Shocks Of Mighty: An Upsetting Biography (Part 2)
One day a young roughneck named Bob Marley came to visit the Upsetter Record Shop. His band The Wailers had been very successful a few years earlier with Coxsone, but at the moment they were struggling. The Wailers needed to jump start their sound or die trying. Young producers like Perry were creating new and exciting sounds that would pull the rug out from under the feet of the "old men" of the Jamaican music scene. Bob Marley and his friends Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were amazed that The Upsetters had been so popular overseas. The Upsetters, however, were not as impressed. Once they returned from Britain, they were rather vex with Perry, who -- ironically, given his past dealings with Coxsone and Gibbs -- apparently had taken the lion's share of the cash from the tour. Before long, Bob Marley realized that a collaboration between them and The Wailers could be an unstoppable combo. After a few rehearsals and jam sessions together, Marley talked The Upsetters into abandoning Perry's ship and joining The Wailers.
When Perry found out that Marley had stolen his crack musicians from him, he was understandably furious. He actually threatened to kill Bob. The two of them met one day to have it out, and judging from the volume of their voices, everyone around thought that it would end up with furniture being broken. Instead, they emerged from behind closed doors hours later, all smiles and slapping each other on the back. The Upsetters were still joining The Wailers, but their exclusive producer was to be -- of course -- Lee Perry.
Perry pounded his fist at the mixing desk, and a musical alchemy turned the two bands into pure gold. The Upsetters laid down unstoppable rhythms and The Wailers sang like never before. The mix of Bob Marley's streetwise sensibilities, combined with Perry's sense of adventure and mysticism, proved to be a turning point not only in their careers but in the history of reggae. The chemistry between Perry and Marley proved to be phenomenal. Together, they produced classic songs like "Small Axe", "Duppy Conqueror", "400 Years", and many others that changed the course of reggae and laid the foundation for Bob Marley's subsequent success. Many of the songs were re-recorded later on in Marley's career, but the magic of the Perry sessions has never been surpassed. By 1971, however, The Wailers / Upsetters' honeymoon was over. With the Upsetters' rhythm section in tow, The Wailers formed a new band, and, after signing to Island Records in 1973, became reggae superstars. The band went their separate ways, but Perry kept the name to refer to the floating band of killer musicians that played for him over the years.
Perry began to expand on many of the musical experiments that he had introduced to Jamaican music while still working with other producers. Twenty years before anyone had ever used the term "alternative" music, Perry shot pistols, broke glass, ran tapes backwards, and used samples of crying babies, falling rain, and animal sounds in his unique productions. With wild songs such as "Cow Thief Skank", "Space Flight", and "Jungle Lion", the Upsetter was certainly living up to his nickname.
By 1973, Perry began to feel the squeeze of having to rely on commercial studios for his unique work. Most of his work had been recorded at Randy's Studio 17 or Dynamic Sound, and having to keep an eye on the clock while working his musical voodoo was a definite distraction. A few years earlier, he and his family had moved into Washington Gardens, a posh Kingston suburb, and while napping under a tree in his backyard, Perry had a dream where he heard music. When he awoke, he took the dream as a sign and began building his own studio on the exact spot. When it was completed in late 1973, he painted the words BLACK ARK above the door, for it was here that Perry reckoned that he would lay down the Ten Commandments of reggae. For any other producer this would be an eccentric boast; in retrospective, Perry was being modest. The music that was recorded at the Black Ark over the next five years was absolute magic from one of reggae's most radical sorcerers.