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Scratch pioneers a reggae sub-genre

No doubt every Lee Perry fan is familiar with the rocking Upsetters tune "Return Of Django", inspired by the spaghetti westerns playing in Jamaican movie theatres at the time. However, not everyone is familiar with the particular movie that inspired the song, Sergio Corbucci's Django.

While Sergio Leone's more famous spaghetti westerns (For A Few Dollars More, A Fistful Of Dollars, The Good The Bad And The Ugly) have been rightly lauded as classics, Django is perhaps the king of the genre. Ultra violent, vicious, and completely over the top in places, Django raised the brutality of the genre to new heights (or lows). Franco Nero (who was paid tribute in the Count Machuki song of the same name) plays the title role: a mysterious stranger dragging a coffin into a hellish town full of outlaws. Django wants to bury his gunslinging past, but no matter where he goes, his guns are needed.

Talking to Carl Gayle in Black Music in 1977, Scratch had this to say about the tune: "When I created that feeling ("Return Of Django"), Jamaica wasn't ready for it yet. But Jamaican people like action and I'm a lover of movies and my favorite star was Django. I was just basing it off a theory, so any cowboy could be Django. Like we see a film and we name the star Django because he's a rude boy. He had some bad deal and now he's coming back to bad it up. Like three or four guys beat him up, but him still tough, so him come and fight another day, you know?"

Among other things, Django is the movie that Ivan O Martin checks out in The Harder They Come, and Quentin Tarantino fans will notice where he got yet another idea for Reservoir Dogs. Apparently the film inspired more than 50 sequels, only one of which was considered "official", Django Strikes Back.

Although it's the most famous western-inspired reggae tune, "Return Of Django" wasn't the first reggae number to be inspired by Corbucci's film - that title goes to another Lee Perry production, Lord Comic's "Django Shoots First" (1968). Once that tune got the ball rolling, Scratch came up with a series of famous western-inspired songs, including "For A Few Dollars More", "Clint Eastwood", "Sipreano" and several others. Other producers caught on and came up with their own cowboy instrumentals, most notably Derrick Harriott, who released songs like "The Undertaker", "Trinity", and "Fistful Of Dollars". Other killers in this reggae sub-genre include "Revenge Of Eastwood" by The Prophets, "Nevada Joe" by Johnny Lover, and "Death Rides A Horse" by the Hippy Boys.

It's interesting to note that two of Scratch's competitors, Derrick Harriott and Lloyd Charmers, started taking shots at Scratch with their own spaghetti western songs. On "Golden Chickens", credited to Ramon & The Crystallites, Harriott takes a good natured dig at Perry and makes reference to the Upsetters' "Sipreano": "Sipreano, Sipreano, so you think I'm counting my chickens before they hatch, eh? But they are hatching - golden chickens, too!"

However, the tune that probably upset the Upsetter the most was the Hippy Boys' hilarious "Vengeance", produced by Lloyd Charmers. Charmers starts out the song by saying "I've heard of the Upsetter, but I am here to upset the Upsetter. I am Vengeance!" The tune even includes a pretty good imitation of Scratch by one of the Hippy Boys as the following dialogue takes place:

"Upsetter! I am calling you, Upsetter!"
"Who are you?"
"I am Vengeance! And I am ready to take over your throne, Upsetter. Move out of the way!"
"You mean MY throne?"
"Yes, Upsetter."
"I'm not ready to give up this throne!"

The song then gets funnier and funnier, with a hysterical voice warning the Upsetter that Vengeance is coming "with a whip in his hip"; the Upsetter nervously sticks to his guns while Vengeance continues to taunt him. Later on, Niney falls victim to Vengeance's relentless boasting as well.

If you're curious about all of these crazy songs, look no further than Trojan's excellent The Big Gun Down, which contains 25 dynamite tunes all inspired by these shoot-em-ups. If you're interested in seeing Django, Blue Underground has released the film on DVD in a nice deluxe edition. Check out their catalogue for many other wild and weird films.

March 2000 (with additional material January 2006)