Outerviews:Jesse I (Chant Down Babylon)
This interview took place on September 9, 1999, via
phone from Melbourne, Australia to Lee Perry's house in Switzerland.
When I rang at the agreed time, Lee's wife answered. She told me
told me that Lee was "dancing or something like that", and
asked if I could call back in a half-hour. I did, and after some waiting,
the Upsetter himself took the phone. It was a fantastic experience to
talk to him, but it wasn't easy.
Jesse: With me right now on the line, I've got one of
the biggest living legends of reggae: Lee "Scratch" Perry, the original
Upsetter. Thank you for taking the time out to speak to me Lee.
Scratch: It's a pleasure Jess. I found out you have such
an interesting show, called Chant Down Babylon. Chant Down Babylon is what I'm
doing right now from Switzerland mountain, from my chapel. And I have all the
powers that you need to Chant Down Babylon, while I'm in the cluster, hitting
the Pope with a knuckle-duster.
Jesse: Yes I!
Scratch: Enjoy your reggae show, and have all the fun that you
think you desire. And all the people with you on your side, I wish them happiness,
and success in this revolution of chopping down Babylon.
Jesse: Yes I, it's fantastic to have you with us.
Scratch: I will forever be the exterminator of Babylon.
Jesse: Yes I. Now, you've got a lot of nicknames. They
call you Scratch, The Upsetter, Pipecock Jackson, the list goes on and on. What's
your preferred title, what do you like to call yourself?
Scratch: Scratch. Scratch means more to me. Because I go by
the alphabet -- and Scratch -- the "S" is for the sky.
And the "S" also mean the American dollars. And the "S" also
for space. Which is Scratch, Scratch, Scratch. And also the turntable, the Lion.
So I prefer to be called Scratch.
Jesse: Right. Now, you've been involved with reggae from
the very beginning. What made you decide to enter the music business?
Scratch: Well, from the beginning I wasn't really a reggae
man; I was a soul man from the beginning. But when I see what was in Jamaica,
and see all the people suffering in Jamaica, I think that nothin' else
like reggae could help them. So I was starting to get involved in the reggae-then
I discovered that the meaning of the reggae -- it mean a strange dog who
is designed to kill. So I won't let the reggae kill me, but whoever the
reggae must kill, the reggae must kill. So I'm going back to my place in
Switzerland to record -- rock music, pop music, disco music, techno music,
and no reggae music will be allowed after I return from Zion.
Scratch: But the reggae has already done its job.
Scratch: But there won't be another reggae artist come
back in heaven for sure. You'll have music that you won't miss any
reggae. I'm going to make music that you don't miss reggae.
Jesse: Alrighty... Well, many regard you as the godfather
of reggae. What do you think about those sorts of statements?
Scratch: Godfather of reggae? Who call me... They don't
call me that!
Jesse: They call you that over here in Australia, on all the
posters they've got up --
Scratch: I will sue people that do that.
Jesse: (Laughs) Oh really.
Scratch: I don't want to be the godfather of reggae.
Scratch: Because most of the people that follow reggae they
are dreads and they're too ugly.
Jesse: (Laughs) Okay.
Scratch: I've seen this ugliness. Wherever you see reggae, you
see ugliness. Too much bad man and the raggamuffin a come out of it. That's
why myself in my original state is a soul man, what I was before meeting Bob
Marley the reggae king. Now the reggae kings are dying and the reggae princes
are dying, and I don't want to die in it. But I will assist it to do what
it have to do. I used to love reggae, but I'm not a reggae lover anymore,
I stop make reggae.
Scratch: And the show that I'm coming to do, it won't
be a reggae show I'm positively sure.
Jesse: So is that why you burned down the Black Ark studio?
Scratch: Yeah, because it was built to be a reggae studio, and
I find I make a mistake, and burn it down. I don't want things like that
in my house, or my yard anymore. No poverty around me anymore. Poverty is not
good. Poverty is the worst crime. And whenever you have anything in poverty,
people coming around it. Push it away, otherwise it will bring you down like
Jesse: I recently heard a rumor that you were rebuilding the
Black Ark studio, or starting another studio.
Scratch: Yeah, but it won't be a reggae studio this time.
It will be a rock studio, a pop studio, a jazz studio, disco studio, techno,
and club studio, or just what happens. I'm not going to go back into the
gutter with the sufferers; I'm not a reggae artist anymore. I am black,
but I'm not even black anymore.
Jesse: Oh really? Okay. Well, I know that back when you used
to do a lot of reggae, you produced some of the most heavy Rasta that ever came
out of Jamaica or anywhere else for that matter.
Scratch: Okay, but out of those reggae that I produce out of
Jamaica -- I wanted to build the Black Ark studio and there was no money
coming from Chris Blackwell and Island Records. And neither from Bob Marley.
