When you think of the pioneers of house music, names like Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, Ron Hardy and such come to mind pretty quickly. Allow me to suggest another name – Lee “Scratch” Perry, who has died at the age of 85.
I’m the first to admit that Perry did not produce a house record in his lifetime. He was firmly a reggae and dub man. But let’s have a look at some of what he did during his life, and then try and tell me he wasn’t indirectly responsible for house music becoming what it is today.
Back in the 1970s, the idea of remixing a recording was largely considered absurd by the powers that be. They just didn’t understand why alternative versions of records needed to even exist. Lee “Scratch” Perry thought otherwise. So he started doing his own, and these were referred to as dub music.
The idea was to take an existing recording and reshape it, taking most or all of the vocals out and putting on emphasis on melody, rhythm, basslines and the drums. He wasn’t the first in the world to come up with this idea – Tom Moulton had started remixing records in the late 1960s, but he used notably different tactics.
In contrast, Perry also effectively invented a new genre in its own right. As I said earlier, dub was “taking most or all of the vocals out and putting on emphasis on melody, rhythm, basslines and the drums”. Isn’t that what the likes of Masters At Work and Todd Edwards were doing with their dubs in the 1990s, albeit using new technological advances to do so?
Perry showed the world that you don’t need to be able to sing along to every record. And frankly, house music owes him a grand debt – because who knows how the genre would look today if it wasn’t for pioneers like Scratch doing what they did before even disco music – house’s most direct descendant – was a thing.
Sleep well, Mr Perry. You’ve done more for the world of music than most…