Radio DJ Art Baker, host of the Austin, Texas-based classic ska and reggae program Jamaican Gold, will honor the late great singer, producer, and dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry with a tribute show this Sunday, September 5. Perry died on August 29, 2021, in Jamaica. He was 85.
Last Sunday, Baker heard the news of Perry’s passing just over an hour before his weekly two-hour show was about to go live. The setlist was set at that point. Rather than frantically throw together some Perry songs, Baker decided it’d be better to take his time and give “The Upsetter” the proper tribute he deserves.
Baker will certainly have plenty to choose from as Perry produced more than 1,000 recordings over a 60-year career. He’s best known for the roots reggae recorded at his fabled Black Ark studio in the 1970s. An eccentric whose zany behavior is about as legendary as his music, Perry would sometimes bless his master tapes with marijuana smoke, whiskey, and even blood.
In a phone interview with 360°Sound, Baker, who has hosted Jamaican Gold for nearly 23 years, called Perry an “indelible presence.” Baker pointed out that Perry’s sonic innovations during his Black Ark heyday were produced with a simple four-track tape machine.
“I’m always impressed with someone who can do more with less,” Baker said. “When you hear some of those Black Ark productions, they’re just a sonic fingerprint. There’s nothing else that sounds like them. You know immediately when one of those tracks come on.”
Baker continued: “When we talk about someone who takes the studio itself and kind of turns it into a musical instrument, I don’t know that Scratch is necessarily the first to do that, but he’s certainly at the vanguard of it and did it in a way that really changed the landscape for a lot of people.”
The tribute show will focus primarily on Perry’s Black Ark recordings. Baker said he’ll try to squeeze in at least one song from each of the following five Perry-produced albums, which he considers the very best of the Black Ark era:
The Congos – Heart of the Congos
The Heptones – Party Time
Max Romeo – War Ina Babylon
Junior Murvin – Police and Thieves
The Upsetters – Super Ape
“I’m aware that some of the crew who listens to my show are going to be very familiar with [the Black Ark] stuff so I’m going to be digging deep and trying to throw out some deep cuts as well,” Baker added.
No one before or since has been able to capture Perry’s unique production style, Baker said. Perry’s music was so spacey and otherworldly that it’s been suggested it’s more along the lines of Sun Ra or George Clinton than his reggae contemporaries.
“I read somewhere one time people were saying 300 years from now, we’re going to be listening to Pink Floyd in space,” Baker said. “I think we’ll be listening to “Scratch” Perry 300 years from now as well. Hopefully, if we’re traveling the stars.”
Tune in to Jamaican Gold this Sunday, September 5 noon CST/1 p.m. EST on koop.org. Listeners in the Austin area can turn the dial to 91.7 FM. If you miss the live broadcast, you can listen on-demand on koop.org.