Melody Maker | Sidelines | 3 October 1987 | Photo: Richard Bellia
LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY
THE 30 YEAR ITCH
"I am the first black Jew you've ever seen," he says. Later he declares, "I am Hitler! I rule the swastika!". A man with many nicknames, today he also professes to be Tarzan and Perry Mason. But he's best known as Lee "Scratch" Perry, a roaring voice in the studio, on the stage, and in this – as he calls it – "outer view of the inner view".
Lee Perry's new album is "Time Boom X De Devil Dead", a record rippling with hard rhythms and alive with rub-a-dub effects. It's a glorious collision and collusion of fresh sounds and words – and it was recorded in London, with co-production credits going to On-U maestro Adrian Sherwood.
"As far as I'm concerned, I am from Jamaica, but I'm not an original Jamaican," says Perry. "I'm an original African and I was a slave on that ship that transferred to Jamaica. I've never seen so much hypocrites there in all my life. Some is versionists, some is copies, some is negative forces. In Britain, the people have a sense of humour. They love unusual stuff, they love things to make them laugh. Why shouldn't I stick with the people who've stuck with me?
"If the government in Britain gave me a free hand, I can positively guarantee that I can bring this country back to the top. Why? Because through music all things are possible. Music is happiness and happiness is a power. I'm trying to give people the truth. A man must speak his mind, speak his truths clearly, and try to be as perfect as he can. Even the perfect man will make mistakes, but he will learn from them."
What mistakes have you made in your 30-year career?
"To bring natty dreadlocks into the studio. The time I brought Bob Marley into my studio was the biggest mistake I made. You should never record people who don't believe in Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, you don't live. If he was a believer, he'd be sitting here with me now."
Lee Perry is outspoken and, yes, eccentric, the kind of colourful character rarely seen and even more rarely appreciated. He'll probably always suffer from a lack of understanding, despite the fact that he is a straight thinking, straight talking man. He sees life in very black and white terms. To Perry, there exists a simple choice between good and evil, light and dark, happiness and sadness. He says he never tells lies and the truth gives him the strength to turn winter into summer through his music.
At one point during the "inner view", he tells me to close my eyes and describe what I can see. Having concentrated on his intimidating figure for more than an hour, desperately trying to penetrate his yellow, round framed dark glasses, all I have in my mind is a picture of his eyeless stare. So I say so. "That's the truth," he says. When I ask him how long he's been playing that trick, he grins and replies, "All my life".
What's the next step for Lee Perry, then?
"To make the Queen of England my wife, fire the Duke of Edinburgh, and live in Buckingham Palace. I wanna give the Queen the chance to have sex with me. If she did, it would cure her of her illnesses and loosen her tongue. I know she's tongue tied. But she's a lovely girl, a beautiful girl."
Would you recommend a similar course of treatment for Margaret Thatcher?
"Bah! You expect me to like a witch?"
No. Too much, too much. Even for Lee "Scratch" Perry.