Music | August 29, 2021 2:49 pm

Lee “Scratch” Perry, Groundbreaking Reggae Producer, Dead at 85

His influence can be heard in a host of genres

Lee 'Scratch' Perry at Electric Ballroom on March 12, 2016 in London, England.
Lee 'Scratch' Perry at Electric Ballroom on March 12, 2016 in London, England.

Some artists make a mark on a small corner of their chosen genre, and that’s enough. For the reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, it could be accurately said that he changed the sound and shape of a host of genres, and left a sizable impact on the world of pop music as a whole. Pitchfork reports that Perry died earlier today at Noel Holmes Hospital in Lucea, Jamaica; he was 85.

Perry’s career in music began in the late 1950s and found him developing as both a producer and a vocalist in the early part of the following decade. John Dougan’s biography of Perry at AllMusic offers a fine overview of Perry’s career — by the early 1970s, he was one of the top producers in reggae, worked with Bob Marley on a number of early singles and developed a growing interest in dub.

Rolling Stone‘s obituary for Perry chronicles the breadth of his musical legacy — his music was a formative influence on hip-hop, though he also once hosted Paul and Linda McCartney. Perry dealt with mental health issues in the late 1970s and early 1980s, culminating with the destruction of his legendary studio Black Ark.

In the decades that followed, Perry lived abroad, continuing to make music and tour — at times working with artists who cited his own transformative work as a major influence on them. Without the work Perry did throughout his life, the musical landscape in 2021 would look very different, and it’s a testament to the richness of the music he made that it had such a substantial impact.