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Jamaican reggae legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry dies at 85

Lee "Scratch" Perry performs at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
Lee “Scratch” Perry performs at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in 2013.
(Karl Walter)

Jamaican singer and record producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, considered one of reggae’s founding fathers, has died at age 85.

Perry, whose real name is Rainford Hugh Perry, died Sunday at a hospital in Lucea, Jamaica, according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. He noted that Perry was a pioneer of dub music in the 1970s and produced more than 1,000 recordings over 60 years, earning him various nicknames, including “Upsetter” and “Mad Scientist.”

“His innovative nature led him to become one of the greatest remixing and studio effects guru,” Holness said, adding that people have described Perry as an “eccentric character” who was loved by many.

In a 2010 interview, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards described Perry as “the Salvador Dali of music.”

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Perry is credited for reggae hits including “Dreadlocks in Moonlight,” “City Too Hot,” and “Curly Locks.” He continued producing music until recently, posting on Twitter last month that he was preparing for shows in Europe later this year.

Lee “Scratch” Perry, who produced landmark recordings for Bob Marley and helped invent dub music at his famed Black Ark studios, died Sunday at age 85.

“I was very busy in the studio doing some lovely remixes,” he tweeted in July next to a picture of himself with brightly painted nails, his hair and beard dyed a crimson red, playing a tiny flute. “Keeping fit for the upcoming shows in Europe and hoping they will happen!”

Perry worked as an intern and janitor at several recording studios before establishing his own, Black Ark, and working with artists including Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Beastie Boys and the Clash. He also spent time in Europe and the U.S., where he continued recording. His recording “Jamaican E.T.” won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 2003.

In a podcast interview last year posted by Berklee Online, Perry said music brings joy and represents magic to him.

“Me believe in good chords. Me believe in soul. Me believe in soul music, soul singers, funky singers, pop singers,” he said. “There is nothing else. Without the music, people get miserable.”


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