Bob Marley write "Jah Live" and die. What a ting dat. Bob Marley
write "Jah Live" and he die. Then what he want to do, him say God
send God as a lion? He write "Small Axe", he said and mek the axe
chop him. And he sing "Duppy Conqueror" and the duppy conquer him,
so he's telling lie. But I don't want -- I will assist you people
to do what you have to do with it, but I'm going back to Jamaica to build
the Ark of the Covenant, but there won't be no reggae musician nor dreadlocks
coming through that gate. Say judgment and justice.
Jesse: Okay, so you say there won't be any reggae or any
dreadlocks coming through the gate?
Scratch: No reggae artist, too lie. And the reggae too thief
Jesse: Well, I know you don't wear any dreadlocks, but
have you ever considered yourself a Rasta?
Scratch: I always wanted to do it, but I didn't know that's
why all the people who wear dreadlocks it's a curse them have. I shall
not pick up a curse, and my locks shall not wither. Says God's son of David.
My locks shall not wither, and my body shall not see corruption. And I shall
not pick up a dread curse on my head. 'Cause I'm well blessed, I'm
Scratch: I'm defending Jesus Christ. And a few dread defend
Jesus Christ and say Jesus exists. And people say who say Jesus no exist, they
die because they say dat. Like Peter Tosh.
Jesse: Like Peter Tosh?
Scratch: Yeah. All people who say Jesus Christ no exist they
shall die. While I shall laugh, ha ha ha.
Jesse: Right. So what do you think about all the reggae singers
over there in Jamaica right now. All the guys like Sizzla and Capleton.
Scratch: I think it's finished, I don't think they
have any chance. Maybe though Scratch them have a chance, but I'm Scratch.
And I really decide not to help Jamaican again. I know care who they are. Not
even my family I won't help again in Jamaica. I will not live on through
the reggae. And I'm the richest man in the world, I inherit all the money
and all the power. And I will not help a Jamaican again as long as I live, so
help me God. And as the sun shine, and as the clothes fly. I will never change
my hands and help a Jamaican again, never.
Jesse: Okay... Well, you worked with just about everybody
in reggae, and produced a lot of stuff -- is there any of that stuff
you look back on now, and you feel particularly proud of? How do you feel about
your great body of work?
Scratch: I build all of my life in Jamaica, and I don't
have any of those tapes. They all thief, and sold to Chris Blackwell, and Bob
Marley says him write them all. They give me none of the money, I get broke and
get what you call bankrupt, and none of them lend me any money. They laugh at
me, so my white fans in England that love me so much, that I would go to England
and go to the top of show business, and I'm not responsible for what happens
to reggae anymore, I will not help it. And I am positively sure, the reggae won't
be going as far as where I'll be going. So when I need money for show business,
give me back the Black Ark studio. And I'm not going to take my show business
money and go back and put it in a reggae artist. I don't owe them no favor
and they don't owe me none. They did not vote for me, they vote for Bob
Marley, and Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer, and Chris Blackwell. So I don't
owe Jamaican reggae no favour.
Scratch: I'm not the godfather of reggae.
Scratch: I have nothing more to do with it. And the music that
I'm going to play won't be reggae for sure. And people won't
moan and enjoy.
Jesse: Right. So when you come out here to Australia, and you
play here in Melbourne, what sort of music can the people expect from that?
Scratch: Rock, pop, jazz, techno, disco, and everything that
sound good international.
Jesse: Okay. I know that in the last decade or so, all your
performing has - you haven't done much producing, it's mostly
been performing - sort of singing and chanting. How do you describe
your performance style?
Scratch: My performance style? I am imitating Jesus. So my performing
means spiritually healing, healing the brain of the sick people. Who are dread,
and who are dead. So I have to come back and heal their brain, and heal their
head, and save those from cocaine reggae. Save some from cocaine reggae, and
from cancer reggae, and from death reggae. The gift of God is eternal life. And
if a man is dead, don't boil the dead, because he dead, dead, dead because
he dead the sin. You can't die unless you sin. You cannot scruple unless
you sin. And you cannot paralyze unless you sin.
Scratch: Because... The whole thing is obeah. Obeah from
Jamaica. And they are trying to pull me back into the reggae. I will assist you
people to do what you want to do with the reggae, but I'm not going back
into it. I will supply you with better music than the reggae, because I have
gotten all the money and all the power. And I don't want to go back into
some things where I see to much poor people a crowd me gate.
Scratch: I want to create in the year 2000, with a hit record,
chart record, top record. Record that can sell a hundred, thousand, millions.
Not a reggae album which sell three thousand. When you make a record that sell
three thousand, you cannot pay the studio time, and you cannot pay the artist,
and the artist say you rob him. Your song is number one, and you only sell three
thousand, waste of time, waste of energy, waste of money. And I have no time
for anything stupid as that.
Jesse: Okay. You say you're --
Scratch: It will have my flavor, and my spiritual feeling, and
my spiritual healing in it. That when you hear it you will be able to say "did
he change rock music into something else?" Because you will hear magic.
