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THE CONGOS GET A COAT OF PAINT

Jah Wise, hand me that paint brush

Every Scratch fan is familiar with the landmark Heart Of The Congos album, that legendary piece of work that many consider to be Scratch's finest moment as a producer. Rejected by Island, the album was initially released in limited numbers on Perry's Black Art label and subsequently on a variety of pressings and different labels; Blood & Fire finally gave us the goods with their fantastic 1995 re-release of the album on CD.

Our man in New York, Duane Sherwood, e-mailed me awhile ago to tell me that he had managed to get his hands on one of the original Black Art pressings. He noticed that there were yellow stripes haphazardly painted on the cover, and knew that he had an even better collector's item on his hands. Says Duane:

"This is a picture of my Congos LP. Thirty or so were hand painted by Lee Perry when the printer messed up the colors of the graphic stripes. The story as I heard it is that the original graphic lines were supposed to be red, yellow and green. When the covers came back, they were red, white and blue. This got Scratch mad so he decided to paint the blue and white stripes over with yellow. I guess the idea was that the yellow would take over the white and turn the blue to green (which it sort of did). I'm told that he got bored after doing somewhere between 30 and 50 of them and then gave up..."

In fact, it was resident Black Ark artist Jah Wise who took the paintbrush to the covers, not Scratch. Shortly after the original release of Heart Of The Congos, Scratch decided to remix the album and so the original blue stripe pressing was abandoned, painted covers and all (the second pressing had black stripes).

Serious fans should seek out a copy of the original 1977 release, since it features a much different mix than the popular Blood & Fire release. The mix on the original pressing is much more spartan than the full blown, reverb-laden, mooing cow mix that Scratch created for the second release in 1978; this is the mix that was used on all subsequent releases of the album. While not a million miles away from the second mix, the original mix is very different.

For the complete story of Heart Of The Congos, check out this excellent article, where David Katz provides all the details.

June 2000 (with additional material August 2003)