"Understanding And Overstanding"
New Musical Express (May 27, 1978)
By Neil Spencer
Lee "Scratch" Perry almost certainly has no desire to settle in Africa.
After all, the record engineer/producer who, from his innocuous-appearing home
in the Washington Gardens suburb of Kingston, is probably the vital chemistry
man for the whole of both reggae music and reggae thought that doesn't come out
of the mainstream commercial Kingston studios, regards Jamaica itself as a truly
Before he graduated in 1968 to cutting himself singing the innovative "People
Funny Boy", the now 39-year old Piscean learned his craft after having long
been a camp follower of Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd's Downbeat Sound
System in the late '50s to mid-'60s. Dodd began to cut his own Studio One records
and Perry, along with the famous American organist Jackie Mittoo, operated the
production side of the label. 
After parting from Coxsone in 1965, Perry also worked with Joe Gibbs and Byron
Lee.  By 1970 he was working with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston
- The Wailers - producing singles and two albums, Soul Rebels and Soul
Revolution (currently still available on Trojan as African Herbsman and Rasta
Revolution), and arguably far finer records than have been put out by any
subsequent Wailers line-up.
Like an English neighbourhood butcher or baker might do, the slight, wiry Lee
Perry lives next to the shop. Perhaps it's this accessibility to his work - his
Black Ark studio is housed in a building in his backyard - that has made him
one of the most influential, and arguably most talented producer of reggae ever.
Though rates for his services are something in the region of 20 dollars an hour,
Scratch himself has - of course - unlimited studio time. An ardent follower of
the Rasta belief that physical fitness ensures clarity of mind, he rises early
and first exercises rigorously, then puts in a few hours knob-twiddling before
anyone turns up to be recorded.
His studio is only four-track, with the sounds mastered on a Teac tape recorder,
but then Scratch can work wonders: he is depicted on a mural just inside the
door as "Lee Perry: The Mad Scientist", and it is surely not for nothing
that Black Ark is called Black Ark, after the shipping line that was/is intended
to return the Rastas to Ethiopia and liberty. 
Currently, Scratch is working on the follow-up to his Super Ape LP
to be entitled, of course, Return of Super Ape, as well as recording
an album with the diminutive, self-effacing melodica and keyboards maestro, Augustus
Pablo, recorder of the classic 45, "King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown," among
many, many others.
Two more brief visits to 5a Cardiff Crescent later and the journalist arrives
at 11:30 one Thursday morning for a formal rap session with Scratch. A smouldering
spliff sits in the ashtray. Scratch is wearing a splendid fawn cap, a white T-shirt
and maroon swimming trunks, and is standing bare-footed up in the console room,
almost imperceptibly shifting and switching knobs as he gives the distinctive
Scratch treatment to "some young guys mekkin' a try." The console room
is decorated in the Rasta colours of the Ethiopian flag - red and green on the
walls with a gold carpet. The word "PEACE" cut in the red and green
cloth covering the mixing desk gives an altar-like quality.
On the walls are assorted publicity stills of artists with whom Scratch has worked.
One notes that someone has written the word "Judas" across the picture
of Max Romeo. There's an Adrian Boot shot of The Clash in Belfast. There are
also a selection of Bruce Lee stills from Enter The Dragon, plus an
aerosol can of Cooper's Roach Spray. At Black Ark you suddenly feel that the
reason so much dreck emerges from UK an US studios is because they're so hermetically
sealed. Unlike Scratch's place, they've managed to utterly isolate themselves
from all the life-forces going on about them.
Anyway, finishing his work with Quake-In Vibrations, a five-piece group down
from the country to lay down their fast ever tracks , Scratch pauses to refresh
himself with a bottle of Dragon Stout before settling down to give me "a
reasoning." Except that it isn't quite as simple as that. Also in the room
is JBC morning DJ, John Wakelin - "one of me best bredren" - plus Candy
Mackenzie and, along with several unnamed faces, Cedric of The Congos. It is
time, Scratch has decided, that he should interview me. He must discover
my aim and my purpose.
Certain of the people assembled you see, have been most disturbed by what other
writers have written. It goes further than Scratch's just being irritated by
their "damn fool questions" about details of his life. Stephen Davis' Reggae
Bloodlines, for, example, apparently has a condescending tone about it which
those present find highly distasteful.
In particular John Wakelin is disturbed about what he considers its superficial,
derogatory treatment of Ras Michael, a man who deserves respect.
"Certain foreign correspondents come here and perpetuate this action and
after a while we lock the door," says John.
Scratch turns to him. "Why some of them have to criticise it," he sighs, "is
because they don't understand it. To understand it you have to overstand it."
"It ain't a passin' fad," John tells me, "and man have to go into
it and see what it is all about."
A lot of printed word myths about Jamaica seem to have been created, I say, in
which the country seems to be populated by a race of cartoon characters.
"Because they don't know where to look," nods Scratch, almost to himself. "Because
the place to look for this thing is beyond the scene."
"But it's a different premise," John Wakelin's soft voice tells me, "that
operates in different parts of the world. Down here people don't always want
you to come and write about them."
The DJ is suspicious of the manner in which reggae is treated by the US and British
radio networks, about the concept in Europe and the States of The Promotional
"The point at issue here," he continues, "is that the very elements
in reggae music denouncing the very heart of the system on which much of the
capitalist world is built is perhaps an integral reason of the radio hold-down.
But even the press finds it hard to touch that reason. Because true reggae music
is pure protest music..."
With almost religious fervour, but with warmth that is pure passion in his voice,
Scratch interrupts. "I and I," he paces the floor waving a finger, "is
to warn them that the bomb going to blow up on them that makes it! I and I is
here to warn them that if they use it then them dead by it, too.
"So our part is to make sure that reggae music take the message across to
the warriors in the war zone whom you can't teach by the telephone. If it gets
to him on a gramophone him must hear it."
"And this am the message of reggae music!"
Note: This article is incomplete. If you have the complete article, please get in touch.
 Jackie Mittoo was Jamaican, not American.
 Lee Perry left Coxsone in 1966, not 1965.
 Of course, the shipping line that Marcus Garvey founded was called Black
 No idea which band Spencer is referring to; Quake-In Vibrations doesn't
even sound like any band that recorded at the Ark.