Return of The Upsetter
By Doug Wendt
Lee "Scratch" Perry, a.k.a. The Upsetter, got his start in
Jamaica as a producer under the tutelage of Sir Coxsone Dodd in 1959. By
the late '60s, Perry had his own Upsetter label and a house band by the
same name, composed of drum and bass wizards Carlton and Aston "Family
Man" Barrett. He soon took the Wailers ­p; Bob Marley, Peter Tosh
and Bunny Livingston ­p; under his wing and, with the Barretts' help,
changed the sound and direction of reggae forever. Perry's highly creative
yet eccentric approach provided a dark edge to the Wailers' smooth style.
From 1969 to 1978, he put his stamp on Marley's music. He produced Soul
Revolution ('69), African Herbsman ('73) and Escape from Babylon
('75), and helped craft such classics as "Kaya," "Duppy Conqueror"
and "Lively Up Yourself." "I think Bob's best tracks are
the ones that Lee Perry produced," Island Records founder Chris Blackwell
Perry opened his own Black Ark Studio in 1974, but would burn it down four years later. By the early '80s, he had moved to Amsterdam, and spent the decade touring Europe. Today, the 61-year old reggae pioneer is married to a Swiss baroness and lives near Geneva. He spoke with HIGH TIMES at Maritime Hall in San Francisco, where he made his West Coast debut last April. A live album from that engagement is available on 2B1 Records (450 Harrison St. #310, San Francisco, CA 94105). Arkology, a three-CD set of Perry's music, was recently issued by Island Records.
HIGH TIMES: Will there ever be an Upsetters band reunion?
LEE PERRY: There won't be any more Upsetter Band. I once planned the Upsetter Band. The Upsetter was so upsetting that it upset even I. They wanted to take over the whole thing. They was upset and they become Wailers. So I give them all the things that wail and upset them and put all that is upsetting away. I put their alcohol away. I put their rum away. And I put their massive dreads away. They were all too dreadful for me. Anything that is upsetting me I must get rid of, that's why I'm the Upsetter, I must not be upset.
Are you rebuilding the Black Ark Studio?
I did want to, but I discover it will bring back the destruction that was around me. And even death. My power is to stay alive ­p; not to encourage death. So the Black Ark Studio won't be coming back neither. Anything that is a problem to me, my object is to put it away, get rid of it. I don't care how powerful it was, even if it was the power of the world, it have to go.
How did dub music begin?
Everyone who started a particular music, you must have heart. Your heart must start go boop-boop, boop-boop. That's the beat of the drum. You have a brain. It go tick-tick, tick-tick tock, that's the bass. Your brain, that's your bass. Your heart is your drum. So you study. You create with your drum 'pon your heart. Is a clean, perfect heart. Make sure your heart is not corrupted because what you send out come back to your heart. If you send out love it will come back to your heart. And if you send out hate it will come back to cut your heartstrings. You can have guitarists around and pianists around if they are not confusing. But as far as I'm concerned, I prefer only to have the bass and drum. Other musicians can join in and do their little thing, jus' don't confuse me.
Did you see Haile Selassie when he came to Jamaica in 1966?
I am the mystic warrior of His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I. Why did he send I to Jamaica before him? To clear the way for him. I don't look anyways to see him. Emperor Haile Selassie. Because I know where he is. He never die. He said, "To the mudhut, shazam!" And there was a streak of lightning. And if the mudhut did not shazam he would say, "Presto Change-O," and maybe there wouldn't be any more Africa. But he didn't want to do that. He is the only king that have the power to jump over flesh. And he don't want to grow old. Emperor Haile Selassie cannot grow old. He is King Tut ­p; the uncommon king. You ask if I did see him when he come to Jamaica. Yes. He sent me to prepare the way. Because he come to Jamaica to crumble the cocaine brain. You understand? I was in Jamaica creating a musical brain called "It's a Punky Reggae Party." Somebody want to change it into "It's a Cocaine Party." And because I didn't want to be in the cocaine party, me and His Majesty Haile Selassie disappear without the cocaine party. So I was in Jamaica, knowing that he was coming to crash somebody's brain, but it wasn't mine. So I was there preparing the way for him to crumble the cocaine brain. And to kaput the cocaine plane.
>What inspired your last CD, Who Put the Voodoo 'Pon Reggae?
