Lee “Scratch” Perry, the pioneering dub producer and musician who tore open the sound of reggae, died at the age of 85 on August 29th, 2021. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Perry returned to his home of Negril, a beach town in western Jamaica, from Switzerland, where he had lived since 1989. Rolling Stone visited Perry in Negril just weeks before he passed away.
“What’s next is, we’re gonna make different music. We’re gonna make different beats,” Perry told Rolling Stone on a sandy Negril beach, at sunset, near his house. This was the last time a journalist visited Perry at his home. “We’re gonna leave the dancehall to the dancehall ragamuffins. Give poverty to poverty. Give riches to riches. Give all the riches to the poor, let the poor become rich. And the rich become poor. What do you think?”
In true Perry fashion, as the mad genius spoke, he meandered from idea to idea, spoken word to song, and back again. He mused on his time producing at Black Ark Studios, the progression of ska to rocksteady to reggae, and how the natural world and God fit into the music and the culture.
“Getting to spend a few days with Scratch was such a thrill,” says Rolling Stone’s Jason Fine. “He was joyous, mischievous, and so much fun to be around. We watched the sunset on the beach, went to late night dinners, and I spent time with him in the studio one evening where he was remixing tracks. In interviews, Lee could be elliptical and confusing, so the experience led to more questions than answers, and I was looking forward to spending more time with him. He couldn’t have seemed healthier or in better spirits so it came as a total shock when he passed just a few weeks later.”
“What do I believe? I believe in the sun. Believe in the sun so I fear no gun,” sang Perry, as waves lightly crashed behind him. “I believe in miracles. I don’t believe in crutches. But I believe in life.”
It was a beautiful one that he led.