Perry's musical career began in the late 1950s as a record seller for Clement Coxsone Dodd's sound system. As his sometimes turbulent relationship with Dodd developed, he found himself performing a variety of important tasks at Dodd's Studio One hit factory, going on to record nearly thirty songs for the label. Disagreements between the pair due to personality and financial conflicts, a recurring theme throughout Perry's career, led him to leave the studio and seek new... Read more
Perry's musical career began in the late 1950s as a record seller for Clement Coxsone Dodd's sound system. As his sometimes turbulent relationship with Dodd developed, he found himself performing a variety of important tasks at Dodd's Studio One hit factory, going on to record nearly thirty songs for the label. Disagreements between the pair due to personality and financial conflicts, a recurring theme throughout Perry's career, led him to leave the studio and seek new musical outlets. He soon found a new home at Joe Gibbs's Amalgamated Records.
Working with Gibbs, Perry continued his recording career but, once again, financial problems caused conflict. Perry broke ranks with Gibbs and formed his own label, Upsetter, in 1968. His first single "People Funny Boy", which was an insult directed at Gibbs, sold well with 60,000 copies sold in Jamaica alone. It is notable for its innovative use of a sample (a crying baby) as well as a fast, chugging beat that would soon become identifiable as "reggae" (the new kind of sound which was given the name "Steppers"). From 1968 until 1972 he worked with his studio band The Upsetters. During the 1970s, Perry released numerous recordings on a variety of record labels that he controlled, and many of his songs were popular in both Jamaica and the UK. He soon became known for his innovative production techniques as well as his eccentric character.
In the early 1970s, Perry was one of the producers whose mixing board experiments resulted in the creation of dub. In 1973, Perry built a studio in his back yard, The Black Ark, to have more control over his productions and continued to produce notable musicians such as Bob Marley & the Wailers, Junior Byles, Junior Murvin, The Heptones, The Congos and Max Romeo. With his own studio at his disposal, Perry's productions became more lavish, as the energetic producer was able to spend as much time as he wanted on the music he produced. Virtually everything Perry recorded in The Black Ark was done using basic recording equipment; through sonic sleight-of-hand, Perry made it sound unique. Perry remained behind the mixing desk for many years, producing songs and albums that stand out as a high point in reggae history.
By 1978, stress and unwanted outside influences began to take their toll: both Perry and The Black Ark quickly fell into a state of disrepair. Eventually, the studio burned to the ground. Perry has constantly insisted that he burned the Black Ark himself in a fit of rage. After the demise of the Black Ark in the early 1980s, Perry spent time in England and the United States, performing live and making erratic records with a variety of collaborators. It was not until the late 1980s, when he began working with British producers Adrian Sherwood and Neil Fraser (who is better known as Mad Professor), that Perry's career began to get back on solid ground again. Perry also has attributed the recent resurgence of his creative muse to his deciding to quit drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis. Perry stated in an interview that he wanted to see if "it was the smoke making the music or Lee Perry making the music. I found out it was me and that I don't need to smoke."
In 1998 Perry reached a wider global audience as vocalist on two tracks of the Beastie Boys' album Hello Nasty.
Perry now lives in Switzerland with his wife Mireille and two children. Although he celebrated his 70th birthday in 2006, he continues recording and performing to enthusiastic audiences in Europe and North America. His modern music is a far cry from his reggae days in Jamaica; many now see Perry as more of a performance artist in several respects. In 2003, Perry won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album with the album Jamaican E.T.. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Perry #100 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. More recently, he teamed up with a group of Swiss musicians and performed under the name Lee Perry and the White Belly Rats, and made a brief visit to the United States using the New York City based group Dub Is A Weapon as his backing band. Currently there are two feature length movies made about his life and work: Volker Schaner's Vision Of Paradise and The Upsetter by filmmakers Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough.
After meeting Andrew W.K. at SXSW in 2006, Perry invited him to co-produce his album, Repentance. The album, released on the 19th of August 2008, on Narnack Records, features several guest artists including Moby, Ari Up of The Slits, producer Don Fleming, drummer Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt, bassist Josh Werner of Matisyahu, and adult entertainer Sasha Grey.
In 2008, Perry reunited with producer Adrian Sherwood on an album called The Mighty Upsetter. Unlike the dancehall/pop oriented Repentance, The Mighty Upsetter returned to the dub/reggae styles for which Perry is known. In 2009 he collaborated with Dubblestandart on their Return from Planet Dub album. Show less