The seventies' productions of Lee Perry are amongst the most sought after roots reggae records. These days it is easier to locate his sixties output than his work of a decade later when only a handful of the precious biscuits arrived on these shores. To procure these 7" gems it was helpful to know a shipment was on its way, be on the spot when it arrived, and make your decision quickly as you were likely to be jostling with a counter-full of addicts besotted with the offerings from the mind and fingers of the Upsetter. These recordings were mainly on Jamaican 7" pre-release and therefore there was little opportunity to get hold of the tune if you missed your first chance. Twenty years later such records still surface in specialist reggae auctions and set sales at prices which have rapidly outstripped inflation. With no reference catalogues for guidance, any knowledge of Perry's treasure was largely by word of mouth, so many great tunes were found on labels not known to be associated with his music.
In 1984 I co-hosted an edition of Steve Barker's 'On the Wire' show for BBC Radio Lancashire, Lee Perry was the one and only guest for three hours. Hoping to obtain more information on matters relating to tunes, I produced a stack of rare gems and proceeded to pass each one in front of Lee. He raised his ancient spectacles high on his forehead staring at each one in turn with a frown of concentration. Pausing as he read the details of every label, he brought out a biro from his bag of many things and solemnly ticked them one by one - good play Scratch!
This compilation features some of those ticked rarities from the Black Ark dating from the mid-seventies, the most recent being laid down in 1977. It was during this period that Lee Perry produced much of what is now regarded as his finest work, creating astonishing sounds and rhythms behind wicked and righteous tunes, all engineered fast-hand style on mix-and-match studio kit most of which was considered archaic even at the time. Many of the tunes were never released outside of Jamaica and buying the originals now would cost a small fortune.
We kick-off with 'Psalms Twenty', a truly serious piece of vinyl mayhem from one James Booms a.k.a. James Brown (his 'Stop The War In A Babylon' did actually surface in the U.K.) on top of a rhythm from the legendary Super Ape' sessions. The dub is awesome, a true marvel of reconstruction - baffle your bass bins to avoid cracking plaster! Next is a rare 45 with an early '77 feel, 'Better Future' by Errol Walker, it may have been bootlegged but has never appeared on any known auction list let alone re-release. With its swirling psychedelic sound 'River' by Zap Pow has long been a favourite Perry rarity, floating on a raft of sound not unlike the productions achieved with the Heptones' 'Crying Over You' and Junior Murvin's 'Tedious'. Further along is 'Freedom', a tune by Earl 16, currently active in the U.K. with an outfit called Drumhead, and then 'Africa' by The Hombres originally issued on Orchid - a label to search out for Perry fans. The wondrous 'Voodooism' by Leo Graham gives this collection its title, this singular vocalist was first heard by reggae buffs on the truly remarkable 'Perilous Time' which he cut for Joe Gibbs, and of course the version rich 'Pampas Judas' which he cut for Perry earlier in the decade.
'African Style' by The Black Notes is one of those tunes which the devout pilgrim arrives at after a long search located as it is on the obscure Hills label, a plea for roots culture set over a rhythm which dates from the work that Perry contributed to the 'Africa Must Be Free By 1983' set produced by Pablo on the late great Hugh Mundell. 'Rise and Shine' by Watty & Tony dates from somewhat earlier in the decade with the original red and white Upsetter label carrying the stern imprint 'Produced And Directed By Lee Perry'. Concluding the set is a real treat for Upsetter fans, 'Wolf Out Deh' from Lloyd and Devon accompanied by its freaky version 'Shepherd Rod' a brilliant example of the genius who reigned at the Black Ark through the seventies and a shattering testament to the righteous power of mixing desk magic from the man with many names. Adjust your system for maximum bass and treble, and send your neighbours on holiday, this is the real stuff!
With so many bogus Perry recordings now making their way onto the market you may care to know that this compilation was in fact initiated by Mr. Perry. Following a suggestion from Steve Barker, Lee called me on the telephone and said: "Roger and Steve, make Lee Perry some money for Christmas Eve..." O.K. Lee, here it is - KEEP THIS ONE!
N.B. Bonus cuts on the CD format of this compilation are 'Right You' - the version to Earl 16's 'Freedom', 'Mash Down' by The Roots, the version to 'African Style' by The Black Notes and 'Rasta Train/Yagga Yagga' by Lee & Jimmy.
Footnote: At the time of writing Lee Perry is back in Jamaica at the Black Ark with his son Omar. Whether this results in a re-energising of his studio skills or the overdue retrieval of "lost tapes", one can merely speculate.