work. Don’t let his crazy approach fool you.
Cricket On The Moon is sort of staccato, funky dub with Perry growling his vocals gruffly, as you would expect, over an intoxicating, bassy beat. A fervent Perry tells us all to repent before an addictive wah-wah style guitar comes in. Despite its heavy bass thump, there is a sort of looseness here that is continued throughout the album.
Of all the many Dub artists, Perry has always had one of the keenest ear for a melody, and nowhere is this better exemplified than on the catchy rhythms of Run Evil Spirit, which is brought alight by some excellent saxophone, somewhat unusual for dub. Let It Rain finds the octogenarian Perry croaking over another really attractive beat, this time enhanced by some deep strings. Nobody can croak quite like Perry, apart from maybe Prince Far I. The track has a lively, dancehall “stepping” beat to it. Producer Adrian Sherwood assists Perry on all these tracks to give us a bit more than the traditional thumping dub sound popularised in the late seventies. This is dub for 2019 and very appealing it is too. The usual vows to “wipe out Babylon and drown Satan” mean that it hasn’t strayed too far from dub traditions, however.
House Of Angels uses an infectious brass backing, lots of backing vocals and a somewhat mournful vocal from Perry. He sounds old, but he sounds reassuringly wise, despite his madcap persona. It is a track absolutely overflowing with atmosphere. Makumba Rock is packed full of African-inspired rhythms and multiple animal noises (something Perry has also used in the past). It has echoes of Manu Dibango and those Cameroonian sounds that often emanate these days from the banlieues of Paris. Perry starts crying manically at a few points and the whole thing gets more than a little disconcerting. Perry for some reasons tells us that Prince Charles will be King of the United Kingdom - true, of course, but bizarrely irrelevant.
African Starship is a more traditional sounding dub with echoes of Prince Far I in the deep “chanting” style vocals. The scratchy sound is more seventies-influenced than anything else on the album. Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers is an anti-capitalist rant, something Perry has always enjoyed delivering. It is enhanced by appealing echo and tuneful backing vocals as well as all sorts of sound effects and a lilting slow guitar skank. Children Of The Light is a brassy dub that once again uses the backing vocals strongly. Its guitar and drum interplay is superb. The old Augustus Pablo-inspired melodica is used on here too.
Autobiography Of The Upsetter is a most evocative narration by Perry of the events of his own life from his birth and upbringing in Jamaica to producing records. He references Bob Marley, Susan Cadogan and Max Romeo. He also tells us of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell drinking chicken's blood, perpetuating his own mythology. Incidentally, Rainford is Perry's birth name. If this is to be Perry's final album, what a fine way to bow out.
This is a highly recommended album if you like dub, but be prepared for some fascinating and slightly different sounds. It is dub in a modern day style.
THE BEST OF LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY (TROJAN)
This is quite an impressive compilation from Trojan Records covering the output of legendary, supposedly madcap, producer and studio knob twiddler Lee "Scratch" Perry, king of the Black Ark studios in Kingston, Jamaica. It differs from collections such as Arkology or Sipple Out Deh, in that, good as those ones are, they only cover the deep dub roots years from 1975-79. This one, as well as obviously including lots of stuff from that period, also features Perry's pop reggae productions for artists such as Susan Cadogan (Hurt So Good), early ska-influenced fare from The Upsetters (The Return Of Django, Dollar In The Teeth) and lighter, skanking "sweet sing" reggae from Gregory Isaacs (Mr. Cop). Perry certainly knew a poppy tune as well as he did a roots one. Junior Byles certainly falls into a similar category too. His tracks here, exemplified by The Long Way are seductive skanks. Byles had a rootsiness beneath his melody as well, though.
