A musician friend has helped usher me into the world of Lee “Scratch” Perry and Black Ark studios. I have long known about Perry as a great reggae and dub producer, but he has been recording for so long, and his discography is so immense, that I think I stayed away because I didn’t know where to start. When I was first getting into classical music and jazz about a year ago I faced the same problem. How do you navigate your way into a new scene, when you know next to nothing? The sheer amount of something can be intimidating. How do you discern good from bad? With a limited budget, how do you make the right choices when buying something? It helps to be pointed in the right direction and then you find many other doors opening along the way. For classical music I bought a book. For jazz I asked my friends to suggest records.
The Perry produced record that was first suggested to me was The Congos album Heart of the Congos. This is not only one of the best reggae albums ever, but a great place to start understanding what makes Perry’s work so unique. It’s essentially a reggae record, with great songs and melodies, but the production features many of the unique sonic qualities that differentiate Perry from producers that came before him. From there you can decide if you want to explore more of his reggae productions, or if you want to get into the weirder world of dub. I think it’s a great entryway into his world as it is both unique and accessible.
The link above, while no means definitive, is a great overview of his lengthy career. It gives you a sense of his accomplishments and highlights some of his better works, if not all of them. Heart of the Congos is strangely given only a sentence.
The above video is Perry recording in Black Ark studios. It’s inspiring to see someone accomplishing something so imaginative in a situation that is very low tech by today’s standards.
If you are someone that loves records and recorded sound, his work is definitely a world that you want to explore. Not only is it innovative in and of itself, but it has influenced modern music in immense and unmeasurable ways.