"Kingston Report" (Part 2)
New Musical Express (October 23, 1976)
By Neil Spencer
Lee Perry's diminutive four year-old daughter is perched in the corner of his
studio control room, utterly unconcerned by the colossal din clattering from
the monster speakers above her head. I'm drooling with excitement of witnessing
a session by the famous Upsetters, fascinated by the sight of her father in action,
but she's seen it all before. She knows her daddy is a magician.
There he is now, conjuring with the switches, knobs, faders; mad scientist at
the helm of his personal starship, a Pisces fish swimming through seas of tape,
wire, and sound. A small, pert man whose hair appears to have a 240 volt current
running through it, Lee Perry, alias Scratch the Upsetter, legend and veteran
of the Jamaican music scene, works like no other producer or engineer I've seen.
For a start, there's this constant movement: down to the studio to make adjustments
to mikes and wires and issue orders to the musicians, back upstairs to set tapes
rolling and bang on the glass between booth and studio and yell "ROLLING" at
the top of his lungs (amazingly there's no intercom), then the red light's switched
on and Scratch is dancing at the controls of his console, arms swinging madly.
Or else he's sitting and un-sitting on his stool, sipping water, ordering a son
to bring a bottle or two of Dragon Stout and shooing out a daughter. He's never
still. Suddenly he swoops on a pair of switches, knocking out the piano from
the mix and bringing in a booming double echo on the drums and congas. He twirls
more knobs, investing the action with all the drama of Doctor Strangelove on
the Doomsday Machine. This time the guitar echoes uncannily and the hi-hat cymbal
comes zipping in like a machete cutting through a dark jungle of rhythm before
the slow fade out. Another great dub side from the Black Ark studios bites the
Today's sessions are the backing tracks for a young singer by the name of Sam
Carter, who has a song named "Milit Y Ankee", which he informs me is
Indian for "The First Time I Saw You", a title which hardly fits the
ferocious uptempo rocker the Upsetters are threshing through.  The vocals
come later. If they're good then in a month or two Sam Carter might find himself
with a monster hit on his hands, like Junior Murvin's "Police And Thieves",
or the venerable Max Romeo's "War Ina Babylon", to name but two of
Scratch's biggest hit productions of the year.
It's a squat little studio, is Scratch's Black Ark, situated behind his house
in a pleasant but unexceptional tree-lined suburban road. A trifle unlikely as
the birthplace for some of the freakiest and most compelling reggae of the '70s.
Scratch and his wife Pauline have been there since '73, about the time that Lee
was producing Junior Byles on hits like "Beat Down Babylon" and "A
Place Called Africa", and the Upsetters - Scratch's session band, a name
that remains constant while the musicians change - were coughing up masterpieces
like "Clint Eastwood", "Enter The Dragon", and "Cow
Thief Skank", the last of which I will consider one of the most bizarre
musical excursions of the age. Laced by semi-random cut-ups (William Burroughs
meets the rockers uptown), the rhythm section apparently consisted of lumps of
scaffolding being manipulated in a deep hole while up top someone yelled obscenities
about cow thieves and chopping off hands with machetes. Mind bending stuff.
But even while he was exploring the limits of his studio with craziness like
this, Perry was tucking away more orthodox hits. He's recorded a bewildering
variety of stuff: U Roy, I Roy, Prince Jazzbo, The Wailers, Leo Graham, Susan
Cadogan; the list goes on. Recently he's completed a reportedly dynamite album
from The Heptones.
Then there are the incessant dubs that Scratch puts out under the Upsetters tag.
These days he's retreated somewhat from the outer edge of "Cow Thief Skank",
producing more subtle, amorphous projections like the recent Jah Lion and Super
Ape sets for Island. And then there was the strange battle he had with King Tubby
on King Tubby Meets The Upsetter At The Grass Roots Of Dub, when the two were
pitted their engineering brawn against each other - one side each - to see who
could mix down the most mind-scrambling maze of dub from their respective consoles.
And before the Black Ark? Well, you might remember "Return Of Django" from
skin 'ead days back at the turn of the decade. That was when Aston and Carlton
Barrett were the Upsetters' rhythm section, and Scratch was producing The Wailers,
who'd signed up with him after their first attempt to launch their own record
label (Wailin' Soul)  had failed, sabotaged, so it's said, by record biz pirates.
Many of the songs on which Marley and the group went on to build their reputation
sprang from their fertile stay with Scratch; "Trenchtown Rock", "Lively
Up Yourself", "Soul Rebel", "Small Axe", and a host
more.  In some cases the more sophisticated re-recordings of this old material
for the Island albums haven't caught the smoky intensity of the originals.
Since Catch A Fire, they haven't worked together (with the interesting exception
of "Jah Live"), but Scratch is evidently proud of Bob and his success,
and pictures of him cover the studio walls, vying for space with Bruce Lee and
Scratch himself. Practically every pic shows Scratch at his console, the only
place you're sure to find him. He has an apparently insatiable appetite for work.
Equally amazing is that all of this goes down on to either the four or two track
machine that are stuffed unceremoniously up on the corner. I ask Scratch about
the console rigging, unable to work out how many tracks there are in use. "We
only have fe use three track here," retorts Scratch impatiently. "That's
the father, the son, and the holy ghost. Maybe no one tell you about dat!"
Sure they did, Scratch, it's just that I never expected to find them working
as tape ops in a recording studio.
Note: This article is incomplete. If you have the complete article, please get in touch.
 Sam Carter is better known as Sam Carty, and the song is "Bird In Hand", which is a cover of an Indian song named
"Milte Hi Aankhein". Hardly the "ferocious uptempo rocker" that Spencer
 Actually Wail N Soul M.
 Of these songs, only "Soul Rebel" and "Small Axe" were
produced by Scratch.