Rock magic music. Pop magic music, Jazz magic music, that you won't know
what it is, you will say it sound maybe like reggae but it won't be reggae
for sure. (Laughs) It with a space music! Space out. Music make you
feel like you want to fly. Music to heal your brain, heal your heart, and heal
Jesse: Okay. Sounds great.
Scratch: Something very special.
Jesse: Sounds very good indeed.
Scratch: Music to make you walk on the air, music to make you
walk on the wire. Heh heh heh.
Jesse: Now, when you're walking on the wire, do you often
smoke herb? Do you still smoke herb, I know you used to smoke a lot back in the
Scratch: Of course I smoke herb. But not much like I used to
before. I'm smoking less herbs now. Smoking less, because those days I
was too high, and didn't see what was happening. While I was getting high
they was stealing my tapes. Stealing my master tapes to sell to Mr. Blackwell.
And after I use up too much of my money, and spend too much of my time, and my
energy with them, and get bankrupt, then I discover that most of my tape has
been gone. Then I was working with Blackwell, then he had put out Arkology.
And he pay me six-maybe six thousand...um...down on those three CDs.
Promised to pay royalty, and we didn't get a statement nor as much as royalty.
Scratch: And all those Trojan, thousand of LP from Trojan, I
never have any royalty off dem yet. And I don't think I'm going to
get any. I don't want to go back into it, and I don't want to be
the godfather of reggae anymore.
Jesse: Right, so you've gotta do your own thing now.
Jesse: Right. Well, I know that a lot of electronic music these
days has sort of grown out of reggae in some ways. How much of a debt do you
think the modern electronic music has to reggae music, and dub techniques?
Scratch: Well, the thing about electronic music-people
love it because mostly they're like the teenagers now. Who want to get
in music. They love it electronic music, and they will love it until them hear
something better. So when something come better they will accept it, but right
now they're going to love the electronic music. Until something come better.
Jesse: Right. So these days you're working mostly with
Mad Professor. You're touring with him when you come to Australia. What
attracted you to working with Mad Professor?
Scratch: Well, let's see. When I was in Jamaica, and after things
happen and I get bankrupt, and I made my way to London, he was the one who decide
to go out with me, so we could make some money to live. Because I wasn't
getting any money from those records I was making in Jamaica, and neither royalty
until now. So he was helping me til then, and til now we be locked into this
touring business and the show-that we have the best show on earth.
Jesse: Yes I. We're very much looking forward to seeing
Scratch: You're going to love it.
Jesse: Oh yeah. What can the people expect in Melbourne expect
when they see you down here?
Scratch: What type of people?
Jesse: What can the people expect?
Scratch: Me. Kids mostly, cause if I don't see kids I'm
going to get mad. Because I was working for grown up people, but the children
mean more to me than grown up people.
Scratch: I'm more interested in seeing children. Children
can understand me more, and I can understand children more. I'll be happy
to see those grown ups who are there, if they play the part of the children,
because if the people are humble, they get the truth from me. I work especially
Jesse: Well, I know my little sister has heard a lot of your
music, and I grew up listening to that as well, so it's going to be fantastic
for us to see you out here.
Scratch: Nice, you've got to be kids' stuff. Must be.
Cannot be nothing else but kids' stuff. I work for children from the very beginning.
And I won't stop.
Jesse: Okay. Well you're in your early sixties now, and
you haven't shown any sign of stopping. Seems like you can keep going forever,
what do you think?
Scratch: Well, I went up to sixty-three. And when I look pon
me age, it wasn't looking good to me, so I changed it from sixty-three
to nine. Because six and three cannot be sixty-three - six and three is nine.
Do you see what I'm saying?
Jesse: Yes I, I see indeed!
Scratch: You're as old as you think you are, and you're
as young as you think you are. So if I think I was sixty-three, I would throw
it in. But I changed my age and say I'm not sixty-three, I'm only
nine. Six and three is nine.
Jesse: Right. Well that's part of the secret to staying
young I guess, you know how to do it.
Scratch: Of course! I don't want to be sixty-three, I
want to stay with the children, that's what I'm saying.
Scratch: If I don't see kids there I'm going to
get really mad.
Jesse: Okay, I'll pass that message on.
Scratch: There's got to be children there.
Jesse: Yes, I hope so.
Scratch: There must!
Jesse: I'm sure there will be enough people that will
be love to see you on stage.
Scratch: I'm not sixty-three anymore, I'm nine!
Six and three is nine, I reversed my age.
Jesse: Okay. So are there any words you'd like to leave
for all the people in Melbourne here that are listening to this?
Scratch: What I say to the listener, may God bless your ears,
listening to Lee "Scratch" Perry. The richest man on the planet earth,
and now millionaire, and the now children teacher, and the now children healer,
and the healer of the universe that will heal your brain forever. With music
like shower! Shower, shower, shower!
Jesse: Fantastic, Lee. Thank you very much for speaking to us.