Current Issue | Archives | Eternal Thunder

PART TIME UPSETTER

"Mr. Organist" remembers


An upsetter and The Upsetter: Russ Cummings and Scratch, 1984.

While Lee Perry was drifting through Europe in the mid 1980s after a confused exile from Jamaica, one of the results was the moody 1986 album Battle Of Armagideon. This was the album that seemed to get Scratch back in the game after some false starts and bizarre excursions. Awhile ago, I received an e-mail from keyboard player Russ Cummings, who played on Battle Of Armagideon and thus became an Upsetter, if only for one album...

"In 1984 I bought a cheap Casio keyboard, joined a band (Dub Factory) and began teaching myself to play. Meanwhile, a friend of mine, Mark Downie, happened to bump into Lee Perry, somewhere in London. 'You're Lee Scratch Perry, aren't you? I've been a fan for donkey's years, man!' This chance meeting culminated in Battle of Armagideon.

After a couple of rehearsals in a friend's garage, we were invited to record an album - for Trojan Records, no less — with the legendary Upsetter himself. We couldn't believe our good fortune. What an experience it was, being in the studio with Lee Perry! On a couple of weekends we took our sleeping bags with us. We'd spend all day with Lee: us following his instructions to the best of our ability, him smoking our herbs to the best of his ability! And at the end of the session we'd crash, right there and then. Next morning, we'd wake up, have a quick wash, a smoke, and back to it! We'd have to hide our sleeping bags and stuff when the guy from Trojan appeared though — insurance and such like, I suppose!

What did I get out of it, apart from the chance to work with a madcap legend and the opportunity to participate in a little bit of reggae history? Well, just before Christmas that year, after the recording was finished, I received a plain brown envelope addressed, in Lee's hand, to "Mr Organist". The envelope contained thirty pounds in used notes! I didn't need payment. After all, I'd just recorded an album with Lee Perry! Mind you, some cash was useful — I got the sack from my job for taking time off to go to the studio. My employers just didn't understand the significance of what was happening!

Seems like a long time ago now. A lot has happened since then: I lost touch with Lee and the band, became a father, then an English teacher. The rest is simply history, mystery and prophecy."

June 2001