“MY FATHER worked on the road , my mother in the fields. We were very poor. I went to school, first in Kendal, then in Green Island, ‘til fourth grade, around 15. I learned nothing at all. Everything I have learned has come from nature. When I left school there was nothing to do except field work. Hard, hard labour. I didn’t fancy that. So I started playing dominoes. Through dominoes I practised my mind and learned to read the minds of others. This has proved eternally useful to me.”
WHEN THE sprawling, jagged, beautiful, wicked history of popular music is definitively assembled, the name of Lee Perry will be writ large. If his sole achievement had been to engineer Doctor Alimantado’s ‘Best Dressed Chicken In Town’, a tune that fired the pimply imagination of John Lydon, he would have been entitled to a line at least. Or if he had only been the coproducer of The Clash’s fiercesome ‘complete Control’ he’d have deserved a small paragraph.
But Perry was also the man behind some of the greatest records ever made, reggae or otherwise. And the politics that drew the latent genius of Robert Nesta Marley to the surface. And the brains, ears and hands that helped create dub, an innovation that altered the sound, the very possibilities, of black music as surely as Leiber and Stoller’s inspired orchestral drenching of The Drifters’ ‘There Goes My Baby’ or the white-coated circuit-board wiz who gave soldered life to a micro monster and called it DMX.
In truth, the felling of all the forests of Scandinavia couldn’t produce enough pages to do justice to the wondrous art of Lee Perry. And yet, on one hazy Jamaican morning in 1980, this amazing man made an effort to write himself out of that history. He destroyed his fabled Black Art studio, his tiny haven of creativity that had become a torture chamber to him.”
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