March 2008

Lee "Scratch" Perry - Chicken Scratch
Heartbeat Records 11661-7839-2
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Shannon Holliday

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

Heartbeat Records has dug deep into Jamaica’s famed Studio One vaults to release a special deluxe edition of Lee "Scratch" Perry’s earliest recordings, circa 1962-1966. The disc is a reissue of his debut release Chicken Scratch, and it includes six previously unreleased bonus singles: "Mother In Law," "Mad Head," "Help The Weak," "Cannot Wrong (And Get Right)," "John Tom" and "Run Rudie Run."

Perry’s musical style has unfolded almost in sync with the evolution of reggae music, and this recording in particular showcases his early involvement with the genre, when ska music was first emerging and the energy of the movement was building. Perry’s talents at songwriting are evident throughout this disc, as are his signature sexual innuendoes and lewdness. His backing band consisted of musicians who would later form the Skatalites and backup vocalists who were members of the Wailers and the Gaylads.

Early Jamaican ska recordings are notorious for their rough sound quality, and while this reissue remains a bit scratchy (forgive the pun) the sound is better than expected. Also, with the inclusion of the bonus tracks, sheer quantity makes up for quality.

With his reputation for self-aggrandizement nearly unparalleled, Lee Perry has been known by many names, including Scratch, the King, the Upsetter and Pipecock Jaxxon, but his early days began humbly at Studio One, and these recordings are well worth a listen.