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Lee “Scratch” Perry: ‘Higher than Moses’ (The Interview)

Interview and photos by
Stephen A. Cooper

My reggae sixth sense told me it’d be a good idea to buy an extra Rasta-colored ring on the off-chance legendary Jamaican music producer Lee “Scratch” Perry might return to Los Angeles; ever since meeting “The Upsetter” last November, I’d been itching to continue our conversation. So I was thrilled when I learned Perry’d be in town again – this time to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of his “Blackboard Jungle Dub,” the first dub album ever – and even more ecstatic when Perry, who was in a gregarious and expansive mood, smiled warmly at me and immediately put on the beaded ring I sheepishly handed him, just like when I interviewed him last year.

While Perry’s once-in-a-generation creativity and influence is indisputable, too often the focus, especially in recent years, has been on Scratch’s eccentricities – his onstage antics, his flamboyant attire, or, the impenetrable sing-song parables he, at times, speaks in. But, as Larry McDonald, a legendary percussionist in his own right, who knows Perry better than mostly everyone, explained: “I think he’s eccentric. I don’t think he’s crazy . . . . Because he makes a lot of sense. And a lot of [what] he says goes over people’s heads. Plus, the heavy Jamaican accent . . . . Forget the thick Jamaican accent. If you listen to him, you’ll understand what he says.”

Having talked to Scratch twice now, it’s obvious Larry “Mac” nailed it; if you listen to Scratch closely, he does make a lot of sense. And, I’d add, when you can’t understand him, when what he says does go over your head, his rascally smile and the knowing impish glint in his eyes reveal, just as one might expect from a masterful producer of Perry’s stature, that that’s exactly how he planned it.

What follows, for your review, is a transcription of my second epic interview of Perry, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.

 Q: Scratch, that was a great show! It’s great to see you again; it’s almost been a full year since I saw you here a year ago. How have you been doing? How has your year been?

Scratch: I’m doing myself over. I’m making over myself.

 Q: What’s been the best part of the year for you?

Scratch:  The best part? Look, I need a spliff. Who have any? Make me a spliff. Larry! [Yelling to percussionist Larry McDonald, who responds, “Yes.”] You can get a spliff –

 Q: Look, Scratch, I [brought] one for you – here. (Handing Scratch a pre-roll, Scratch takes the spliff, lights it, inhales deeply, and blows a large cloud of smoke.) So, what was the best part of the year for you?

 Scratch: The best part? Everything [was]. Our father who art in heaven, [will] always be [in] God’s name.

 Q: That’s true. Now when we met last, you said, quote: “When the time come for Bob [Marley] to recognize the truth, Bob turn him back on the truth . . . . When Bob did not choose God, he chose the devil.” I was surprised when you said that. And I asked you: “Bob didn’t choose God? He chose the devil?” And you said: “That’s why him not here.” Can you explain what you meant by Bob choosing the devil, and that being the reason why he’s not here?

 Scratch: Well, Bob choose cigarettes and choose cocaine. Bob choose cigarettes and cocaine.

 Q: Is that how he got sick? Is that how he got cancer?

 Scratch: What you give, you get. What you send out, it comes back to you. What do you use? You can’t use God. If you believe in God, God will make everything possible. Through God, there is nothing impossible.

 Q: True.

 Scratch: With God, everything is possible.

 Q: Respect.

 Scratch: And if you believe in God, God kills death. But God [also] needs death.

 Q: True. Aston “Family Man” Barrett [bass player in both the Upsetters and the Wailers] has –

Scratch: I hear that he’s paralyzed now?

Q: I don’t know. Is that true?

Scratch: That’s what mi hear, that he’s in a wheelchair.

Continued on Page Two–>>