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Penn's Pick: Lee "Scratch" Perry – Roast Fish & Cornbread

Artist: Lee “Scratch” Perry
Song/Album: Roast Fish & Cornbread / Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread
Writers: Lee Perry
Year Released: 1978
Genre: Reggae

Why it’s a “Penn’s Pick”:

The mark of a great producer lies not only in bringing out the very best in the artist and song that they’re producing, but also in shaping those songs in a distinctive manner that possesses the producer’s unmistakable signature without compromising the unique artistic integrity of the song and artist at hand.

Lee “Scratch” Perry is one of those all-time great producers.

His methods for attaining his trademark sound are the stuff of legend, utilizing such unorthodox tactics including burying exposed masters in the dirt outside his studio, blowing smoke on the tape during the recording process, and spraying various liquids on the raw masters as well. But aside from all his eccentric behavior, it was his technical skills that separated him from the pack.

Perry’s production magic took place at his Black Ark studio in Kingston, Jamaica. This is where he instilled his own unique vibe and vision into albums by some of Reggae’s most iconic artists including Bob Marley, The Congos, Max Romeo, and the late, great Junior Murvin.

It was on his own albums, however, where Perry was really able to push the envelope and take his unique, “unorthodox” inspiration to grand heights, many times to the chagrin of the label due to the “noncommercial” nature of his music and production style.

A perfect example of what defines Perry as both a writer and producer can be found on 1978’s Roast Fish & Cornbread. Hazy, murky, dense, hypnotic, low-fi and ultra-evocative, this song has Perry’s signature qualities all over it, instantly thrusting the listener into a transfixed state that traverses the entire song.

Is it commercial? No. Did it reach the top of the charts? No. Did the record company initially reject the song and the album? Yes. Has it stood the test of time and been heralded as a landmark recording despite its lack of chart performance? ABSOLUTELY.

Music is subjective, after all.

Lee “Scratch” Perry will forever be known as a visionary and innovator, transforming the sound of Reggae, Pop and Rock as he saw (and still sees) fit.


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