Lee Scratch Perry -The End of an American Dream Review 2008


Grammy-nominated CD on MEGAWAVE RECORDS

The recent Grammy-nominated CD, The End of an American Dream, is the first of three albums that represent the musical collaboration of legendary Jamaican maestro Lee Perry with English musician and songwriter Steve Marshall. Recorded between 2004 and 2006 at Lee’s studio in Einsiedeln (near Zurich) Switzerland; at the Marriott Hotel, Regent’s Park, London; and at Steve’s ‘State of Mind’ Studio in Somerset, England, the album contains 16 all new tracks featuring the vocals and lyrical genius of Lee Perry, set against a background of stylish contemporary beats, blues, soul, Reggae, drum and bass. This Grammy-nominated album is produced by John Saxon for State of Emergency Limited and released by Megawave Records, Michigan, USA. The songs are published by Newtown Sound Ltd. and Copyright Control.

The duo first met in London during the winter of 1985 when Lee took on Steve’s band ‘World Service’ as his backing band for what was to be his first UK tour since leaving Jamaica. Around this time Lee recorded the albums History, Mystery and Prophecy Time Boom: De Devil Dead and From the Secret Laboratory (produced by Adrian Sherwood), but behind the scenes Lee was also recording with and training his musical apprentice, Steve Marshall. After the ’85 tour, ‘World Service’ split, but Lee and Steve remained friends, with Steve chauffeuring Lee to sessions and meetings in and around London. They recorded a 7” single, “Lightning Strikes Twice/Feel No Way,” which went out on State of Emergency Limited in 1986, and a 12” “AD Vendetta/Masters Of The Universe” that was released on Lee’s own Arkwell label. There were a number of other recordings made, such as “Nursery Rhyme,” “Black Captain In Castle Greyskull,” “I Am God,” “Elephant Rock,” and “Gimme Back My Teddy Bear,” all featuring Lee Perry and Steve Marshall, and recorded at Elephant, Mark Angelo’s and Utopia Studios, but these remain firmly in the archive. At the end of the ‘80s, Lee moved to Switzerland and they were to lose contact with one another for nearly 15 years.

Between 1993 and 2003 Steve had been carting round an old-fashioned studio rig. This included a heavy 16 track tape recorder, a massive Soundtracs CM4400 mixing desk (a bit like an old car – he spent as much time fixing it as recording on it), racks of antique outboard, delays, reverbs, signal processors, samplers, as well as three pairs of hefty speakers and miles of dusty cabling. At last he caught up with the times and traded all that for an audio-based PC running Cubase and Reason, and very quickly came up with a set of fresh new recordings, rhythms, breaks, and bass lines that were just crying out for a voice to bring them to life. He tried out various vocalists and MCs in the UK, then, completely by chance, he managed to get a message to Lee Perry via his website at Upsetter.net. Lee phoned him unexpectedly one day and agreed to listen to the music. He loved it, and the first vocal sessions were scheduled to take place in Switzerland during the spring of 2004.

Recording took place in Lee’s studio, which is a large double garage under the three-level house. The only equipment he had was a video camera, some theatrical lighting, a battered Casio keyboard, a domestic hi-fi midi system, a laptop computer (used only for typing in key words and selected lyrical themes), and his own special ‘holy’ microphone — a Shure SM58, personally decorated with Lee’s choice of emblems, icons, jewels and motifs. There were two plain wooden chairs, a small table, and a few large pot plants, in the base of which he periodically burnt hundreds of incense sticks. The walls were completely covered in his own characteristic graffiti art. When the doors swung open (to relieve the room of smoke sometimes so dense that they couldn’t actually see each other!) there stood a thin tall tree–once again uniquely adorned by Lee–shimmering with hanging CDs and bells tinkling in the Alpine breeze. The view of the snow covered mountain peaks beyond would literally take your breath away. At the beginning of the first day, Lee sat and looked outdoors. The sun was shining and the snow was bright. “Perfect,” was all he said.

The recording was done on Steve’s laptop with only a headphone link and Lee’s mic direct to soundcard. All of Lee’s vocals were done ‘freestyle’, i.e. not written down, but improvised there and then. He was relentless, recording from 9 AM to 1AM the following morning, with few breaks and hardly any food. This went on for two and half days. Steve returned to England with nearly sixty vocal takes.

The two met six months later at London’s Marriott Hotel. They spent a day going over the same tracks and adding more freestyle vocal interpretations, as well as dropping lyrics on new rhythms that Steve had prepared in the meantime. This time Lee spent part of the time performing miracles with earth, sand, rocks and shells on the hotel’s dressing table, and in the evening he went on to perform at the London Jazz Café with Mad Professor and his band.

Steve spent the next year and a half organizing the material, mixing and remixing the tracks, adding a variety of live and artificial sounds, mainly at his State of Mind studio, based at the Manor House, Curry Mallet, deep in the heart of the English countryside, in Somerset.

Towards the end of 2006, Steve travelled to Switzerland again, this time to review the tracks with Lee, and to get the artist’s blessing for the proposed release of the album. When he arrived, Lee’s son Gabriel led him to the home studio. The master was at work with his back to the door. Once inside Steve sat down, said hello and waited for Lee to acknowledge. As alwats, in the studio, Lee is in complete control, and this time was no different. He played “I Am The God Of Fire,” stopped it halfway through, commented that the drums needed work, that the vocals needed sorting out, and then ran the track through again, this time to the end. He moved on to, “Teddy Bear,” said that this one was OK, and then continued through 41 songs. He was positive and content throughout, sometimes singing along to the tracks, sometimes silent, sometimes laughing at his own lyrics. He said that the album sounded good to him, and that it would make a double album – at least.

At the end of the session, Lee put on his Native American feather headdress and said that he hoped Steve had found what he was looking for. A cab was called and soon it was time to go. Steve’s last view of Lee was of him wearing a curly black Afro wig and laughter shining all over his face. Lee Perry was happy. Everyone was relieved.

Steve met John Palmer of Megawave Records in January 2007 at MIDEM in Cannes, France. They were introduced by Howard Sapper of Extraordinaire Media, based in California. They saw the potential of a new release from the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry, and came up with a plan. In April 2007, Lee signed a deal with Megawave, along with Steve and State of Emergency Limited.

Now is the time to look to the future. After all, the future is so much greater than the past! Lee “Scratch” Perry is the living image of a creative mind and a soul survivor.

— John Saxon

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