Interview with Lee "Scratch" Perry


At 73-years-old, Lee “Scratch” Perry has walked a path bordering on genius and crazy, something he might call “god’s way.” During his career, Perry was masterfully produced for Bob Marley, collaborated with Keith Richards and wrote for The Clash. He’s considered by many as one of the creators of the “reggae beat” and dub music. Meanwhile, in the press his eccentricities have shined. In interviews his spirituality were sometimes construed as ranting babbles. Once after being asked about his belief in Jesus Christ, he flashed the journalist and said, “Here’s Jesus Christ.” Now his 44th studio album, Repentance, has been nominated as the “Best Reggae Album” for the 2009 Grammy. SFCritic spoke with “The Upsetter” from his home in Switzerland.

SFCritic (SFC): How was it making “Pum Pum” the video?

Lee “Scratch” Perry (LSP): I liked it. We made it in Jamaica. Lot’s of pretty girls were there.

(SFC): I saw that there were a lot of pretty girls. It looked like you were having a good time.

(LSP): Yeah.

(SFC): You’re a happily married man now. Would you make a pum, pum song about being a respected husband?

(LSP): If you listen good to the beat in Jamaican reggae music, the bass is saying pum-pum. Pum-pum-pum-pum. Pum-pum is just a sexy word we have. It doesn’t have anything to do with music except musical vibration. It’s not about sex. It’s about the music itself.

(SFC): Being such a creative and experimental artist, how do you feel about artists sampling or mimicking your work?

(LSP): Well I feel admired. They’re very sensible and wise. My work is reality and if you want to have a beautiful reality you don’t need to pay me for it. I appreciate you. When you touch it, you have a reason, a dream to touch it. I have a dream that it will open some doors inside your brain. I want to hear what you have to say in it.

(SFC): Do you think your music translates through your spirituality or is it the opposite, your spirituality translates through your music?

(LSP): Well my spirit represents my god. My god love music. My god picked music to be a comforter. To comfort people who are sad. To help people who are sad to clear their minds.

My mother told the doctor to fix her heart. The doctor used mental techniques with words and songs with feelings that make the people who come want to dance. That is what my music does, make the people dance. People who come to my shows, they come to right up to front. You’ll see them reach out and they want you to reach. [He laughs]

(SFC): At what point did you start collecting emblems and tokens of memories?

(LSP): Well the most important part of a human being is his memory. The other part that is important of being is the art. I love to collect art and put the art as a part of my memory. I believe in art, art culture. I believe in words. I believe in song. I believe in my crown. I believe in the sunshine.

(SFC): What do you feel most blessed for in your career?

(LSP): What I feel the most blessed for is the word of god.

(SFC): You told David Katz (author of Lee Perry’s biography People Funny Boy) once that there are “no accidents, no mistakes—everything happens for a reason.” Where are you now, and why?

(LSP): Where am I? I’m in Switzerland.

(SFC): And why?

(LSP): In Jamaica there were too much people to see. I left them all because they all try to use me. I was not working anymore and I was asked to tour. So this was God, I wasn’t supposed to support these people anymore. I had supported them enough, given them enough. God made that happen, that magical road to London. Then from London, now I’m in Switzerland. God arranged that also.

(SFC): A lot of people point to “People Funny Boy,” and “The Upsetter” as the framework for battle songs in hip hop and dancehall today. From your experience, do you think the battle songs today are more violent, more real, or different from these two songs of your work?

(LSP): There is more violence today because the people want it. I don’t know what they’re preaching. I don’t want to criticize them, but we need some more spirituality right now. Something like, telling you what to do when you have trouble. What to say when you have problems. This is what we need to help the people who are in misery.

(SFC): Have you followed the Gaza and Gully issue in Jamaica?

(LSP): Nothing at all about that.

(SFC): You know nothing about it?

(LSP): I’m not on that level. I keep my temple as I live in church. My church has nothing to do with ghetto. Nothing to do with Gully. Nothing to do with Gaza. I’m more about legalizing for culture. The herb. Sensemilla. Hashish.

(SFC): You’re going to have a great time when you come to California. Oh–but you don’t smoke anymore.

(LSP): I’m not smoking, but you can use marijuana in so many ways. It’s a spiritual drug. You can boil it, and make it into marijuana tea. You can make marijuana soup. You can make marijuana clothes.

(SFC): What do you put in your soup?

(LSP): Vegetables. You don’t know me!

Lee “Scratch” Perry performs at The Independent on Dec 18th. Tickets are $25. Doors open at 8:30pm and the show starts at 9pm. This article is reprinted as seen on SF Station.