Outerviews: Tom Terrell

Seconds (Fall 1997)

Our text today is from the Book of Lee, Black Ark, chapters '65 through '97. People, this is a story of triumph and despair, of Wailers and Upsetters, of humor and bitterness and of bass and dub. Before you leave here this mo'nin', you will also marvel at the human mind - its invention, its delusion, and yes, its resilience. This is a journey down a road in the spirit world, the land of look behind. This is the story of the man who changed the future of music many times over - this is the story of Lee "Scratch" Perry.

Scratch: Hello, man!

Terrell: How you doing?

Scratch: I am the president of the international universal worldwide. Rock music, pop music, jazz music, classical music, dub music - and I'm the creator. Are you taping?

Terrell: I'm definitely taping.

Scratch: Right. I'm the creator of dub music. My message to all the singers is to change their style and run for cover because dub rappers and dub rock is taking over. The now generation is in the dub zone, from the children's zone - and children are the future. Dreadlocks better change their style and get in fashion, because reggae is out of style and dub is not. Reggae's out of style - it's too boring. Chris Blackwell brought all the boring reggae back. Chris Blackwell has to change his name. Can't be Blackwell. His name should be "Whitewell". I am black. I take the black back and take it to the dub market, the black dub market. I take my black well from Chris Blackwell and give him back his white hell. We're still doing business, but he's no longer in the black well. He's only in the white hell.

Can I ask you some questions?

Scratch: Of course! You can ask me any question. I'm open.

Terrell: Why did you build Black Ark?

Scratch: The Black Ark is the brain. I created it in Jamaica. Then I discovered Jamaica has too much politicians, too much dreads, and too much thieves. Too much beggars. Too much rude boy would dress up at night and drag you out of bed. Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer would send some for me to take me out of bed. Ask me, "Wake up boy! What's your name?" I was wearing a cap like what I'm wearing now. They robbed the cap because light was on it blinking. Something happened to them that they dropped the cap and run over the fringe of it. I don't know what happened. Me burn down the Ark because me discover the Ark was a way of talking to God and me take dread inside and innoculate it with corruption. The dreads corrupted the brain and were destroying the firmament and the sky and I didn't know. Thirty eight years ago I know that I was a talented creative genius. I was raised in time with swine. You cannot cast pearls before swine. They don't know what it's worth.

Terrell: How did you get the musicians to play the sounds that you heard?

Scratch: The sound that I heard coming out of my brain - my brain is a bass. My brain is 1936, the 28th day of March under a quake. My brain is like an earthquake that was born on the 28th of March 1936. So what I hear comes to my ears because I'm from another race and I hear about invisible spirit. I believe in the phantom because the phantom exists. And you know about one man's country - well, I'm talking about the African jungle.

Terrell: You created dub music. How did that happen?

Scratch: The jungle have the power. The jungle create the drum, the sound. The jungle send the drum. The drum is the phantom. The drummer was a person before he was a drum. He was Marcus Garvey. Then the brain that I had before he was flesh and blood, he's imperial Selassie, the computer in my head. Then I was taken up by a UFO that placed a computer inside my head. The American government didn't want the people to know that UFOs exist, but UFOs exist.

Terrell: How did you translate that sound through the machines to make dub music?

Scratch: Because the sounds come through my ears from the extraterrestrial and the cherub beams and the angels that fly and protect the Ark Of The Covenant. We were fighting against the last raiders of the lost Ark. It was an armageddon, so the angels were teleporting to me what was going to happen so I put them on dub. Even though I don't have the tapes - they were stolen by Pauline and my son to sell them to Chris Blackwell. So Chris Blackwell think him have the Ark. Him have all the old dubs, I have nothing from those creations, all those creations were stolen.

Terrell: They can steal your tapes, but they can't steal you!

Scratch: No, I don't have anything to lose. I never lose yet. I can't lose anything. I have nothing to lose - you know why?

Terrell: Why?

Scratch: There is no one on this planet that have anything. The Earth is the love. And the Earth is the mother and the nature that grow the plants, the trees, and the flowers. And there's no man that comes here with any bank account and house. Show me a man come driving here in a car. They're just interested in getting rich and and all the money is their idea. They make a mistake. All the tapes on record, they're making mistakes. Their mistake is my Irish Sweepstakes!

Terrell: Let's talk about some of your classic productions. People who recorded with you never made good records after they stopped recording with you. How come?

Scratch: Alright, I was sent here to create that style. Instead of we have one thing going all the while, people used to be bored when they hear the same thing all the while. They always want to hear something different, to have something with a new vibration. So I create those things because heaven sent me to create a proper vibration as my legacy. People hear it and know that's really a legacy - though they steal the master tapes. But that doesn't stop me, because I'm creating something that when you hear it you're going to say "well, I can't believe you were creating music all your life and you're still creating music right now". I'm creating for your baby that's coming now.