What inspired me is that some of us are unbalanced and for us to get balanced we'd have to go on track. So we create a big boom like a big dance track for the people to follow. It wasn't meant to be called reggae. I didn't have a name for it at the time, but the government wanted to call it reggae. So something go mix up, through money. And because something go mix up, I don't want to have anything to do with the name reggae. But whomever love it I will bless them and say take it. I don't want to have nothin' to do with it for reason more than one. God bless you for loving the reggae, but I don't want to discuss anything about it. See, I'm following Emperor Haile Selassie's footsteps. He didn't give Egypt for nah reason, he give it up and I have to give away reggae for a reason as well. I don't want to be a kaput. OK? I send you a prophet and the music would not save the life of the prophet.
Are you talking about Bob Marley?
If you say so. I didn't say so. I said I send you a prophet. If the reggae didn't save him, how is it going to save me? The people love reggae and I love reggae still. I don't hate reggae and I don't want you to think I throw away reggae. I love reggae. It become a giant and cannot be controlled anymore. 'Cause of the force that it bring upon me, I have to burn the Black Ark Studio and leave Jamaica. Otherwise I wouldn't be here. They want my reggae tapes. When you are alive you are nothing, but when you are dead you is worth something. So I was supposed to be dead and be a legend, then my reggae tapes would sell more.
When were you born?
On a Friday, which is a payday ­p; the money day. And the date was 20th of the third, 1-9-3-6. So because I was born on the 20th of the third, 1-9-3-6, I know that three-six are out there making trouble. So demand the power of the three-six, take away the three-six, have the three-six tricked, trick the three-six, wrap up the three-six, have it well mixed in my master mix. And take away the power of the archbishop and the council of the churches and the heads of government. And take away the power of the International Monetary Foundation, take silver from Wall Street and Capitol Hill. I don't care what happen or what people say. I am going to do what I think I here to do, what the spirit say to do as well. If they think I rule the wind and I can change the weather, let them think so. Then I will rule the weather and change the weather.
Do you remember the first time you smoked herb?
It make me feel real glitzy and I don't know what's happening. I want to say it took me on a trip, a strange trip. And I was no longer on this planet Earth. It take me into space and I want to come out of it. And I get out of it. I afraid of it and I want to say whatever it is, I try it again. But the trip was nice. It teach me wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and put me back down on the planet Earth to stand on solid ground. You say whatever you want. You ask the Earth because the Earth have all the powers. If you think Earth didn't have the powers, how did Earth grow the trees and the plants and the flowers? And how does the Earth feed the animals? So then he send me back to Earth after the trip to understand that the Earth is the lord. Then if you want or need anything, why don't you knock and ask the Earth?
So herb was a revelation?
And the revolution.
What's the difference between Jamaican herb like Lamb's Bread, Goatshit and so forth?
Sinsemilla. Lamb's Bread. Cannabis. Collie. Marijuana. Tampi. Any name it have it is the same. It just named herbs. The herbs. Green herbs. Green collie herbs, green marijuana herbs or green ganja herbs ­p; it's just the green Genie you talking about. Yeah, the Genie exists and the green ganja collie the Genie. The green Genie Godeenie! He makes the wind blow, the grass grow. He makes the school bell ring and the children sing. He makes the church bell ring and the people sing. The tree of life ­p; ganja! Hallelujah. Jahovia. Jah Rastafari.
You wrote a song called "Bushweed Corntrash." What's that?
Well, people used to feel a different vibration off the weed. The weed we normally did plant, we didn't maintain properly or give good treatment to turn into a good smoke, so it become a bush weed. It didn't get any mental support. So they put it with corn trash and smoke it as one vibration. What you put in, you get out. You didn't give anything, so it become bushweed. And you put it with corn trash and you smoke it. And say it was fucking up your brain.
Isn't Goatshit an especially strong herb?
Goat shit. Rat shit. Cow shit. Horse shit. Not dog shit or bull shit. 'Cause dog shit and bull shit is very poisonous. 'Cause those two eat dead meat more than anything else.
So you don't recommend those as fertilizers?
No dog shit. No bull shit used as fertilizer. Human shit is the richest fertilizer. Even though they scorn their shit they don't know that their shit is the richest fertilizer. And they don'[t know that their piss is the greatest healer.
What was the idea behind the song, "Herb Vendor"?
Me get a message from a different planet to deliver down here to the Earthlings. I extraterrestrial it to the Earthlings. I make it on music so the Earthling can hear this message. [Sings lyrics from "Herb Vendor"] Dub it Iyah. Dub it Iyah. Yeah. Hit the collie. Hit the collie 'til it swell you head now. Do it Iyah. Do it Iyah. Yes!
