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Remembering Jamaican Producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In a realm where eccentrics are taken for granted, Jamaican musician Lee "Scratch" Perry was singular. Perry was a hugely influential producer, and not just in his home genre, reggae, but in dance music, hip-hop and beyond. Perry died in Jamaica on Sunday at age 85. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas has this appreciation.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Lee Perry got his nickname from a song he recorded early in his career, "Chicken Scratch."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHICKEN SCRATCH")

LEE PERRY: (Singing) Love is good. Come on, lads (ph), chicken scratch.

TSIOULCAS: He also called himself the upsetter. It was an apt description on many levels. He had a habit of having acrimonious splits with former mentors and artists he previously championed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THE UPSETTER")

PERRY: (Singing) You will never get away from me. I am the upsetter.

TSIOULCAS: At Perry's own studio, Black Ark, he worked with many of Jamaica's biggest talents, including Junior Murvin, the Heptones, the Congos, and Bob Marley's band, the Wailers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MR. BROWN")

BOB MARLEY: (Singing) Is Mr. Brown - Mr. Brown is a clown who rides through town in a coffin.

TSIOULCAS: Black Ark was like a chemistry lab for Perry's sonic experiments. He was a pioneer of dub, underlining the bass and adding reverb to create lots of aural space. He also sampled before most people knew the term or the technique, used found sounds and even buried microphones underground to get the effect he wanted.

Perry's partnership with the Wailers ended badly. He secretly sold tapes they'd made with him to another label and kept the money. Years after building his famed studio, Perry reportedly burned it down. He was an impish, erratic presence, often in his later years sporting neon-colored hair and beard and fantastical clothes. He was enigmatic in interviews, like this 1997 appearance on All Things Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PERRY: I'm a fish. I'm a Pisces. And I will allow you to have me with roasted or fried sometime if you're hungry. And it could be roast fish, fry fish, flying fish, callaloo and cornbread. That means three in one - God the Father, God the son, and God, the Holy Spirit.

TSIOULCAS: During his long career, he collaborated with artists including Paul McCartney, The Clash, Brian Eno and the Beastie Boys...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DR. LEE, PHD")

BEASTIE BOYS AND LEE PERRY: (Singing) Coffin going around. Have you seen Mr. Clown? He used to call himself Mr. Brown.

TSIOULCAS: ...Testaments to Lee "Scratch" Perry's profound influence on generations of musicians. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DR. LEE, PHD")

BEASTIE BOYS AND LEE PERRY: (Singing) INRI Production that takes over France with voodoo dance and science arts. Science machine and science dream. This is a living dream from the Beastly brothers and the Beastly boys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.