Terrell: Talk about Bob Marley. When you recorded The Wailers, they didn't sound the same after they left you.

Scratch: There was no use teaching them anymore.

Terrell: The original Wailers band, that was your band.

Scratch: Of course! Everything was mine and they come a run and take over and tell you what goes on. From Coxsone, I write "People Funny Boy". You just look at the people funny and see what goes on. It's all on the "People Funny Boy" record. They take over the band. They take over everything. They take over the tape, they send gunman to take the master tape. They send it to Chris Blackwell because I was keeping all those tapes, knowing that one day the motherfucker's gonna come because I've got it. My dirty gal, them call her Pauline, have a son from me. She keep the tape and sell them to her cocaine friends. When me start to look for the tapes, there were no tapes. The studio have to burn down because everything's gone.

Terrell: In 1979, you burned down the Black Ark and went to England. What was that experience like?

Scratch: Well, I was in Jamaica when the suffering start to hit me because they take away everything. They put bad luck 'pon me car. The woman I was living with was loaded up with bad luck because she used to load my car with dreads and then my good luck has been taken away by dreads, and dread bad luck load up me car and load up me yard. Then me have to leave and go to London. It was kind of rough, but we made some tours in London and create new sounds. Then I come to Switzerland and we create a new spiritual life.

Terrell: So leaving was good for you?

Scratch: It was good for me. The changes were good for me.

Terrell: During the 1980s you worked with white reggae bands and Adrian Sherwood. Could you talk about your work with Adrian?

Scratch: The problem he has, Adrian has, he had more than a problem because he don't know that I am the master. And no one can tell me what to do and he always want to tell me what to do. He wanted to come to Jamaica and produce some Jamaicans. That was his vision because he know what would happen. It would become very big. I felt it in Jamaica. Jah didn't want me to go back there and do it again and because of that, Adrian didn't want me to stop it. He make tricks to get me back in Jamaica then me cut him up. Definitely.

Terrell: What about Mad Professor?

Scratch: Well, somebody have to be there to help me. He won't be my right hand but for the time being, he'll be able to do what he must do. He's much better than Adrian.

Terrell: You did a single called "Judgement Ina Babylon" where you called Chris Blackwell a vampire. What's the real story behind that?

Scratch: Because if he wasn't a vampire, he would never buy my master tape from Pauline. He must try to buy them from me. Even though they're going to put them out, I make a big deal with them instead of a little cheap deal because Island no have enough money to give me. Him always buy old house and old relics because him a vampire. That's the way he lives. A vampire must live off of blood, and somebody must provide the blood for him. Old house and old tape.

Terrell: I interviewed Chris Blackwell and he said you were a very brilliant producer.

Scratch: Him say that I'm the most brilliant producer. This is true because him know the truth. He know I'm the most brilliant producer - why didn't he give me any royalty on "Punky Reggae Party" and most of the early Bob Marley them put out? Him know that I'm the most brilliant producer, Mr. Blackwell know that and him know that most of the songs that was written and named by Bob Marley was Mr. Perry and he didn't say anything. Then he's a fucking vampire and him know it.

Terrell: In my interview, Blackwell said that you were pretending to be crazy but then you burnt your own studio down, so you really must be crazy.

Scratch: Of course. Why shouldn't I? That's where they were getting energy from. That's where the energy went after Bob Marley died. That's why me burn it down, because him leave me and stop his spiritual works with God and work with the devil, Edward Seaga and Chris Blackwell. The floorplan was the Ark of the Covenant, and I burnt it down. Then the fucker died.

Terrell: Tell me about this new three CD anthology, Arkology. Did you have anything to do with it?

Scratch: Nothing at all. I was not there. I did not choose a track. The paper was sent to me that had the selection, that Island Records have these tapes and they want to offer me money for promotion and I have to sign this document before I can get the money. But when me investigate the tapes, they didn't come from me, they come from Pauline and other people. They found what they needed and wanted me to sign it, and then I said "Mr. Blackheart, me give it up. Here's my blood, Mr. Vampire."

Terrell: Do you attach any spiritual vibe to ganja?

Scratch: The spiritual vibe is the water because I was baptized and I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in Jesus Christ every person. But ask me why.

Terrell: Why?

Scratch: Because I am Jesus Christ.

Terrell: Why do you say that? Because every man is God?

Scratch: I am sure that I am Jesus Christ and I am the living god and my fans are my body, my spiritual body. My fans hear my vibe. They feel my feelings. They hear my music and they want to go to bed and have sex. Because when you go to bed and have sex and it is nice, when you are coming your wife says "Jesus Christ, the sex is nice!" When it's not nice, she will find another man to say "Jesus Christ" with.