It is dubby roots that Perry is best known for, though, and this is here by the bucketload in crucial cuts like the atmospheric Bushweed Corntrash from Third World's Bunny Rugs, Perry's own evocative Roast Fish And Cornbread and the conscious Black Man Time. He could do lively roots too, like the upbeat, punchy Stay Dread. The Heptones' Mistry Babylon is a cool, rhythmic but Rasta-motivated track. All of these differing styles within the same basic reggae format show just what a versatile producer Perry is. Check out the congas on The Meditations' intoxicating Think So or that typical Perry jangly percussion on his own Big Neck Policeman. Then you have the original, irresistible ska of Tighten Up by The Inspirations. Cool roots are here too in The Gatherers' Words Of My Mouth. Jazzy, soulful reggae too with Susan Cadogan's cover of Fever. Neville Grant's Sick And Tired also has swing/jazz/rock'n'roll influences. No deep roots on this early and lively, good-time number.
Some of Perry's notable artists are obviously here too in Junior Murvin (Bad Weed) and Max Romeo (Sipple Out Deh/War Ina Babylon) . The Congos also appear with the typically harmonious but devout and Biblical Neckodeemus. We also get the mysterious Augustus Pablo on the strangely spooky Vibrate On (Jamaican Mix). Perry's own Soul Fire is a superb, grinding piece of heavy roots too. Junior Byles' Curly Locks is just typical Perry in its backing but deliciously light in its vocal delivery. Byles really does have an appealing voice.
A track like Ital Corner by Prince Jazzbo and Max Romeo is probably archetypal roots Perry, but this collection is certainly not all material in that fashion. There are a whole host of different reggae styles present on here. It is the deep roots and infectious riddims that take most of the attention, however, unsurprisingly, but there are also some different, earlier tracks too, as mentioned, and this is what makes this one of the most truly career-covering Lee Perry compilations around.
ARKOLOGY BOX SET
This is a 3CD compilation of roots reggae tracks produced by the legendary Lee "Scratch" Perry and recorded at his own Black Ark Studios in Jamaica.
Although it purports to be a career-spanning anthology, it is not quite so. Most of the material is drawn from the classic roots reggae/punk crossover period of 1975-1979. Perry produced a lot of stuff before those dates, but a lot of that would have been in the vein of Susan Cadogan's Hurt So Good - classic 70s reggae singles. The emphasis on here is definitely on the roots - Rasta consciousness material railing against Babylon, praising Jah and warning of "weepin', wailin' and a gnashin' of teet' ..", as exemplified on Rasta Train" by Raphael Green & Dr. Alimantado. That is not a bad thing as that is the period which probably saw the "dub" side of Perry, the master of studio experimentation, at its finest. If you think of Scratch, you think of him as a master of dub and roots cuts - big, bassy, pounding, speaker thumping, echoey, with that jangling percussion sound and innovative instrumentation such as the use of the melodica. Vibrator by The Upsetters definitely falls into this category. Notting Hill Carnival material, just as darkness is falling and those speakers start to vibrate under the Westway and the atmosphere gets just a little menacing. Another in this vein is the mesmerising Vibrate On which features Augustus Pablo on melodica. Life Is Not Easy Dub by The Vibrators is an example of a full, powerful, bassy dub, with weird animal noises and some "toasting" style vocals over a skanking guitar and thumping drum rhythm.
The rootsy classics on here are many - Max Romeo's iconic War Ina Babylon with its "Sipple Out Deh" refrain and One Step Forward, also Errol Walker's John Public. Then there are the several different incarnations of Junior Murvin's Police And Thieves riddim - the track itself, plus Soldier And Police War; the dub of Grumblin' Dub and Glen Da Costa's alluring saxophone version Magic Touch. Perry's Soul Fire, Curly Locks and the wonderfully atmospheric Dreadlocks In Moonlight are excellent contributions from the man himself, as also is the delightful Roast Fish & Cornbread. Then there is the classic Congoman by The Congos, Junior Murvin's Tedious and, in case all the roots and Rasta vibe is becoming too much then there is the marvellous, romantic almost "Lovers' Rock" of George Faith's To Be A Lover(Have Some Mercy). Do not forget The Heptones' uplifting, almost anthemic Sufferer's Time either.
A lot of the tracks are dubby versions of vocal tracks from the album, such as Revelation Dub which is the dub version of War Ina Babylon. Rather than plough through all of the compilation, a good thing to do is put it on "shuffle" and play half an hours' worth of righteous roots reggae.