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The Prince gets Scratched

In my never-ending quest for rare Lee Perry tunes, I've slowly but surely assembled most of the ska numbers that Scratch cut for Studio One. Although Heartbeat's Chicken Scratch is a great collection of Scratch's early stompers, it could have contained twice as many tracks. Other killers such as "Help The Weak", "Mother In Law", and "Run Rudies Run" really need to be re-released on CD. One vein of Scratch's ska is particularly interesting: the series of songs he cut for Coxsone making fun of Prince Buster.

Recorded feuds are a tradition in Jamaican music: two rivals start poking fun at each other on record, and the next musical jab becomes greatly anticipated by fans. More often than not, the two combatants are actually good friends who simply want to have some fun and sell some records. Easily the most famous duel was between I Roy and Prince Jazzbo, where I Roy hilariously refers to Jazzbo as "Princess Jazzbo" and Jazzbo responds by calling I Roy "a boy who imitate the great U Roy".

In the late 50s, both Scratch and Prince Buster worked together for Coxsone Dodd, helping to run his Downbeat Sound System. One legendary story has some of Duke Reid's thugs mashing up a Coxsone dance, knocking out Lee Perry in the process. Buster, an amateur boxer, single-handedly took care of the rudies until the police arrived. Eventually, Buster walked out on Coxsone and started his own sound system, the Voice Of The People, giving Coxsone and Duke Reid their first serious competition.

As feisty and clever off record as he was on, Buster went on to become a giant in ska, responsible for some of the best ska records ever made. Although he and Scratch were buddies, after Buster left Coxsone, the future Upsetter cut a series of records that poked fun at him. Most likely, Scratch saw it as a way to get behind the microphone more often at a time when Coxsone preferred him to remain behind the scenes. Although not his greatest ska records, the "Prince Buster series" are a lot of fun.

The Prince & The Duke (Blank 7", 1963)
Scratch paints a picture of a weary Prince Buster coming to Duke Reid with his tail between his legs, confessing that he was wrong to challenge both Duke and Coxsone. "Please stop the beat, because I can't stand this heat / It's really rough under my feet..."

Royalty (AKA Me Sir) (Rolando & Powie 7", 1963)
This tune refers to to Prince Buster as a "little boy" who comes to Coxsone to "change his bad ways". Later, Duke Reid finds the boy in the gutter, helps him out, but is rewarded with treachery from the boy. Scratch makes fun of Buster's title here: "I know that a prince must have royalty / But he have no loyalty, much less royalty..."

Prince In The Back (Blank 7", 1963)
"Come let's face the facts / The Prince is in the back / He is completely lost / Like a two pence in the grass..." Scratch shows Buster no mercy here, claiming that he can't hope to compete with Coxsone and Duke Reid; in truth, Buster was really giving them a run for their money.

Don't Copy (Blank 7", 1963)
The B-side to "Prince In The Back" is yet another attack on Buster, admonishing him for being a copy cat. In the song, Scratch claims that Buster is "worse than the black head Chiney man", a reference to another feud that Prince Buster found himself entangled in at the time. Buster's friend Derrick Morgan apparently took some songs that he had co-written with Buster to rival producer Leslie Kong; Buster angrily commented on the incident with "Black Head Chiney Man", claiming that Derrick must be Chinese if he was in cahoots with Kong. Morgan responded with the stinging "Blazing Fire", including an introduction spoken in Chinese which translates as "shut up, you fool!" Buster replied with "No Raise No Praise", but eventually the two friends had to call off the feud when fans began to take it too seriously - after some fights in the dancehalls, Buster and Derrick made a public appearance to assure everyone it was all in fun. Scratch's lyrics are particularly nasty on this one: "Judas priest! Why are you so mean? / Why you want everything for yourself? / Don't you know you are wrong, Mr. Madman / I say poppy, rest in your nappy and don't you copy".

Mad Head (Rolando & Powie 7" 1963)
Referring to Prince Buster's big hit "Madness", Scratch dismisses Buster as a kook in this tune: "It's sad to know that you are mad / You say that madness is gladness / Well, I call it sadness... Sing your song / 'Cause you are wrong... Watch out, mad head, before you lose your bread".

Despite these ska attacks, Buster and Scratch remained good friends.

Despite these ska attacks, Buster and Scratch remained good friends. Later, when Scratch walked out on Coxsone, he quickly cut a few records with Buster as backing vocalist, most notably in Prince Buster's famous "Judge Dread", where Scratch can be heard playing the role of one of the rude boys on trial. He also played the accused in Buster's lesser known sequel, "The Appeal". Scratch's own courtroom drama, "Set Them Free", was a more reasoned response to "Judge Dread", in which Scratch (as Lord Defend) urges the judge to go easy on the trio of rude boys. Finally, Scratch also appears on Buster's "Johnny Cool", where two Jamaican hipsters meet on the street and shoot the breeze.

July 2002