How's the herb in Switzerland?
It's OK and I think they don't fight against herb. They don't put herbs, amongst the drugs. They don't rate herbs like drugs. Put herb always above that. Think about that.
What's your favorite way to ingest it?
Tea. And I smoke.
How do you make the tea?
You put on the tea and boil up a quarter leaf, which is like the tiny among you put in your teabag in hot water. Take it out and shake it out and hang it for another time. You don't jus throw it away ­p; maybe use it seven mornings straight. And if you think all the juice is out, put it away to dry. And when it dry, go on and smoke it.
How do you rate California herb?
It need a little more fertilizer, like maybe cow shit. It need a little more mixed in. It want a touch up. So get in the field and mix it up with something nice, like maybe a little sugar some time. And salt. The people not treating the Earth right. They only take from the Earth and not give anything back. But the Earth make you know that your body need a little sugar, a little salt. When you just plant something there and expect to get the best from it and give nothing to the Earth ­p; Ooooh! Come on! Give 'em a likkle milk too, why not? Collie plant: a little sugar, a little salt, a little milk, like a baby. Why don't you give me a portion of the best for my sample at the secret laboratory?
Is that a flaming sun leaf on your shirt?
Fire, yes. Sparkling fire. Fire revelation. Fire mean the revelation of a prophecy.
And fire burned down the Black Ark Studio you built.
Yeah. Fire come as a witness again.
This had to do with Island Records turning down your album Roast Fish, Collie Weed and Cornbread when you were at the height of your powers.
That album. That's what caused every fucking thing.
And then a couple of years later you released Judgment In A Babylon with Chris Blackwell on the cover as a vampire.
When he fight against Roast Fish, Collie Weed and Cornbread it did create power. What else could I call it but judgment? I couldn't call it justice. If I call it justice I would have killed him instantly. You understand? But that would be against the rules of the cosmic laws. You have the cosmic laws and the cosmic energy. The cosmic energy don't want you to do that because the watcher want to watch. And if you spoil the watcher's fun and the watcher don't watch 'til the end, the watcher will charge you for spoiling the watcher's fun.
Do you think government forces targeted Bob Marley?
And you like to take a low profile.
Yeah, while they switch plan. Because they will plan to bring up Satan from out of the ground, under the Earth. But I the Sandman say, "No, Satan won't come up." We're gonna allow Satan to come up to the neck and hold Satan with the sun and the quicksand and choke Satan. He cannot go up or down unless Satan agree to I and I terms. You wrap him up with the three leaves.
Last night at your show you said, "Are you deaf? I will make you deaf." Why do you want to make people deaf?
I will make them undeaf. I mean, if you are closed I will make you unclosed. And if you brain is unclosed I will open your brain and open your mind and open your heart, open all your parts! Then if you open your past with your ears so you're hearing, I come through your past and give you a present into your future. Through your ears I speak. Could you hear me if you're not havin' the ears on? If you could not hear, then you could not hear me. And if you could not see, then you could not see me, could you?
But we can shut our eyes, but can't shut our ears. Our ears are always open.
Always open. Even when you dream. Even when you have vision you hear something else sing.
You often make references that you're crazy or you're eccentric. I think you know you're not really crazy. You use it as a way to keep people at bay. Isn't that what's really going on?
Look, I'm surrounded with people with wasted brain. And when I send out my beam, my scannin' beam, and go into their wasted brain and see no part of the wasted brain that I require, I'm bored! But when I scan the brain and see brain that are not wasted, brain that can be put to work or put to use to bring forward a creation ­p; takes in life, the circle of life and the circle of light ­p; I would really be interested in it. Then I won't be bored
Paul McCartney got busted in Japan for herb, you sent a telegram to the Minister of Justice in Tokyo in which you said Paul's possession of a quarter-kilo was not excessive. Is there any kind of excessive amount of herb?
Listen, the amount of herbs he want to carry, even if he have a planeload of herbs, he would have to be set free. You understand?
You wrote: "I find the Herbal powers of marijuana in its widely recognized abilities to relax, calm and generate positive feeling a must. Master Paul McCartney's intentions are positive." Herb is the healing of the nation, right?
Yea! And the herb send the music.
And that's why they fight it down.
The music is the shepherd.